How Tony Hawk Joined an Apache Pro Skater to Bring New Skate Park to Reservation

​Fort Apache Indian reservation skate clinic – courtesy of Douglas Miles Sr.

When an Apache man moved to a new town and found it needed a skatepark, he and the tribe petitioned skating legend Tony Hawk to hook up the Apache youth with professional facilities.

A lot of preconceptions exist about Native Americans, but even the most attentive student of history might not realize that skateboarding is the fastest growing sport on Tribal Reservations.

The kids from the town of Whiteriver in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Arizona, have had to make do, thanks to their DIY attitude, with the foundations of an abandoned building project for a skatepark.

With other Tribal funding concerns and the pandemic to boot, money to create a proper skatepark were simply not there, and the skaters had to carry on with what they could find.

Enter Douglas Miles Jr., a skater and Apache from the San Carlos Indian Reservation, who moved to his wife’s hometown of Whiteriver in 2019.

Miles Jr. knew a thing or two about getting a skatepark built—he and his father Douglas Miles Sr. rallied community support to petition the San Carlos tribal council to build a skatepark in their community three years ago.

Miles Jr. was a seventh-grader when he picked up the sport, and like the kids at Whiteriver, he and his friends also used to make due with DIY obstacles and old abandoned concrete/metal works for a skatepark.

The $200,000 skatepark was built as part of a larger sports complex by the council atop an abandoned jail, which everyone agreed was more than a little poetic.

When they were finished, even Red Bull sports wanted to get in on the skating.

The similar situation over in Whiteriver meant that Miles Jr. didn’t need to wait long before prodding the White Mountain Apache tribal council to get its skateboarding act together.

However unlike his native San Carlos, his new home government wasn’t persuaded, and forced to go it alone Miles Jr. set up a GoFundMe to try and gather support from the skating community.

The Apache Passion Project, thanks to social media, grew to smash its modest fundraising target of $3,000 by accumulating more than $50,000. Among these supporters were Gwendena Lee-Gatewood, the chairwoman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Together, she and Miles Jr. contacted the Skatepark Project, a non-profit founded by skating legend Tony Hawk that builds skateparks for communities that want them.

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“The community is really behind this Whiteriver project, and there’s just so much enthusiasm from local leaders, and we’re excited to make this happen with them as soon as possible,” Benjamin Bashein, executive director of the Skatepark Project, told AZ Central. “We hope they will be scaling it by this time next year.”

Miles Jr. is the heartbeat of the whole initiative. He has organized skating workshops, submitted various planning proposals with the help of local engineers and artists, and is always promoting the infectious enthusiasm of Apache skate culture on social media.

With Skatepark Project tackling the issue of a big professional facility, Miles Jr. used the $53,000 he raised through GoFundMe to improve the existing DIY park, and even build a few more around the community.

“It’s important to see that local folks kind of have invested personally in the space,” Bashein said. “That ethos is so essential to skateboarding. For a long time, communities and municipalities maybe didn’t recognize the value of the skatepark. So it really took folks like Douglas rolling up their sleeves and leading the effort themselves.”

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The park isn’t finished quite yet, but Miles Jr. said that when it is all said and done, he’ll soak up the moment, and then get back to skating.

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