August 26, 2009

A Good Ride: Kuko Padilla keeps Racine's skatepark flowing

Kuko Padilla installs a skate rail on Wednesday at the Racine skateboard park.
Padilla is hosting the 12th annual "Racine Bike Jam" on Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. at the park.
The event is free and open to the public.

Kuko Padilla sat in front of the city's Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday night. For the first time in 12 years, he needed a favor from the city's governing body. His argument was simple, and convincing: He'd earned it.

Flash ahead two days to Wednesday evening. Padilla, 35, is working in the middle of the skateboard park at Pershing Park. While guys around him attempt kickflips and jump spines, Padilla is running a generator and drilling a new guard rail into concrete. He paid to rent the generator and an air hammer, and he'll be there late into the night building and fixing the ramps used by hundreds of Racine kids and adults every summer. Padilla has been doing this work since the skate park opened. He's never been paid.

During the Finance and Personnel Committee, he faces a tough crowd. The committee doesn't like to waive fees completely, and one member admits to voting "like scrooge." (They often agree to cut a fee in half for groups that want to use city parks for events.) Padilla is asking the aldermen to waive a $318 fee to use the park for his 12th annual Bike Jam on Saturday (Aug. 29) from noon to 10 p.m. It's an odd formality given the skate park is free and open to the public all day long. But Padilla plans to have bands and food at the free event, and that triggered the need for the fee - unless he could convince the City Council to waive it.

Padilla tells the committee he's volunteered his time, and used his own money, to maintain and expand the skate park. This year alone he built a new "Hubble ramp and rail" - a sizable jump for skateboarders - and replaced worn surfaces that were falling into disrepair. Without Padilla's effort, it's work that would have fallen to the city. No doubt city workers could handle the maintenance, but they'd do it like a paid job. Padilla brings a different feel.

A Racine native, Padilla grew up on a BMX bike wishing the city had a park for bikers and skaters to fly around. After Dave Namowicz convinced the city to build the public skate park in Pershing Park, Padilla took on the job of keeping it around. He didn't know a thing about carpentry, but over time picked up the skills needed to build and re-build every ramp on site.

His work, and just his presence, grant him a deeper role. He's a supervisor, role model and mentor for the kids and young adults who flock to the skate park throughout the summer. If a fight breaks out, Padilla will throw out both kids and then counsel them when they inevitable return the next day. When bikes were being stolen a few years ago, Padilla confronted the kids suspected of taking them. The thefts stopped.

Padilla will also teach younger riders how to traverse the jumps and ramps - and to overcome the fear of vaulting 15 feet in the air and landing on what amounts to concrete. "You don't think we were afraid?" he'll tell kids eyeing their first jumps. "You just have to overcome it."

Padilla is the model of a resident invested in a city service. He's never paid for his work, which he slots in between his full-time job running a lawn care company and spending time with his family. (He used to use his three weeks of vacation from his job at UPS to work on the park.) He just keeps showing up because he loves the park, sees how much other people love it, and wants to keep it in shape for the new riders that appear every year.

"It's a love of the sport," Padilla said, answering the "why do this?" question. "I always wanted my own park, and now I have my own park. This provides a lot of kids in Racine with a place to go."

(For anyone wondering about the city's unions, an agreement was worked out a few years ago to allow volunteers - mainly Padilla - to work on the skate park without violating contracts.)

On Wednesday, Padilla looks around and calls the younger riders the "8th or 9th" generation to discover and use the park. One little guy, no older than 8, launches his bike up a ramp, lands on his back wheel and glides to a stop pumping his fist with excitement. It's the first time he's landed the trick and his face beams through his helmet.

Padilla knows most of the guys at the park Wednesday night, but he keeps to himself. Nobody offers to help, and Padilla does nothing to bring attention to his work. He's sincere in his effort. It's the type of commitment that should be rewarded.

At Monday's committee meeting, the aldermen seem skeptical. One asks to see receipts and a log of Padilla's hours, but Parks Director Donnie Snow assures Padilla does "some work" at the park. "He's put in more than $318," Snow says.

Alderman Bob Anderson finally moves to waive the entire fee and the committee votes unanimously to support it. They even agree to waive a $200 deposit usually required to ensure the park is cleaned up after events.

Wednesday night, Padilla said he was relieved. He and his wife, Rebecca, are planning to spend $300 to $400 on brats and hot dogs for Saturday's Bike Jam. They'll grill all the food and sell it for $1 to $2, too little to break even. But the event isn't about making money, Padilla said. He doesn't even advertise it's going on. The date just spreads through word of mouth and people turn out for one last ride before the end of the summer.

"A lot of good riding goes down," said Padilla, who's anticipating 300 people at the event.

A skateboarder attempts a jump off of the "Hubble ramp" Padilla built at the Racine skate park.

