[Luke Newcomer] Hey you guys, it’s Luke Newcomer here with a Newcomer Group. I’m standing here with Brennan Gagnon at the Datil Pepper vert ramp, located in his backyard. He raised money for it, got the dog hanging in the backyard making sure everyone’s staying clear. Brennan, before we talk about this skate ramp, tell everyone who you are where you’re from give a little little bit of context and content
[Brennan Gagnon] Hello, I’m Brennan, as Luke said. I’m from Virginia originally. I came to St. Augustine to go to school at Flagler. I’m a Saints fan (go Saints!), and I am a teacher at Murray Middle School which is right around the corner, and I’ve worked with kids for years in this area – West St. Augustine. I am a lifelong skateboarder as well.
[Luke] Awesome, so the Newcomer Group actually helped you buy this house a little less than a year ago. A couple months after you purchased it, you had reached out to me and said that you’re raising money to build a skate ramp. Now, I think most people when they hear something like that think: why would you raise money? Why are you asking people for money to build a skate ramp in your backyard? Tell everyone a little bit about why you wanted to put the skate ramp back here; obviously you love skateboarding, but it’s not for selfish reasons.
[Brennan] There’s a lot more that’s behind it, sure
[Luke] So, then maybe unravel and talk about the Datil Pepper vert ramp as well.
[Brennan] Sure. A little back story: this is this is a big ramp; like guys, this is huge!
[Luke] You’re going to see Brennan rip the ramp a little bit maybe I’ll get on a skateboard. But this is a legit vert ramp. So, tell everyone a little bit about what inspired you to do this.
[Brennan] So, I grew up doing more of what we’d call a “street style” of skateboarding, and that’s just how I started out. Then, as I got more into surfing after moving to Florida. I got into skating – what we’d call “bowls” where you’re carving around making surf-like movements Then, throughout time, I would skate bigger and bigger bowls; I started to learn how to catch air, and the vert ramp is designed specifically for that. It creates a perfect scenario to catch air and just practice maneuvers. They call it a “swing set” because it really is like that. There really aren’t too many of them that exist in the world, and most of them are private; there’s not a whole lot of public vert ramps. I knew one gentleman who had one in his backyard, and I just thought, “man, if I could ever buy a home – if it’s at all possible – I would love to do something like this, and make it available to the public in some sort of way”. Now, it can’t be anarchy back here, but that’s kind of the motivation I had. It’s a great exercise, it’s pretty artsy and creative, and I just think it’s an awesome alternative outlet for kids who are looking for something else.
[Luke] So, I’m a big surfer and skater myself so I think this is awesome. For people that don’t know, your goal was to raise ten thousand dollars, and you did that. How did you get the money? It wasn’t just door-knocking obviously. What types of ways did you get creative to get funding from people?
[Brennan] So, first off, some of it was just personal money I had saved up and had been taking out of my paycheck each each month to bankroll it and make it happen. We did odd jobs, so we did an advertisement on Facebook saying, “hey look, here’s what we’re up to: it’s a community project. Can we come mow your lawn, take out your trash, or pull weeds for some money? People were really responsive to that offer, and excited about what we were doing. Some friends and I went and made that happen, then the rest of the gifts happened in one of two ways: it would either be an individual offering – a smaller gift – like hey, maybe a 20 year old skateboarder says, “hey man I’ll throw twenty dollars.” But typically, they were big gifts, really fortunately spaced out. Somebody would come in and say, “man, I see you guys have raised a lot of money. I’ve really been thinking about this, and I love what you’re doing. If you can get to this amount, I’ll commit this big sum,” which my church did, you all did, certain individuals did. At the very end, as we were nearing kind of the eight grand – nine grand range. One of the kids who I’ve worked with in the past, his dad reached out and said, “hey, I just heard what you’re doing. I used to skateboard all the time. What do you need to get there?” He bankrolled the rest, and then from there, lumber kept rising, so I had to bankroll a little more.
[Luke] Everyone in real estate knows that absolutely.
