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First Hopi skate park inspires hope

The Hopi Tribe was under strict safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, with nightly curfews and stay-at-home orders. That left little to do for young people on the remote Reservation in northeastern Arizona. So…they started skateboarding. Anywhere they could. It was something to do outside, together, that was relatively safe. It became therapeutic. In the village of Tewa, two friends decided to create a skateboarding collective and build the Hopi Tribe’s first skate park. KNAU’s Sakya Calsoyas spent a recent sunny day at the half pipe.

Terrill Humeyestewa will never forget his first skateboard. “I got a Walmart board for $15, didn’t roll at all. Could easily snap off the tail,” he says. But it worked well enough to learn the basics of the sport on the dirt roads and sandy areas near his home in the Village of Tewa. “I learned all the different tricks…like ollies, kick flips, these weird tricks, handstands because they wouldn’t roll.”

KNAU Sakya Calsoyas

At the time, Humeyestewa never imagined his $15 skateboard would lead him to build the Tribe’s very first skate park. But that’s exactly what he did during the height of the coronavirus pandemic with his friend and fellow skateboarder, Quintin Nahsonhoya. “During quarantine, a lot of people like really picked it up and they just started trying to learn new tricks and stuff and sharing their clips on social media,” Nahsonhoya says.

The pandemic had an isolating effect on Hopi, a place that’s already fairly isolated. Young people, in particular, really struggled to find something to do as COVID-19 shut down communities. Tribal authorities halted travel and restricted group gatherings, so things like basketball and other team sports weren’t allowed. Nahsonhoya says skateboarding became a way to cope, “just noticing the increase in skaters on the Hopi reservation and noticing that a lot of kids my age, they were all wanting to learn how to skate, but there wasn't really any place to do it.”

First Hopi skatepark is called the Tewa Owingeh Skate Spot.

They skated on any flat surface they could find, like the empty parking lot at the local elementary school. But it was evident they needed a space of their own. Nahsonhoya and Terrill Humeyestewa decided to form a collective called Skate 264, named after the highway that runs the span of the Hopi Reservation. They raised money and found volunteers in the village to help build a skate park.

“It was a pretty good thing when everyone came together to have this happen,” Humeyestewa says. “No one was giving us a hard time…no one was like, we shouldn't get that built they're going to be a lot of gangsters out here all the things that go with stereotyping, like skateboarding, like drugs and graffiti and all the other stuff.”

Like many Native American Tribes across the country, the Hopi contend with stereotypes and stigma surrounding alcohol and substance abuse. The skate park was a way to counter those ideas and foster healthy living. Quintin Nahsonhoya says elders, relatives and neighbors came together with tools and experience to help with the construction.

Quintin Nahsonhoya and his parents helped build the Tewa Skatepark.
KNAU Sakya Calsoyas
Quintin Nahsonhoya and his parents helped build the Tewa Skatepark.

“Yeah, this is this is definitely a big leap for not just us, but our Hopi community, our Hopi youth out here. That just shows them that if they want, if they want anything done out here, they can do it. They just have to put their mind to it and like, you know, find the right people and people will help them out if they like the cause…” Nahsonhoya and Humeyestewa hope other villages will be inspired to build skate parks, too. They believe the Tewa park will have a lasting impact on generations of Hopi youth by providing a healthy example of exercise and positive living.

Terrill Humeyestewa skating half pipe.jpg
KNAU Sakya Calsoyas

“This is something I'll definitely remember for the rest of my life. I'll probably be telling my kids like, Oh, hey, I built that skate park when I was younger,” Nahsonhoya says.