As the fog peeled away from the Napa Skatepark on Sunday morning, skateboarders took to the bowls and ramps at Kennedy Park as they have for nearly every fine-weather weekend since the skating center opened 2 ½ years ago.
But this Sunday was different, though it was hard to tell just from glancing at the people rolling or shredding across the concrete. Rather, what marked this Sunday as special was draped over a chain-link fence a short stroll away: the rainbow-stripe flag of those advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people.
This was the start of QueerSkate Napa, which its organizer, Kenneth Fish, promoted as the city’s first skating event to promote the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer athletes in a sport in which Fish said a rebellious image doesn’t always match its tolerance of LGBTQ enthusiasts.
Describing queer skateboarders as “essentially invisible” in the larger community, Fish, a Napa native who founded the company Catasstrophy Skateboards, described his hope of creating a friendly territory not only for LGBTQ skaters but also their family, friends and other supportive athletes.
“I’m gay, and I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider, but for some reason skateboarding was always a really really good fit for me,” the 49-year-old Fish, who took up the sport in his youth, said before the event. “A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, (the professional skateboarder) Brian Anderson, came out of the closet and it was a really big deal. As an act of support for him, I decided to give it a try.”
“Two years later, I feel like a changed man – lost some weight, got into really good shape, at least comparatively! – and skateboarding gives me so much joy that once again I’m in a position to pay it back, and I want to do my best to do that.”
Two months of planning resulted in QueerSkate Napa, and aid for Fish’s skate day came from a variety of local backers, including skateboard parts from the Napa store Boardgarden to Facebook promotion by Napa’s LGBTQ Connection.
The event was a relaxed, low-stress affair for some of the participants, who were intermingled at the Kennedy Park venue with skaters not taking part in QueerSkate and simply enjoying the holiday morning out of doors.
Dave Pike of Novato, a skateboarder for 42 of his 52 years, said his age is what catches younger peers’ attention first. “If anything, it’s more like, ‘Oh my God, you’re older than my dad and you skate!’” he said with a chuckle that animated his gray-tinged mustache.
Others arrived in Napa with a clear sense of a mission, including Tara Jepsen, who took up the sport in her mid-30s in Los Angeles and now co-owns the LGBTQ-supporting Pave the Way Skates of Berkeley.
“It’s a small growing and important community” among skaters, she said after warming up in the Kennedy Park bowls, “and this has a chance to help make one of the best things about this world – its incredible inclusivity – even better. I just want to bring the light, to create a space for everyone to thrive.”
Jepsen’s business partner, Miriam Klein Stahl, also arrived at QueerSkate with her 10-year-old daughter Hazel, marveling at a course fancier than those she knew as a teen skater in the 1980s – and expressing her kinship from one group of traditional outsiders to another.
“Skaters from the start were outsiders, like LGBTQ people, and I always found a kinship with skaters,” said Stahl, whose green-and-black board included a printed-on manifesto including the words “We believe in outsiders and weirdos and people who just don’t align with socially legible life paths.”
Fish, the organizer, hoped to attract about 100 skaters to his event, which did not require a city permit after he promised to keep attendance below 250. But the distance from which some supporters were traveling to his hometown heartened him.
“I’m from Napa, my company is from Napa, (and) I have people coming in from as far as San Diego,” he said. “I feel pretty proud that I’ve got some pull going on here.”