Skatepark royalty

3rd Lair’s “no rules” philosophy keeps skateboarders innovative and energized.

A man turns to do his next trick in 3rd Lair's Midwest Melee competition on Sunday, Sept. 15. The annual competition offers opportunities for skaters of all ages to put their skills to the test.

Tyler Newman

A man turns to do his next trick in 3rd Lair’s Midwest Melee competition on Sunday, Sept. 15. The annual competition offers opportunities for skaters of all ages to put their skills to the test.

Emily Eveland

On the final day of 3rd Lair’s Midwest Melee competition, young skaters and their parents sat precariously along the steep ledges of the skate park’s indoor bowl. One wrong move and they’d fall hard.

But falling doesn’t seem to be an issue for 3rd Lair regulars.

“To learn a new trick, imagine doing the same thing over and over and over for hours, sometimes days, and missing or falling down constantly before you finally do it once,” owner Mark Rodriguez said.

Golden Valley’s 3rd Lair is a meeting place for some of the most dedicated skaters in the Midwest, welcoming all ages, genders and experience levels.

“Our goal as a business is to inspire people to have a lifelong love of skateboarding,” Rodriguez said. “We are still, to this day, 100-percent skateboarder-owned and operated.”

 

A U of M business

Five-year-old Alec, the youngest of a group of kids who call themselves the Flying Burrito Boys, stands slightly taller than his skateboard. He dragged it on the ground as he walked along the perimeter of the bowl.

But when he dropped in, age and size no longer mattered. He glided just as gracefully as the other kids. When he finished, he peered up from his oversized helmet, waiting for approval.

Older kids like University of Minnesota marketing sophomore and 3rd Lair employee Jack Lunt skate with the little kids as often as they do with veterans.

“I think that’s one of the cool things about skateboarding,” he said. “It kind of bridges the age gap.”

Lunt is one of five University students currently working at the park. Rodriguez graduated from the University in 2008, the same year he became a 3rd Lair partner.

“We’re a U of M business, apparently,” he said.

 

A wintertime remedy

3rd Lair first opened in 1997 on 12th Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis, inside a space that had previously housed two other skate parks.

“That’s kind of part of the name — it was the third attempt at an open-to-the-public skate park in that building,” Rodriguez said.

Lifelong skater Mark Muller, his father Ted Muller and Joe Schuler originally conceived of 3rd Lair as a place to skate during Minnesota winters.

“The skaters in town just really wanted a place that they could skate year round,” Rodriguez said. “In the mid and early 90s, the majority of the skateboarding that happened in the winter was in, like, parking ramps downtown.”

Rodriguez said he suspects 3rd Lair succeeded where other skate parks failed because of timing and increased mainstream awareness.

“It opened at the beginning of a major boom time of our industry,” he said.

In 2002, the business moved to Golden Valley because of space constraints and changes in ownership.

 

Changing scenery

There’s always something happening at 3rd Lair, whether they’re rearranging half the park or hosting competitions like the world-renowned “King of the Groms.”

King of the Groms — groms being young skateboarders — is currently the largest 12-and- under skateboarding competition in the world. It grew so big that 3rd Lair eventually had to take it on the road, visiting skate parks in multiple states.

Seven-year-old Leif Trasser has been traveling from Wisconsin to 3rd Lair competitions since he was five. His mother, Jessica Trasser, is particularly grateful for King of the Groms.

“He has met so many kids from all over the United States. We have friends in, like, every state now,” she said.

3rd Lair has found more ways than one to keep things exciting. Every fall, James Kaul, aka “Swamp Trog,” leads a crew in remodeling anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of the facility.

“Swamp Trog is — he’s our ramp lord, I guess. That’s his title on his business card,” Rodriguez said.

Travis Wood, a 3rd Lair staff member and broadcast journalism sophomore at the University, said 3rd Lair also hosts an annual haunted house under the bowl as well as monthly lock-ins for kids wanting to shred all night.

It’s no wonder 3rd Lair has a designated Red Bull refrigerator up front.

 

The state of skating

When asked about the current state of skateboarding, James Reed, father of a Midwest Melee competitor, sighed.

 “It’s a sore subject because big industry is killing it for local skateboarding,” he said.

From Rodriguez’s perspective, skateboarding is as good as ever. But from a statistical standpoint, he said, he realizes it’s not where it was.

“As we move forward, Tony Hawk is kind of retired and in a big way, out of the public view. There isn’t really a new face to skateboarding,” he said.

Additionally, Rodriguez said skateboarding has become more demanding. Many young skaters have mastered tricks that once inspired awe in onlookers. To succeed, new boarders must go above and beyond the most difficult maneuvers.

“Part of our strategy here to combat that is embracing the idea that skateboarding has no rules,” Rodriguez said. “It creates more of an opportunity for people to take it in whatever direction they want as long as they’re having fun with it.”

For Logan Mozey, a 15-year-old who competed in Midwest Melee’s expert category, the fame and recognition aren’t what count.

“[My dad was] always trying to make me do competitions and stuff and I wasn’t really into it,” he said. “I just wanted to have fun and do, like, whatever made me happy.”

Extending from Mozey’s elbow to his wrist is a tattoo of a skateboard encircled by roses and bordered by the words “First Love.”

“Skateboarding got me through everything,” he said. “It’s the first thing I ever loved and I hope it’s the last thing, you know? I might get that engraved on my tombstone.”

Watch a video of 3rd Lair skaters in action here