The King of Stoke

Craig Wasserman in the skatepark

Craig Wasserman teaches skateboarding and life skills to Telluride youth

By Sarah Lavender Smith

When Craig Wasserman moved to Telluride straight out of college in 1997, he’d head to Town Park to skate a few homemade wooden ramps. “It was cool,” he said of skateboarding here in those days, but you could hardly call it a scene or an incubator for top-level skateboarders and snowboarders.

Twenty-five years later, Telluride is a legit skateboarding destination, thanks to the 2006 skatepark expansion, the thriving summer Skateboard Camp now in its fifteenth year, The Drop retail shop, and a handful of world-class athletes who developed skills and grit when they were kids at the skate camp. And this summer, the skatepark will be upgraded and extended by 10,000 square feet.

It’s a safe bet that the skateboarding scene in Telluride would not have developed without Wasserman, who transitioned from teaching art to dedicating himself to the skate camp and The Drop, the shop he opened five years ago. “Craig is the king of stoke,” said twelve-year-old Ollie Graves, a skateboarding phenom who competes nationally and dreams of making the Olympics. Graves, who lives in Ridgway, got his start skating at age three at Wasserman’s skate camp. “He brings so much energy to skateboarding and wants everyone to spread the love of it. It’s contagious.”

One spring afternoon, while getting ready for a bunch of girls to show up for a weekly afterschool all-girls skate camp held at The Drop’s indoor wooden half-pipe, Wasserman paused to talk about the evolution of skateboarding in Telluride and how the expanded skatepark will benefit the town and its youth. “This new skatepark is going to help elevate the skate scene in Telluride, which for the last fifteen years has grown incredibly,” said Wasserman, gesturing with his hands enthusiastically as he described the park’s rails, ledges, and flow.

The new facility in Town Park extends from the existing concrete skate bowl that Wasserman and local kids lobbied the town to build in 2006. Wasserman said the classic bowl is well-loved but “pretty gnarly,” designed for intermediate to advanced skaters. The elements of the new park, by contrast, are less intimidating and accommodate a variety of skill levels. “It’s specifically designed for progression,” he explained, “part of a new movement in skateparks that combines all the disciplines of skateboarding into one big park where you utilize all the features together. It’s not like, ‘here’s the street section, here’s the bowl section’—everything is intertwined and promotes progression because there are easy things you can do, and you can also learn advanced skills.”

Evergreen Skateparks of Portland, Oregon, designed the expansion, funded with $750,000 from the Town of Telluride. The town approved the skatepark remodel and expansion in mid-2021 after determining that the Youthlink skatepark, comprised of a few street-style skate features next to the Voodoo art studios (across from the Post Office), would be developed for housing. The Youthlink skatepark acted as a sort of satellite park when the Town Park facility was closed for the numerous summer festivals. The good news? The new skatepark will remain open during the festivals.

Olympic snowboarder Lucas Foster began skateboarding in Telluride as a young kid and coached at Wasserman’s skate camp for several summers, as did Telluride’s other Olympic snowboarder, Hagen Kearney.

Foster applauds the town’s investment in the skatepark. “The expansion is so great, because skateboarding has been growing really fast in Telluride, and this gives kids an even better place to explore what skateboarding has to offer. I’ve seen a lot of kids go from being very shy and unsure of themselves, to finding identity and strength in skateboarding, and I think it’s changed a lot of lives and saved some kids in our community from going down a rough path.”

Before Telluride had a concrete skatepark, Wasserman used to drive local kids after school to the then-new Montrose skatepark to skate. “Some of those kids now have families of their own and say, ‘Thank you so much for getting me into that.’ A lot of them were really talented snowboarders and were like, ‘We don’t want to hurt ourselves for the snowboard season.’ And I said, ‘You guys are skaters.’ So they started skating, and I think it expanded their horizons a lot.”

Foster, 22, said skateboarding undoubtedly made him a better snowboarder—and Wasserman made him a better person. “Skateboarding has given me a better ability to break certain boundaries that the snow industry sets on us,” he said. “In skateboarding, we skate everything whether it’s the bowl or in the streets. In Olympic snowboarding, it’s a lot more formal and structured, which makes it less exciting and fun. Skateboarding showed me there’s no real limits on what you can or should do. Now, I can come back to Telluride and snowboard anything on our mountain, and then go to a halfpipe and ride with some of the best in the world, and it’s because I don’t look at snowboarding as this one-track thing, which is really due to skateboarding.”

Skateboarding may seem like an edgy or rebellious sport, but the culture here is inclusive and nurturing. Foster credits Wasserman and the skate camp with role-modeling friendliness and good behavior. “He showed me at age twelve that being nice goes a long way, and how much of an impact you can have on kids at the skatepark just by being a person who lends a hand, even if it’s just saying hi to a little kid who might be timid. That helped me with my snowboarding career because I learned what giving back can do for you and your community.”

Wasserman said he and his skate camp coaches work to create a supportive environment in the skatepark. “We say to be stoked for each other and encourage each other. No one has to act tough at the skatepark because you are tough because you skateboard.”

Wasserman taught art and outdoor education for nearly twenty years, first at Telluride Middle/High School and then at the Mountain School. At The Drop, he offers art classes in screen printing, stenciling, and videography and photography, and he designs and screen prints the shop’s logo wear. He said he felt OK about leaving a career as an educator to devote himself to The Drop and the skate camp because skateboarding develops life skills and character. His own son and daughter, who are ten and seven, are skateboarders. “Because it’s so innately difficult, skateboarding teaches things like perseverance, focus, dedication, respect, grit, and patience—all the things we know, as parents and teachers, are so important to instill in our kids,” he said.

One of the best aspects of his job, he said, is watching little kids—such as “a five-year-old girl in a sparkly tutu and unicorn shirt”—stand on a skateboard at the edge of the bowl and decide to tilt and drop into it. “We’re spotting them, but they have to face their fear and do it. It’s 100 percent commitment, and that’s when skateboarding works and why I named the shop The Drop. And if you teach a kid to drop in when they’re only five or eight, then by the time they’re twelve, they’ll be crushing it like Ollie Graves.”

Graves, sounding mature beyond his twelve years, said skateboarding “teaches so many lessons because you have to be focused on a trick, and it doesn’t always come easy. It takes slams, cuts, and scrapes, but if you want it bad enough and put in the work, landing a new trick is the best feeling in the world.”