Downtown Farmington's PLUSkateboarding leads local camp for 'short shredders'

If the shredders at Riley Skate Park appear shorter than usual lately, it’s because PLUSkateboarding – a downtown Farmington store founded by owner Rob Woelkers in 2003 – runs week-long summer day camps that are so beloved, many kids not only attend year after year but ask to register for multiple weeks in a single season.

Customers checks out the merchandise at PLUSkateboarding. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

“Anytime a kid learns a new trick, and one of their parents comes to pick them up for the day, you’ll hear the kid say, ‘Watch this! Let me show you what I can do now!’” says Randy Smith, who’s worked as a counselor for PLUS’ camp for more than a decade. “I take pride in being part of that. … But on a deeper level, the kids are learning real-life lessons, and they don’t even know it. Lessons like, when you fall down, you get right back up and try again. … For me, that’s the biggest takeaway.”

PLUSkate Camp. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

About 35 to 40 kids, ages 5-15 (and of varying skill levels, including lots of beginners), attend each of the six offered weeks of PLUS’ summer camps. Also, though Riley Skate Park opened just 10 years ago, this is PLUS’ 15th season of camps. (An earlier iteration of the camp happened at Heritage Park.)

 

Woelkers’ history goes even further back, though, having started – at his former boss’ urging – a skateboarding camp while managing a skate park in Brighton in 2000.

 

“At first, I was against it, because that’s not really what skateboarding is about – (having) a coach or teacher,” says Woelkers. “Once we started doing it, I realized how fun it was, and it really wasn’t any different than just skating with your friends and encouraging them to push themselves.”

 

Woelkers strives to improve the camp all the time, taking stock of what works well and what doesn’t; but more generally, he’s learned to have a plan for each day – albeit one that has some give.

 

“One thing that we love about skateboarding is the unstructured fun,” says Woelkers. “So it is a balance to keep the structure that kids need with the free play that skateboarding embodies.”

PLUSkate Camp. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

Eight year old Amelia Nordhaus, a STEAM Academy rising third grader (who’s back at camp for a third summer), seemed to almost channel Woelkers’ observation, saying that while she liked tie-dying a new shirt each year, and custom-designing a wooden deck, “what I really like about camp is they give you time to free skate, where you can skate anywhere you want to in the park.”

 

Inevitably, one thing parents worry about is safety, and Woelkers, as a dad of two kids who participate in the camps, understands. But he’s also quick to point out that “skateboarding is no more dangerous than riding a bike or climbing around on the playground,” adding, “I would rather my kids get bumps and bruises … being active than sitting on the couch all day being ‘safe.’”

 

All campers wear helmets and pads, and while they’re regularly encouraged to try new skills, they’re never pressured to do things before they’re ready. (My youngest daughter, when she was six, gleefully showed me how she could “butt-board,” which involved riding around the skate park’s bowl while seated.)

PLUSkate Camp. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

“Skateboarding is all about baby steps,” Woelkers says. “Start slow and low and work your way up. By the time you are going fast and getting high on the ramps, it’s as comfortable as running down a set of stairs for an able adult, if that makes sense.”

 

And Smith, who also works one-on-one with young people who want private lessons, says, “There’s one thing I always say before they even step onto the board. I sit the kid down and say, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you can do all the tricks or none of them. If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. If you’re not having fun, there’s no point in doing this.’”

 

This emphasis on having fun seems to be what brings counselors and campers alike back to Plus’ camps each summer.

 

But Woelkers also gets young people excited about skateboarding via an after-school skateboarding club at Lanigan Elementary.

 

“I was asked to do that by our PTA President at the time, who also skateboarded,” Woelkers says. “ … The biggest challenge for the camp and the club is for kids who have a board from Walmart, Target, or Amazon. Those boards do not turn or roll, making it impossible to skate. … I would rather see the family spend the money on the right equipment than on camp.”

PLUSkate Camp. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

PLUS’ downtown store sells beginner boards for about $90, and one week of camp costs $210.

 

But don’t be surprised if, after even one week of camp, your kid starts pestering you to take her to the skate park again and again.

 

“The freedom of skateboarding, and being able to do whatever you want on the board, is what kids love the most,” Woelkers says.

 

It’s a big part of why many adults still do it, too.

 

“I love skateboarding,” says Smith. “I’ve been (skateboarding) for over 20 years now, and during that time, I developed a passion for teaching, too. … I just love the non-stop excitement of watching someone overcome their fears, and learn a new trick, and develop confidence in themselves.”

 
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