Lafayette’s skater scene set to level up with new parks on the way

ooti billeaud
Ooti Billeaud and his dog Sheriff outside the future location of Magnolia LA, one of two new skateparks set to hit Lafayette. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Lafayette’s skateboarders have resorted to street skating for the last four years. Waxy sidewalks and handrails around neighborhoods, Downtown and campus are proof of that.

After the Dust Bowl, a public skate park off of Johnston Street, officially closed in 2018, the only public infrastructure available to Lafayette skaters was three benches-turned-grind-boxes added to Parc Sans Souci in late 2020.

It looks like that’s finally going to change. After some vigorous advocacy, Lafayette’s skater community is on track to get two new skateparks. “In the last year and a half, we’ve made a lot of big leaps and bounds,” not only within Lafayette, but to the public as a whole, says Daniel Roberts, manager of Rukus Skate Shop in Downtown Lafayette.

Last week, the City Council approved $250,000 for a new skatepark at Thomas Park, using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a coronavirus relief fund that delivered more than $86 million to LCG. Thomas Park was chosen for its accessibility, location and size, and at potentially 30,000 square feet, it’s designed to be a “destination park,” Roberts says.

Roberts and a loosely formed committee of skateboarding lifers worked for well over a year to get a skatepark approved by City Council. The project first appeared on the administration’s ARPA budget, which proposed a long list of quality-of-life projects but very little funding for coronavirus relief.

The push, however, began long before the project landed on the ARPA budget. It all started with Rukus’ Go Skateboarding Day June 20, 2020. Bronson Sarver, another skater involved in the advocacy, credits the mayor-president’s wife, Jamie Guillory, with advancing their cause. She “took notice” that skaters had no proper park during the demonstration and jumped at the opportunity to help. She put Sarver in contact with Hollis Conway, LCG’s director of Parks, Arts, Recreation & Culture.

After the January vote, the skateparks’ first phase now has legs, and the committee of skaters will help shape the project from here. The skatepark committee isn’t opposed to anyone reaching out with ideas or curiosities.

“The door is always open,” Roberts said. “It’s an ever-welcoming group that’s just trying to do a good thing for a community of people that need it. And those people are parents, college students, business owners, teachers. Everyone.”

The committee is coordinating design plans with south Florida skatepark designer Tito Porrata, Sarver says. So far, the local design process is led by four planners who are gathering input from younger and older generations. Sarver added that the park will be “run by the city and kept up by the skateboard community.”

Since the Dust Bowl closed, Lafayette has been an oddball. Other cities and towns in the region have thriving skate parks, despite their smaller size and populations. “I think it’s interesting because, at least locally speaking, skateparks have always been a really big success. Every skatepark, with the exception of maybe one in our region, has been built and then almost immediately upgraded because of the traffic it gets,” Roberts says.

Also joining the skatepark scene is Magnolia LA, a private park spearheaded by a Lafayette native, and a skate scene vet, Ooti Billeaud.

Billeaud laid concrete for the Dust Bowl and runs Louisiana Concrete Skatepark, a nonprofit that provides information and funds to create parks across the state.

Now he’s building his own.

“I always want there to be concrete skateparks, but there’s also a need for an indoor park here,” he says, just after he and his design team duck inside the warehouse that will house Magnolia to escape a drizzle. “There will be multiple weeks where it's raining every single day. And it might dry up, but it’s a buzz kill.”

The 4,000-square-foot indoor park on the corner of Simcoe and Monroe streets will boast a 2,800-square-foot wooden flat bottom skatepark. A 5-inch layer of 2-by-4 with plywood and Skatelite will be the backbone of the seamless park. Billeaud’s goal with Magnolia LA is to have as few sharp edges as possible, for aesthetics and safety. Instead of a hard 90-degree angle for riders to hit, Magnolia’s grind box will have a smooth incline to hit a trick on the way up, or if riders miss, they’ll just get booped up. Billeaud’s trying to make it parent-friendly, professional, stylish, but most importantly, fun. “Because it’s such a small space, the park has to be well-designed and fun. None of the ramps can suck,” he says.

With little room to spare, Billeaud knew he needed a smart park designer. So he turned to the man who helped him with previous ramps, Ryan Corrigan. Based in Austin, Texas, Corrigan owns Hold On Here We Go, a park designing business that has taken him around the world. Corrigan started as a BMX rider, stopping by Lafayette old school skatepark Buck Nutty's Skate Ranch, and started building ramps while riding professionally.

Before Buck Nutty’s arrived on the Northside in the 1990s, Lafayette’s skater scene was mostly ad hoc with backyard and street ramps scattered around town. The space lasted until the early 2000, and other private skateparks have come and gone since — Skate Spot, The Spot and The Levee.

Billeaud grew up in Lafayette during the Buck Nutty’s era. His first priority was location, sacrificing square footage for being close to home and Downtown Lafayette’s reinvestment.

He expects to be open by April, just in time to host The Magnolia Jam BMX contest on April 30 during Festival International. The space will also feature a BMX retail shop and snack area. “I feel like everything, in terms of photography, video, to any design or construction-related projects, my whole life has led up to this,” he says. “ … I want to do two things: build BMX culture and skatepark culture in Louisiana.”

Inclusiveness is something Mongolia and Thomas Park will have in common. Skate culture is bigger than skateboards now. Both will accommodate all kinds of wheels and action sports.

“We want to be able to have that space, especially in a community where skateboarding and action sports isn’t as readily available as it is in other places,” Roberts says. “I didn't have that growing up [in Acadiana] but I've lived in enough places that have, and I've seen all the positives for other communities. And I just want kids here to have the same opportunities.”