In preparation, Padilla will be at the skate park all week wrapping up projects and building a temporary stage for the bands. With a family now and his own company, Padilla admits working on the skate park creates some tension. He scaled back his time at the park this summer, but still put in dozens of hours of work.

"I don't want to give it up," he said, admitting eventually he may have to walk away from the role he's filled for years. But it won't happen this year. He's got too much work to do before Saturday's Bike Jam and still feels a responsibility to the park that's given so much.

"I want to be a good user," Padilla said. "This is something for every kid ... I want to keep that."

Saturday's "Racine Bike Jam" runs from noon to 10 p.m. and is open to the public. Bring your skateboard, bike, scooter, rollerblades, or just a camera, down to the skate park along Pershing Park Drive just east of the YMCA building. Brats and hot dogs will be available for sale, along with soda and Gatorade. Bands play from 5-10 p.m.


  1. This is a good event for punk kids.

  2. ...For anyone wondering about the city's unions, an agreement was worked out a few years ago to allow volunteers - mainly Padilla - to work on the skate park without violating contracts...

    The city accepts tons of other volunteer work - why would this be any different?

    The unions are such dinosaurs.

  3. WOW! Unbeleivable! This committee has done something RIGHT for a change! I'm shocked! Well good job to all involved!

  4. Kuko - I don't know you but I admire your efforts. Racine needs more people like you. If we can assist you, or you need help in anyway, please don't hesitate to call.
    Patrick Flynn

  5. God Bless Padilla!


    "the aldermen seem skeptical.One asks to see receipts and a log of Padilla's hours," What fool would ask that question?
    The City of Racine could use more like Mr. Padilla and this is how they treat him?
    God only knows what would have happed if he was Korean

  6. From David Namowicz:

    Kuko has put 300-400 hours a year into maintaining this park for the past 11 years. Without his effort this park, which is used by 100's of kids per week would be in severe disrepair. The City Park & Rec department has only recently even offer to put any money in their budget to help maintain the park. After raising the money and organizing volunteers to build the park in 1998, I have had to continue to contribute money for supplies every year to keep up the maintenance of the Park. Kuko has replace every ramp in the park in the past 10 years! He is a hero to hundreds of kids and should get far more recognition than he gets for his effort. Too bad City officials questioned his claim of the hours he works at the park and shame on Donnie Snow for not giving Kuko a glowing recommendation. This kid helps make this park a great success.

  7. That's what we need...more people doing things because they think they are good and not for the $$. Interesting side son was in jail when the skateboard was being build and he was allowed out to help with the building.

  8. Padilla is a great man helping others without pay. This weekend doing more to help others.

    I will be there this weekend and shake this mans hand and ask how I can help.

  9. Thanks to Bob Anderson.

    KuKo I am thankful you are there for all the children that enjoy the park.

    Keep up the good work. Have a great event.

    Nice story.

  10. 12:38 - you mean all the punks that enjoy the park.

  11. Great story, it's refreshing to read there is someone out there doing something without personal financial expectatons.

    Every parent of kids that use the park should attend, buy food and tips VERY heavily. I know I will.

    Thanks, Mr. Padilla

  12. Looking at the photo I'm sure those kids are bound for an Ivy League school and probably will end up as a CEO for a major corporation.

  13. Hats off to you Kuko!

  14. I'm looking forward to attending the event this weekend. Thank you Kuko for being a positive influence on the lives of so many local kids! The kids are learning about overcoming fears, building relationships, and I can't even imagine the bravery it takes to make those jumps! Too many kids in Racine complain that there's nothing to do, but this park gives some of those kids something fun to do that doesn't cost anything other than the equipment you bring.

  15. Kuko, thanks for maintaining and improving what i helped build back in '98. If it wasn't for my back injury later that year I'dve been out there helping all along even though skateboards and I never saw eye-to-eye and I was too big for a BMX bike (6' 5"). FWIW, I'm 41 now and none of my kids have ever rode or skated there.

    Keep up the great work man, you are a throw-back to what we once were and need to get back to!!!!

  16. I like going to the skate park with my little ones and watching the kids do tricks.

    This is great exercise.

    Better to give them a place to be in our community then to have them out bored and vandalizing.

  17. Padilla is a great guy. Too bad the Post sucks as they do anything for Obama care

  18. Congratulations Kuko, for finally getting some long over-due recognition for your efforts.

    The pershing skate park was a tremendous achievement and would not have been possible without the generous support of David Namowicz, and the unwavering dedication from Kuko.

    I hope the public understands that city maintenance crews are simply not knowledgeable enough about the construction of these skateboard ramps and obstacles to effectively maintain this park.
    Just because you can frame a building, doesn't mean you know how to properly build a ramp. Just like you wouldn't let someone build your house if he's never done anything but build ramps. The geometry of the ramps is special and very specific, and so is the construction in general.
    I hope that adds some perspective on how essential Kuko's free labor is to this city park.