[Brennan] So you guys know the struggle. But that’s how it happened. It was small gifts intertwined with big ones that just helped make the dream come true. As we were building, that was part of it. I didn’t want to just build once we raised everything; I wanted to build as we were going, so people could see it, get excited about it, and say, “hey how can I hop in and commit.” That was kind of how I knew.
[Luke] When we donated it was kind of like, “I just want to see how it unravels,” because this is a commitment, For context, this is probably the only vert ramp in St. Augustine, or even in North Florida that’s going to be open to the public. I’m sure there’s some precautions and waivers and whatnot that people need to sign and rules that we’ll want to follow?
[Brennan] It’s called the Datil Pepper vert ramp, because Datil Peppers call St. Augustine home. They started off of Spain, but then they came here and we’re kind of known for this sweet hot pepper. I thought, “man, for this ramp and movement to really kind of gain traction, we’re going to need a fun name for it.” Everybody’s skate ramp is called Such-And-Such skate ramp like it’s never just, “hey, Joe’s Ramp.” You got to give it a name, and I love the taste of a Datil Pepper. I’m planning on starting a garden and growing some peppers and other things, but one thing that skateboard you know this is a very 80’s style ramp like these dimensions 11 feet, 24 feet wide it’s a ramp that you would be likely to see in the 80s, and I just think it’s really neat. In the eighties. If you hear Lance Mountain or Christian Hosoi, these old vert skaters talk, one thing they would say is if there’s a guy who ripped, who was really good at vert, they’d say this guy was hot or he was getting hot. And it’s really awkward now for us to hear that. But I think it’s a really rad way that they talk and Datil Peppers are hot. So we could say, “come show us what you got and get hot at the Datil Pepper vert ramp.” And not to mention, you can do a Datil Pepper ramp jam and make a little jam. So there’s just many possibilities with it. I think so it’s fun.
[Luke] All right. so know who you are, flagger, graduate, how you raised the money is an incredible story. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to go out and raise $10,000 for people to believe in actually put some money behind something like that, especially if they don’t skateboard, or understand the concept and what it actually gives back to the youth. What were some other pushbacks aside from raising money? Because to me, when I think of building this ramp, I think of what’s the city have to say about something like this. What does insurance have to say about putting something like this behind a residential property? What types of challenges and pushback did you get, and how did you overcome them?
[Brennan] So first things first, I guess I’ll hit on the ones that you might expect. And then I’ll talk about some extraneous ones with insurance. I had reached out to my insurance broker and had said, “hey, I’m trying to build a big skate ramp in my yard. Can you hook me up with somebody who will affirm that?” And you know, won’t drop me for that. And he found me somebody and locked me in with my insurance company who does that in my escrow account. So, that is how that handled.
[Luke] And you were proactive with that. You thought about this stuff upfront. It wasn’t just like, “let’s build a ramp. I need to run in and out.”
[Brennan] I knew I wanted sustainability; I want the ramp to last for kids and adults like to enjoy it. I didn’t want to get shut down. So I sought that out first and kind of checked that box. As far as the city goes, I called the city too. In most cities, the biggest thing is that people want your ramp to be modular. If you build something this big and it’s not modular, and it’s a permanent structure, you’ll have to pull permits and codes and all that. This ramp would be a huge pain in the rear end, but you could take it apart in eight foot sections. We built it such that it is technically modular. So this is actually a modular structure that can come apart and be shipped in a truck somewhere else if it needs to be. For that reason, we didn’t need to pull any sort of codes or permits. And the city says they’re fine with skate ramps, as long as you don’t skate past nine o’clock, there’s a fence, and it can’t be in your front yard. It has to be side or backyard, but then you got a nice, deep lot. So those are kind of the parameters with it. I called and said, “hey, I’m doing this. It’s going to be pretty big. Is it okay?” I was on the phone with zoning and they were like: skate ramp. Yeah. You have a fence. Yeah. Good.
[Luke] So how do the neighbors like it?
