It all started in California.
Luca was 5 years old when she got her first skateboard, a hot pink penny board with light up wheels. Her brother had started skateboarding the year before and she was ready to try it for herself.
We lived in Redondo Beach, California, at the time and our “hometown” skate park was just down the street in Hermosa Beach. The Hermosa Beach Skatepark is a small park with the standard quarter pipes, ledges, rails and funbox. It is securely fenced in with an on-site park monitor and limited hours of access. Pads and helmets are required for everyone, even adults. It was a great place for my kids to learn to skateboard and build confidence at an early age, though it really only attracted families and younger kids. It lacked bowls and more talented, experienced skaters that the kids could watch and learn from.
As their skills improved, my kids were eager to explore beyond the confines of the Hermosa Beach skatepark, so we scoped out a handful other skateparks from Venice to Long Beach. They were hit or miss depending on how crowded they were (and LA traffic) so the Hermosa Beach skatepark remained our most convenient go-to spot.
From the West Coast to the Midwest
In the summer of 2020, after living in the Los Angeles area for nearly 20 years, we moved back to Des Moines, Iowa, where my husband and I had met in high school and our families still lived. We had heard about the development of the Lauridsen Skatepark and we were beyond excited that we would have the country’s largest skatepark in our new city. (Which made leaving California a little bit easier.)
I closely followed updates from Skate DSM throughout the winter and signed both kids up for the skate clinics they were promoting in the spring. Luca was even invited to speak at the ribbon cutting ceremony right before the official opening of the skatepark. I was beyond impressed that, at only 8 years old, she spoke in front of a large crowd of strangers, reporters and news cameras, telling everyone she was most excited about the Lauridsen Skatepark because she “will never get bored here.” It's definitely a big step up from the small skatepark where she learned to skate.
Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines, Iowa - the largest open skatepark in the US
"I will never get bored here." - Luca Neil, 8 years old
The Dew Tour electrifies Des Moines
The skatepark opening was immediately followed by the Dew Tour in late May, attracting Luca's favorite skateboarders, Sky Brown and Leticia Bufoni, amongst many other professional female and male skaters from around the world. The energy and excitement for skateboarding the Dew Tour brought to Des Moines was electrifying and it was absolutely thrilling to be a part of it.
Shortly after the Dew Tour concluded, my kids began attending the monthly Skate DSM skateboard clinics. Kevin Jones of Subsect Skateshop and his talented crew of skaters helped all kids, from beginner to intermediate levels, improve their skills. Mike Vallely, pro skater and owner of Street Plant skateboards, who had also just relocated from Los Angeles to Des Moines, was at the clinics teaching kids how to skate and techniques to accomplish specific tricks.
Clinics, competitions and a kids crew
The Skate DSM clinics provided a safe, non-intimidating place for kids to improve their skills and learn from each other. A group of parents wanted to create the opportunity for kids to meet up and skate together on a more regular basis, so the Subsect Kids Skate Crew was formed. They currently meet up at Lauridsen Skatepark every Sunday morning at 9AM and Tuesdays at 4PM. It’s nothing formal or structured - just a “show up when you can to skate together and learn from each other” type of meet-up. Our busy summer schedule hadn’t allowed us to join until recently and once we did, Luca definitely found her “skate crew.”
Then Luca and some of the other girls entered their very first skate competition during the Des Moines Streetstyle Open in September. They had originally arrived at Lauridsen Skatepark early in the morning to voluntarily pick up trash before the event and when they found out only one female had registered for the competition, they decided to go for it and they all entered together. (I think they were pretty stoked about the cash prizes!)
The event attracted pro skaters from around the country, including Olympic skateboarder Jake Ilardi and super talented 12-year-old Shiloh Catori, who placed first in the women’s division. My now 9-year-old Luca ended up on the podium alongside her, with a third place finish, thanks to the ollies and other street tricks she had been working on throughout the summer.
Best day ever
My favorite part of the day, and perhaps the whole summer, was how supportive all of these young girls were of each other. They ranged in age from nine to 12 years old, with a 15-year-old taking second place. They cheered each other on throughout each of their three runs and continued skating together, along with Shiloh, after their competition was over. They celebrated into the evening at the after party with their skateboards and frozen treats and even joined Mike Vallely’s band onstage to introduce themselves. I received multiple hugs from Luca that evening as she told me repeatedly, “Mom, this is the best day ever!”
Girls who skateboard
I love that my daughter is dedicated to a sport that requires such boldness, balance and perseverance. Fierce determination, no room for hesitation. Knowing her limits, yet pushing them. Pushing through her fears. Overcoming frustration. Getting back up over and over and over and over again. Experiencing that overwhelming relief/joy/surprise of accomplishment. Making friends who encourage her, inspire her, push her and pick her up when she falls. Teaching, learning, progressing, supporting. Loving it all.
The Des Moines skateboarding community is rad
It’s so exciting to be part of skateboarding in Des Moines at a time when the scene is exploding and the community is growing. We see new kids trying it every week during our meet-ups – a lot of them are girls! There is no better time to join the Des Moines skateboarding community than now, regardless of your age or identity. We’re accepting of all.
You might even see me timidly cruising around on my old California long board one of these days, just trying to be as cool, confident and coordinated as my kids.
To Follow and Support:
For more info, updates, events, etc. follow these accounts on Instagram, including one I manage for Luca:
And please consider donating to local non-profit Skate DSM to help them fund clinics, events and activities in Des Moines to make skateboarding accessible to all:
All photos were taken by me either on my Nikon D750 or with my iPhone. Please contact me for permission to use any photos.