The History Of Skateboarding In Western Michigan; Overview

Posted: 2020-07-15 in Uncategorized

A dual project done in collaboration with Tulip City Dispatch

Now, skateboarding is mostly a West Coast thing that spilled across the country, and took root in major metropolitan centers across the country.  I’m a history nerd, obviously, with huge amounts of skate nerd thrown in.  I’m the kind of guy who would ride my boards around college parking lots with pockets full of bushings and various other pieces of hardware, just to feel the tangible differences between each one.  It goes without saying that the nerdery runs deep.
This post is not intended to be a full article, but more of a gauge of interest, and a collection of thoughts – there are a lot of small things to cover, and I’d love to exercise the connections I’ve made over the years to find out more.
First up, the Astro Speedway.  I graduated from Jenison High School in Jenison, Michigan.  There was always an urban legend of a skating rink hidden under the floors of Field’s Fabrics.  Turns out this was the rare gem of an urban legend that is mostly true.  While it wasn’t a roller rink, there was a skatepark named The Astro Speedway.  Sadly, most of the links I had saved are now dead (“tHe iNtErNeT iS fOrEvEr” my left foot, all this information is unrecoverable).  But, I did find a .pdf detailing a 1979 skateboard contest at The Astro Speedway, hosted by Chris Yandall (RIP, man).  While the magazine listed above says that The Astro Speedway was in Grand Rapids, that’s the nearest metro area.  This book lists Astro Speedway as being in Jenison.  An old forum post mentioned “A Joann Fabrics store in Jenison,” but there isn’t one there, and a former coworker who married into the Field’s family did confirm to me, that there is indeed, a filled-in skatepark underneath her in-laws’ fabric store.  Another source had to be accessed by the Wayback Machine, but it has actual pictures of The Astro Speedway!
A tangential rumor I’d love to pursue was given to me by Yandall, on the forums at Silverfish.  Unfortunately, he passed away before I had a chance to ask him more:  He said there was a snake run somewhere on the site of East Kentwood High School that was still intact enough to skate on, as of 2009.
I touched on this in a previous article on Board Life, but there was one point between 2010 and 2013 where you could build an entire longboard based on Michigan-only companies:  REY Trucks out of Muskegon, Milk Surfer or Zuma wheels out of Grand Rapids, there was a military-inspired griptape company out of Detroit, any number of bearing and hardware importers from across the state, and dozens of board manufacturers.  Related to this, there was a fairly major longboard race through Holland, following most of the Holland Half Marathon route that drew international attention by way of Concrete Wave Magazine.  In keeping the focus on West Michigan specifically, I’m choosing to not explore the downhill events around Boyne and Marquette, the Michigan State University parking garage longboard scene, and the Metro Detroit slalom scene.
Pro Skateboarder Josh Kalis grew up in the Burton Heights area of Grand Rapids, and had some videos shot on the Calder Plaza, and on the site where the Van Andel Arena would go on to be built.  I think one of the designers (or possibly owner) of Neff snowboard clothing was involved in GR skateboarding around the time Kalis was, but I’m drawing on the vaguest recollection of a faint memory.  Again, as I’m just spitballing ideas, this might be worthy of looking in to.
A more general idea I had was about the history of the skateboard scene around Holland, Michigan.  The Skate Casa inside RIT Music was started up as a summer job for the owner’s daughter sometime around 2004 or 2005, and still leads the way in local goods and services.  Westshore Board Sports sold longboards during the longboard boom of the late 00’s, but specialized mostly in surf, paddle, and skim boards.  There was a full-on skateshop on James St. west of US-31, but I never had the pleasure of visiting them.  My scope of history begins in roughly 2007, but there’s gotta be a lot of stuff that happened before that…like the decade of the 90’s…and the decade of the 80’s…and the decade of the 70’s…  The big news over the past 15 years circled around skateparks at the County Fairgrounds, and at Columbia Park near Downtown.  There was a plywood prefab park somewhere south of Downtown, but I never skated there and don’t know where the precise location was.
With all of that being said, I’ve got a general roadmap and some ideas laid forth.  Drop me a comment if you’d like to read more about this!  I sense this series will be more about personal interviews than bookworming at the library.
Peace, love, and powerslides!
-TulipCityDispatch and Board Life Blog
  1. Chris Petrrs says:

    There was a skate park called Astro Speedway at the site of Fields Fabrics on Chicago Drive. I personally know one of the men who started it. He actually has an Art Prize about it right now!!

  2. Soda Pipe says:

    My buddy and I had his mom drive us up to Astro Speedway from Kalamazoo to check out the other concrete skatepark in the area, this had to be around 79. I didn’t have a release form and couldn’t skate so I just had to watch my buddy skate for five hours. The park was pretty neat and didn’t get obsolete as quick as the runs at Cosmic Waves did. There was no one there on a fall Saturday dreary day and I think it close a year or two after that. In the end at Cosmic Waves, the pool and 1/2 pipe were the main attractions, they spent thousands on all of that concrete but the future was on vertical and street skating.

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