(ABC4) – In 1985, a change in license plate design brought a silhouetted skier, the term Ski Utah!, and the slogan, “Greatest Snow on Earth,” to the front and rear of cars all over the state. A 2007 refresh brought a more detailed skier to the center of the license plate while keeping the boastful tagline at the bottom of the design.
Nowadays it’s not a stretch to imagine a future license plate or another statewide marketing campaign that pays tribute to another local action sports scene grabbing increasing attention abroad. Skate Utah!, a homage to the skateboarding culture of the state, doesn’t feel like an impossibility.
One of the sport’s most accomplished figures sees the area as a budding skateboarding hotspot.
“Salt Lake definitely has a strong skate community,” longtime skateboarding icon Paul Rodriguez told ABC4’s Dana Greene in June. “I’ve been through Salt Lake on countless amounts of tours. Lots of great skateboarding spots there.”
Rodriguez will be in town later this week, along with perhaps the most well-known skateboarder of all time, Tony Hawk, to participate in festivities for the Street League Skating (SLS) tour, a league organized to create a competitive environment for skating.
The SLS tour will be held on August 27 and 28 at the Utah State Fairgrounds at a new skatepark built in collaboration with Vans, the popular footwear company known for waffle-soled, checkerboard-patterned shoes.
With a major event to be held on a world-class park, attended by many of the sport’s most prominent dignitaries, it might be safe to say skateboarding has hit it big in SLC.
Local skateboarders agree, things are exploding around here.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that you start seeing a lot more new faces at the skatepark,” 20-year-old Jansen Stettler tells ABC4.com. “When I was younger, for years straight, you would see the exact same faces every single time you went to the skate park. But now, I’ve seen so many more skaters coming in the last couple of years.”
Jansen says he’s been skating since his older brother gave him a hand-me-down board when he was six, which he immediately fell in love with. Lately, he’s gotten more into creating a name for himself and has built a TikTok following of over 66,000 with videos of himself skating, posting memes, and giving tips on how to set up a board.
He feels that social media has contributed greatly to skateboarding’s popularity with a younger audience, and the sport’s presence in the Olympics has legitimized it with an intrigued audience of all ages.
Magnus Byrlev, who works as a manager at Milosport, a snowboarding and skateboarding shop in Salt Lake City that has been around since 1984, one year before Ski Utah! license plates became a thing, has seen that firsthand.
“As the Olympics were going on, we had older people coming in here trying to pick our mind a little bit about what’s going on and just kind of expressing this thought it was kind of weird that that was going on,” he explains, while also adding it’s not unusual for employees at the shop to set up customer over 50 with a board and pads to either get back into an old pastime or even learn a new one.
While the new Vans Skatepark at the fairgrounds, as well as the Woodward Park City action sports campus, are likely the crown jewels of Utah skate spots, both Byrlev and Stettler agree that finding a skatepark, especially a quality one at that, has become easier and easier throughout the state.
“One thing I really like about the Northern Utah area is how many skate parks there are,” Settler says. “When you go along I-15 anywhere from Ogden to Provo, you can get to a decent skatepark within 10 minutes of each other.”
Byrlev agrees, adding that the Utah skateparks built in the 90s and early 2000s weren’t as well-thought-out and engineered as the newest ones, which are better suited for riders of all levels.
“It seems like lately, people are caring more about having a skate park for every community and not just people but city organizers and city planners actually caring a little bit more about what the community has to say as far as that stuff goes,” he observes.
As the scene increases in scale, the talent and skill levels have increased as well. As it stands now, the biggest name in skateboarding to come out of Salt Lake City doesn’t even go by his real name. Utah native Mike Plumb, better known as “Lizard King,” has enjoyed a career filled with world tours, sponsorships, magazine covers, and even inclusion in video games.
Although the Lizard King has become the state’s most famous skateboarding product, plenty of professional snowboarders, who are also very good skateboarders, frequent the state and routinely hit some of the best spots in town. Other local skaters who are on the verge of a breakthrough, according to Byrlev, include Matt Bergman, Cal Ross, and Ben Rothenhoefer.
Settler thinks it’s just a matter of time before another Utahn makes it big as a skateboarder.
“I think that we can expect a lot more really good riders in the next five or six years. At my local skate park, I can name 10 12 to 15-year-old kids who are better than me at skating, and are so committed to it that, by the time they’re my age, they’ll easily have a chance to be a pro.”