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My Own Private Ride

Backyard ramps offer a personal and familiar skate fix with the chance to take bigger risks
Madeline Yang

By Ryan Bradford

my own private ride, skater at sunset

my own private ride, skater at sunset

Madeline Yang

It’s a harrowing drive to get to the Draper family’s house, and I’m not sure my Toyota Corolla will make it. I watch the RPMs rev as the little car pushes up a long, steep and twisty driveway, which actually feels more like a bobsled track.

But at the top, a breathtaking view. The Draper family—Mark, Sarah, and their two young children—live on a peak that overlooks the Dehesa Valley, a rural area nestled deep in East County San Diego. From their house, they can see for miles. For a family that loves nature, solitude and privacy, the location is perfect; but for a skateboarder…not so much. The nearest skate park—or even skateable road—is a far drive, and that twisty strip of pavement that serves as their driveway is a one-way ticket to Valhalla for anyone who chooses to skate it.

my own private ride, skateboard

Demetrius Antuña’s backyard is host to The Unicorn Lair, a DIY skate ramp he built with his kids during the pandemic. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos,” Antuña says of how he learned to build it. He and his family raised over half the cost of the ramp through GoFundMe.

Madeline Yang

This lack of skateboard opportunities didn’t sit well with Mark Draper, who fell in love with skateboarding in college after years of playing traditional sports in high school.

“I always wanted a skateboard ramp growing up, but my dad said, ‘You’re not touching a skateboard.’ Wrestling, football, and baseball were all full-time jobs, but when I got into college, I didn’t have those sports anymore, so I picked up a skateboard.”

Mark has been infatuated with skateboarding since and was stoked when his kids immediately took to the sport as well. However, he needed an environment where both he and his kids could practice safely.

“My daughter has so much character: It was either she’s gonna go down that driveway within the next couple years, or we build something to keep her contained.”

my own private ride, the atuna family

The Antuña family hangs out on the backyard ramp they made (pictured above). “My favorite thing about having ramps growing up was people would just show up,” Demetrius Antuña says. “You’d meet new people, but I feel like my kids never really had that.” Until now.

Madeline Yang

“We wanted a safe space for them to be crazy,” Sarah adds.

The Drapers got in touch with Jim Bell, the longtime veteran ramp builder behind Jim Bell Skate Ramps. Bell has built ramps and backyard skateparks for novices and pros around the world. He’s built ramps for Tony Hawk, 2021 Olympic skateboarder Bryce Wettstein, as well as an in-ground halfpipe for Mitt Romney’s kids. Bell was especially taken with the Drapers’ enthusiasm—not to mention their unique location—and together they designed a half bowl that custom fit their backyard.

The popularity of backyard skateparks has grown steadily since Bell first started building ramps. In the early-late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the rise of pro skaters like Tony Hawk did a lot to destigmatize the sport, and municipal skateparks became regular features nationwide, but finicky neighbors and draconian HOA regulations remained a hurdle for backyard ramps, pipes and bowls. But Bell says this is quickly changing. “90 percent of neighborhoods right now know what a ramp is,” Bell says. “HOAs now are [made up of ] people who’ve skated. Twenty years ago, they were like, ‘What is this thing?’ Ten years ago, it was like, ‘Oh, we kind of know what it is.’ But now, it’s cool.”

my own private ride, the iguana bowl

The Wettstein’s Iguana Bowl signage, appropriately on a skate deck.

J.Grant Brittain

It certainly doesn’t hurt that skateboarding was further legitimized by becoming an official Olympic sport in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games, which featured Vista native Bryce Wettstein, the top rated women’s park rider in the country. Wettstein credits her backyard bowl (dubbed the “Iguana Bowl” [search #iguanabowl on Instagram]) with helping her hone new tricks.

“It’s almost like having your own home,” Wettstein says. “The more you’re familiar with something, the more you feel accustomed to take more risks. There’s always this little firework of magic that happens, where you always end up wanting to try a new trick.” While San Diego companies like Jim Bell Skateboard Ramps, Front Rock Inc. and Kanten Russell will build you a custom backyard skatepark, some people have opted for more of a DIY approach, including musician and graphic designer, Demetrius Antuña.

my own private ride, bryce wettstein

Bryce Wettstein skates in her hashtag-worthy backyard bowl, #iguanabowl, which was built by builder Jim Bell, who has completed many notable backyard skate projects in San Diego County.

J.Grant Brittain

“Covid kind of put this off,” Antuña says while showing off “The Unicorn Lair,” his family’s massive backyard halfpipe. “I got more into skating because we didn’t have anything else to do. So me and my kids would just go out skating.” The more Antuña skated, the more he wanted to revisit the ramps of his youth. “My favorite thing was skating mini-ramps, and they’re impossible to find anymore. All the skateparks are concrete. I was craving a mini-ramp so that I could learn my old stuff again without the fear of totally destroying myself.”

Although Antuña handled a lot of the construction (“I watched a lot of Youtube videos”), he is quick to admit that he had tons of help from friends and family (nearly half the $3K cost was raised through GoFundMe). He’s also found that The Unicorn Lair is creating a community entirely unto itself by becoming a destination for neighborhood skaters.

“My favorite thing about having ramps growing up was people would just show up,” Antuña says. You’d meet new people, but I feel like my kids never really had that. You don’t really meet people at skateparks now—they all have their ear buds in and are minding their own business. So here, they’re learning that whole backyard camaraderie thing.”

my own private ride, ramp in yard

my own private ride, ramp in yard

Madeline Yang

my own private ride, tony hawk's park

“I have a skatepark at my house,” Tony Hawk told San Diego Magazine. “It’s beyond any dream I could have imagined as a young skater. But the coolest part is the tile configuration—blue and orange—because it’s an ode to the pool I grew up riding at Del Mar Skate Ranch.”“I wanted something with plenty of variety in the limited space: bowl, street, and even a little vert.” -Tony Hawk

J.Grant Brittain


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