Standing on a skateboard for his first time ever in brown dress shoes, a helmet and knee pads over his khakis, state Rep. Ross Hunter glides down the ramp.
Before his wobbling knees give out, two people catch him at the bottom of the ramp.
“I’m still alive!” Hunter yells to several hundred people gathered for the grand opening celebration of the new Highland Center Skate Plaza on Friday.
During the event, sponsored by the City of Bellevue and Scion, kids sat along the outside of the plaza holding skateboards, ready to take on the lighted plaza’s street elements, including curbs, rails and Jersey barriers. Before they got their chance, they watched the well-known “P-Rod” (Paul Rodriguez) and other professionals with the Nike SB skateboarding team perform demonstrations.
Top amateur skateboarders also came from around the region to compete in best trick contests for $3,000 in prize money.
City and state officials were on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, including council members John Chelminiak, Claudia Balducci and Patsy Bonincontri, and state representatives Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and Hunter, D-Medina.
“Kids don’t want to hear politicians talk,” Hunter said during the event. “I figured I’ve always wanted to learn how a skateboard worked and thought, now is my opportunity.”
The skate plaza is not just part of Bellevue — it is a regional attraction, he said.
“The whole Eastside is going to come here. People will come here from Seattle to do this, and I think it’s terrific the state can support this.”
The 12,000-square-foot, $750,000 project was funded by a King County Youth Sports facility grant, the Washington Resource Conservation Office and the Bellevue Neighborhood Enhancement and Bellevue Youth Link programs.
It is the city’s third outdoor skate plaza to open, following Crossroads Skate Bowl in 2006 and the Lakemont Skate Court, which opened in 2005. Highland Skate Plaza also compliments the 14-year-old indoor Bellevue Skate Park at the same location, 14224 N.E. Bel-Red Road.
Jeshua Shorten came from Oregon with a group of friends to compete on Friday. Earlier that morning, around 1:30 a.m., they came to the plaza for a couple of hours to get a feel for its elements.
“It’s flawless,” said Shorten, 21. “It’s like a training facility pretty much for skateboarding. We have a lot of skate parks in Eugene, but none are like this.”
Jeremy Linson of Centralia heard about the new skate plaza on the Internet and came to the event to check it out.
“It’s really nice — a little crowded right now, so I can’t get much matrix in,” said Linson, 17. “But there’s a lot of good stuff to skate and a lot of different combinations.”
Councilman Chelminiak said the skate plaza is a positive thing for kids to be involved in and “I’d rather have them outside doing this than playing the video game of the same thing.”
The project came out of the Youth Link program when kids told the city they wanted skate parks several years ago.
“The key thing is listening to the kids, giving them what they want and what they need, and I think that’s an important element of why we’re rated one of the best cities in the country for kids to grow up in,” he added.