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.

young skater doing a kickturn on a skateboard in a large bowl
skater girl posing with her skateboard in the large bowl at Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines

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.)

young girl skating the large bowl at Lauridsen Skatepark
back of skater girl with ponytail hanging down from her beanie
skater girl positioned to drop into the pro bowl at Lauridsen Skatepark in downtown Des Moines

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.

Young skater Luca Neil speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines

Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines, Iowa - the largest open skatepark in the US

"I will never get bored here." - Luca Neil, 8 years old

smiling skater girl in helmet preparing to drop into skatepark bowl under a blue sky
skater girl riding in pro bowl at Des Moines skatepark on a sunny day
Skater girl and her shadow in the bottom of the pro bowl at Lauridsen Skatepark
skater girl looking over her shoulder with one foot on her skateboard at the top of the volcano at Lauridsen Skatepark
skater girl cruising on her skateboard in the pro bowl with her arms out for balance
skater girl riding her skateboard along the top of the bowl with blue open sky behind her

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.

two skater kids posing in front of giant Des Moines skateboard at the Dew Tour
Luca Neil meeting her skateboard idol Sky Brown before the Dew Tour in Des Moines
Sky Brown posing for a photo with young skater girl Luca Neil at the skatepark in Des Moines, Iowa
Dew Tour skateboarding park course in front of audience in Des Moines, Iowa
Dew Tour street course on cloudy day in Des Moines, Iowa
Family of four posing at Dew Tour Des Moines photo op as kids hold their skateboards
photo selfie of mother in sunglasses and daughter wearing a Dew Tour Des Moines trucker hat
skater girl skateboarding on pump track at Dew Tour Des Moines
skater girl skateboarding a rail with her arms out for balance
close up of large skateboard feature at Lauridsen Skatepark with skateboards in the background

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.

Mike Vallely in a Street Plant t-shirt posing with two skater kids at the skatepark in Des Moines, Iowa
crowd of skateboard kids and parents gathered at the Skate DSM skateboard clinics at Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines
skater girl practicing an ollie at a Skate DSM skateboard clinic in Des Moines
crowd of kids waiting for the Skate DSM morning skateboard clinic to begin at Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines
skateboard instructor teaching kids skateboard tricks at a skateboard clinic in Des Moines

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.

crew of skate kids posing for a photo during an early morning trash clean up at Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines
kids picking up trash at the Des Moines skatepark on a sunny morning
skater girls holding their skateboards above their heads in front of the Red Bull truck at the Des Moines skatepark
three skater girls posing with skateboards in front of the Des Moines Streetstyle Open sign at the skatepark
skater girls showing off their wristbands at the Des Moines Streetstyle Open at Lauridsen Skatepark
young skater girls watching Olympian Jake Ilardi skateboard at the Des Moines Streetstyle Open
participants watching skateboards at the Des Moines Streetstyle Open at Lauridsen Skatepark
Jake Ilardi posing for a photo with skate kids at the Des Moines Streetstyle Open at Lauridsen Skatepark

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!”

first, second, third place winners of girls skateboard competition standing on Red Bull podium at Lauridsen Skatepark
young skater girl standing next to her brother holding up her third place skate competition poster in Skatepark
Luca Neil and Shiloh Catori with their first and third place skateboard competition posters at the Lauridsen Skatepark
Subsect Kids Skate Crew girls in front of orange bus at Captain Roy's with their skateboards and frozen treats
Smiling skater girl holding up her beat up Baker skateboard covered in stickers

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.

young skater girl doing an ollie on a Baker skateboard at Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines, Iowa
young skateboarder airborne after riding off a ledge on her skateboard at Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines
Young skater girl riding through Lauridsen Skatepark in Des Moines with Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge in background
young skater in helmet poised to drop in on a Baker skateboard at downtown Des Moines skatepark

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:

young skater in white helmet riding her skateboard in the red WOW art at the Des Moines skatepark on a sunny day

All photos were taken by me either on my Nikon D750 or with my iPhone. Please contact me for permission to use any photos.