    Alex Chromy

  19. Have these kids filled out their application to Harvard yet? Oh, that's right RUSD has the lowest ACT scores around.

  20. Donnie Snow is a Hater for sure.
    Just because his male endowdment comes up short doesnt give him the reason to bash such a loving person.
    Kuko enjoys what he does and does a da*n good job at it.
    A lot of kids look up to him.
    He is a man of integrity and I believe i have seen him work at least 400 hours a year since 2000.

  21. He may have integrity, but unfortunately you cannot say the same thing about the punks that hang out there.

  22. Becky Padilla8/28/2009 7:30 PM

    Wow. I am amazed and pleased at all the support everyone has shown here! This is just great, and a real spirit booster for Kuko.

    Over the past few years the city officials have been making it more and more dificult for him to continue with his efforts in maintaining the park. Every year they throw something new at him and make him jump through hoops to get what he needs. Hopefully with all of your support he can continue to give the kids of southeastern Wisconsin a safe place to excerise and be with friends.

    I know personally that Dave Namowitz has been a great help to Kuko. Without his finacial and emotional support none of this would be possible. Dave and Kuko make an excellent team and I hope they continue to make Racine a brighter and better place for young ones to grow up in. Hats off to you. It's much appreciated!

    And I hope we see each and everyone of you there Saturday!

    Becky Padilla

  23. I'll stop down and see you guys on Saturday.

  24. Hopefully, no 15 year old girl will get raped in a van down there like last month, you know, where citizens had to rescue her, starked naked and bound. You know, the guy who police shot who tried to run them over?? That all started down at the wonderful skate park. Party on fools!!

  25. Anon 7:53

    The crime you speak of had nothing to do with the Park.

    Kuko you have very strong character. It is a shame that none of the union folks volunteered to pitch-in to help. I will stop down today and make a donation. Keep pushing on and don't let elected officials dissuade you from giving back to your community.

    To the rest of you Racinians, it is time that we quit accepting this behavior from our elected officials. Most of the staffers don't want to be bothered with having to work beyond the bare minimum.

  26. If I remember correctly, there WAS union support at the onset and creation of this park. Seems to me a bunch of Racine Firefighters (Local 321, IAFF) spent some time on the original construction of the ramps.

  27. To those if you who fail to see what a blessing this park has been to Racine, maybe you should rethink the matter. Consider this, if these so called "punk kids" didn't have somewhere to hang out and something constructive to do, where do you think they would be?

    I'm willing to bet that there are more than a handful of kids who have been kept out of trouble by the presence of the skate park and the connections that they have made there. The skate park provides a healthy outlet for kids not just in Racine, but all around the area.

    The other thing that bothers me is the stereotype that is being placed on these kids based solely off of the clothes they wear and the the fact that they enjoy spending their free time in a skate park. An old English Proverb states that "you cannot judge a book by its cover". Its truly a shame that more people don't pay respect to these wise words. Maybe they could learn a thing or two!

    Kuko, thank you for all of your time, and effort. Thank you for providing our youth with a place to hang out at and something to do. The statements made here are only done out of ignorance and misunderstanding. I hope that the support and encouragement for your incredible efforts continue to flow freely. You are making a huge difference in our community!

  28. Info:

    You are WRONG. Get your facts straight. The suspect and the victim were down at the park watching the event. Where exactly do you get your info?? Out of your ***????

  29. Lets remove Snow from Parks and put someone there who cares

  30. If there are any punk kids that go to this skatepark, perhaps they became jaded from an overall lack of compassion and loving guidance in their lives. Its a situation perpetuated by people like you(with the punk comments).

    And if Racine's public schools have a problem, it has nothing to do with this skatepark. It takes tax money and a school board that actually cares to make a quality education system.


  31. TO the one who posted about the raping at pershing park. The facts state that he picked the girl up at her house.Where her mother let her go with the man.Then he drove her to pershing park.Where the city was hosting there 5 year competition.How exactly is the skate park involved here.You can read cant you or do you just skim over the pages.The skate park has no ties to the raping and that is the fact.Think before you speek out idiot.

  32. Thanks all for coming to the jam!!! It was a great time. And to the person who "borrowed" Kuko's itouch please return it. It has sentimental value. There's pictures on there that I need! There is a reward for anyone who knows its where abouts!!!!!

  33. 4:55 - I bet in 10 years these kids will be doing the same thing with no future in the horizon, so it looks like a real good use of time - NOT!

  34. To the anon who keep trashing the kids at the skate park: Four of the original kids who helped build the park have great jobs and good families. Another is now a Racine policeman. Two more got involved in politics and were on the All American City committee that got Racine the award. I am a CEO of a large company and if you would have seen how I looked and dressed at age 18, you would have made the same comments about me. This park is the busiest park in Racine and the police tell me has far fewer calls than other parks. Please take your negative comments somewhere else. This park has been a success on so many levels and we don't need your sour outlook on life to taint it

    --David Namowicz