Lanyard-making and basket-weaving is so last millennium. Kids now seek outdoor adventure, turn hobbies into creative masterpieces, and learn to program computer games. Thankfully, Colorado’s summer camps come through, regardless of your youngster’s pursuits. We’ve compiled the best the area has to offer in warm weather programs, so you don’t have to go digging around online. Without further ado, read on, and welcome to the largest camp guide in the state of Colorado.
SKATE CAMP: Photos & Story by Noah Caldwell
If Boulder County has a skateboard guru, it’s Jake Jones of the YMCA. For two decades he passed through the ranks of the industry, settling down now to pass on his wisdom to a new cadre of pint-sized skaters.
“We’ll see how many we get today,” Jake tells me when I meet him at the Erie skate park for a miniature version of his summer camps. It’s cold and he’s unsure about the turnout, but the worry is unfounded. One by one kids roll in, and Jake greets each like a fellow rider, pounding tiny fists and catching up like old friends.
“The social aspect is the greatest part,” Jake says. “I’m thirty-seven, and when I’m at the skate park these twelve year-olds are my friends.”
A free-skate begins, and veterans (at around 9 years-old) coast around with the younger newcomers. “You wanna get on a board?” Jake asks me. He has an extra. As I tenderly set foot on the deck, memories of my brief childhood skateboarding infatuation come rushing back. Unfortunately, skill is harder to recall, and as I weave the park my knees shake noticeably next to the kids’ steady stances.
I coast slowly. They kickflip. I stumble while starting. They slide on rails.
Jake’s sidekick Sean, a sponsored skater, swoops through the instructing and showing off his chops. Connecting kids to their skateboarding role models is central to Jake’s teaching philosophy. When Sean rides with the kids shoulder to shoulder—or, shoulder to hip—all those farfetched X-Games-style tricks seem more possible.
“For the summer camp, we simulate a skateboard tour,” Jake tells me. Sure, there are no paparazzi, but the kids still get a taste of a “circuit.” They load into the van in the morning and hit a bunch of skate parks around the county, like tiny Tony Hawks cruising the countryside in a cushy tour bus.
As skateboarding ambassadors, Jake and Sean teach the culture alongside the skills. Kids get tutorials on gear, learn the mechanics of a skateboard, and spout the quasi surfer-dude lingo. Jake videotapes the action, giving campers an added incentive to “stomp” (land) new tricks. The campers run the editing at the end of the week, and by Friday the campers are stars of a high-def skate video (alongside a sponsored rider, I might add).
With this camp model, building camaraderie around a physical activity is as beneficial as the activity itself. For kids who shy away from team sports, this aspect is key, since it would otherwise be easy to simply skateboard alone.
Back in Erie, the day ends with the most daunting moment for a young skateboarder: dropping in. It’s a rite of passage and a badge of honor for wide-eyed campers. Unfamiliar with the term? Here’s a rundown: the rider perches atop a tall ramp whose ninety-degree descent tapers to zero in a matter of feet. The task is to drop into the ramp, continually adjusting balance to not tumble forward or slip back, staving off various cranial injuries.
Parents, don’t gasp just yet. Jake’s tactics take the treachery out of the maneuver. One knee bracing the board, he talks them through the drop. Inhibitions (and there are many) are whisked away: “I’ve got you the whole way. You won’t fall—it’s just one step.”
He’s right. After several bouts of anxious fretting, the rider commits and gravity takes over. He leans too far back, slipping, slipping, slipping—until Jake steadies his arms and he lands upright on the board. The next attempt is flawless, and the rider loudly assures his compatriots that it’s no biggie, dudes.
Jake sports a knowing grin, and tells me proudly, “That’s the biggest step in skateboarding right there.”