Wasserman is an artist, skateboarder, snowboarder and educator and he is a pretty mellow dude. Until you get him talking about kids and skateboarding, that is. Then, his demeanor changes, his eyes sparkle and his passion becomes obvious.
I get to talk with him about both passions.
This summer Wasserman is embarking on his fifth year of offering Telluride Skate Camp to local and visiting kids of all ages. He boasts a five-to-one coach-to-child ratio and is convinced – and convincing – that skateboarding teaches kids dedication, perseverance and respect.
It’s hard to tell what Wasserman enjoys more: teaching kids to skate or skating himself? He practices what he preaches, and is a far cry from the coach on the sideline.
He is a known figure at the skate park and has been an integral part of Telluride’s skateboarding scene long before the state-of-the-art, permanent, concrete skateboarding park that now exists in Town Park was built. In fact, he was instrumental in the execution of the current park, and more importantly, in getting kids involved from the very first stages.
According to Wasserman, in 2004, members of the skateboarding community started a conversation with the Town of Telluride about getting a real skateboard park in Telluride. At the time, temporary wooden ramps were available for skaters.
Wasserman recalls offering to “take on organizing kids to get involved to raise money, and be a part of the design process.”
“Town Council thought we didn’t need the kids,” Wasserman recalls. “ And I said, ‘This is how it works. You need to have kids involved so they take ownership.’”
Through grassroots fundraising, and “a ton of money” from the town and a Great Outdoors Colorado Grant, by 2006 the funds were in place to build a skateboard park in Telluride.
A world-renowned company specializing in building parks called Grind Line was hired and the current park was completed.
“This is not a beginner park,” Wasserman says. “It is built so you can progress and never be bored. I saw pretty quickly that it was intimidating for kids; it was intimidating to be a beginner. Skateboarding is difficult.”
For Wasserman, an essential part of the sport of skateboarding is informal mentoring, between kids of all ages – kids and adults, girls and boys, and men and women. After all, it was the older kids in his neighborhood in St. Louis, Mo., who took him to the local, skate park and helped him learn tricks when he was growing up.
That first summer, when the Telluride skate park was complete, Wasserman remembers reaching out to introduce kids to a few of the sport’s fundamentals.
“Kids have a hard time getting their foot in the door,” he said. “ Naturally, being a teacher and skateboarder who loves seeing kids do new things, I started teaching kids on my own.”
What began as a few tips here and there and some private lessons has involved into a popular, organized Skate Camp, where, Wasserman firmly attests, kids are learning about more than skateboarding.
“I believe so strongly in the lessons kids learn from skateboarding,” Wasserman said. “It teaches all of these things we try to teach in school – character, education, dedication, perseverance and respect – along with strong physical skills, like balance, strength and coordination.”
Wasserman explains that because skateboarding is so difficult, everyone has to accept being a beginner, and those who are good understand how much practice it takes to get there. “Everyone,” he says, “pays their dues.”
Because of the difficulty of the sport and the safety issues involved, Wasserman strongly advocates that a child’s introduction to the sport be safe and fun.
“Kids have to be introduced in the right way, and develop the right habits,” he said, “or else you fall a lot, get deterred and never pick it up. If you start with a good base – a really good intro – then you have more fun. The more fun you have, the more you’ll do it, and the more you’ll do it the better you’ll get.”
Wasserman has a plethora of stories about the great moments he’s been a part of at the skate park, but one his favorites is about teaching 9-year-old Raven Hopgood and 40-something Jaime Palmer (Telluride’s iconic dreadlocked bus driver, backcountry skier and father) how to “drop in” together.
“They were figuring it out together,” Wasserman recalls, his corner grin now stealing the whole of his face. “They were holding each other’s hands, then they both got it and they’re high-fiving each other. They did it.”
Although Wasserman loves introducing kids to skateboarding, since he began the camps, he’s seen them progress dramatically. His camps, he emphasizes, are not only for beginners; he’s got coaches who can help kids of all levels continue to progress.
Telluride snowboarders Harry and Hagen Karney will be coaching this summer with Wasserman. Both are established snowboarders and skaters, and Hagen, the youngest, competed in snowboarding professionally this past winter.
“Skateboarding is dryland training for park and pipe – for all of it,” Wasserman says. “It teaches balance, toughness and choosing a line.”
In addition to his passion, his anecdotes and philosophy, perhaps Wasserman, himself, is the best testament of skate camp’s worth.
“I’m 36 years old,” he says, and “I love it—it’s changed me.”
Skate Camp starts June 11-15. No session during the week of Bluegrass then resumes every week from June 25th August 17th. Camp is Monday through Friday from 9 to noon and $300/wk. Local scholarships are available. For more information go to http://tellurideskatecamp.com/ or call 708-0688.