[Brennan] So far everyone’s been really excited. I don’t plan to skate super late at night or do anything really wild. And most people have been pretty supportive. I think the worst reaction I got was a lady thought we were building a roller skating rink and she called in and complained. But then we cleared that up and she said, Oh, skateboarding. Okay. That that’s different. And she was cool. And then other than that, the worst we get is just curious looks. But I think most people are pretty excited just to see what’s happening and they’d know the kids would love it too.
[Luke] I think it’s an awesome concept. I think it’s really cool that the community got behind something like this. For the kids and the skaters that are really good and the people that maybe don’t know what they’re doing, what are the rules to skate? With this thing, there’s gotta be rules.
[Brennan] Yeah. I mean the first and foremost would be, I have to be home when you skate it. So people, you know, there are some ramps where believe it or not, you can show up to somebody’s house and just skate. That’s perfectly open to the public. Not a great idea liability-wise for me, I have to be home if you’re going to come and skate. So that’s one rule. Another rule would be no illicit substances back here. That’s just a given. That’s a rule we’ve had to be up front about. You have to wear a certified hard foam helmet. So there’s two kinds of helmets. You would think every helmet would just be safe and certified, but certain companies cut corners just for profit margin and all that. And even your big helmet companies are making these more comfortable yet uncertified helmets. And if you can press them in, that’s going to be your head when you hit. And we don’t want anybody getting majorly injured. So certified helmets are a must. And then the last one that we’re really trying to push, because we’ve already had instances of conflict arising and having conflict resolution, um, is, is no, um, no isms in, in any sense. So racism, sexism, homophobia, if that’s your thing to make slurs like that, or to be disrespectful, we’re going to give you a warning. And then if you’re not cool about trying to fix that, we’re going to say you should probably go skate somewhere else, because this space has to be for everyone.
[Luke] Be kind, wear a helmet and make sure you’re home to skate. It that’s really exciting. Have you told any of your students about this?
[Brennan] Yeah, absolutely. A lot of them have just heard about it through the news. For a lot of the rest, I would tell them too, cause in math, believe it or not in sixth grade math, you’re doing a lot of problem solving that lends itself well to construction like this. So I’d, I’d tell them about the sort of applicable things I was doing in class.
[Luke] I’m going to interrupt you again, sorry. Can you talk about the construction? Who built this? I know you were very hands-on with it. Did you sub anything out, or contract anything out? This is this is quality – the wood, the coping, the ladders, there’s a staircase around there. I mean, this was thoughtful. There was definitely plans for it. Can you elaborate?
[Brennan] Definitely. It was a group effort, and I had a lot of people who are contractors and carpenters kind of sub in and take certain things around with it. The main guy who led the project, his name was Paul Pomeroy. He’s from Jacksonville, worked at Kona skate park for years. And he’s now a contractor. He has a woodworking side hustle, and he also works for a main company. And he’s the guy who was our go-to point person and led the charge. So, that’s that. To touch back on what you were saying. There’s local students who live in the area, and my requirement for them is just that I’ll have talked with their parents, and their parents know they’re here. Last night, many of them came over. They got their helmets, they got shoes, and they grabbed some boards. We would take runs from up top – those of us who were a little more experienced. And then when we got all tired out, cause you get very tired when you’re skating vert. We’ll say, “hey, we’re going to take a breather, have something to drink and talk. You guys have at it.” And the kids would all get on the flat bottom and be pumping back and forth. And they were so excited about it. A lot of the kids do know, and the school’s open to doing a skate club next year. I’m not sure if we’ll incorporate the ramp into that, but it’s just another way to get kids introduced to skateboarding, which I’m all for.
[Luke] I think that’s really awesome. Do you need any additional donations? Not necessarily monetary, but like skateboards, pads, the helmets you were talking about that would be up to par. Are you looking for any of those types of donations to make sure you got them on hand for anyone that doesn’t have them?
[Brennan] So, at this point I have a lot of skate decks, but I really need trucks and wheels. So, if anybody has trucks and wheels to help us throw together boards, that would be awesome. I think certified helmets would be something; if anybody has any hard foam certified helmets, those are a big thing. And then the last thing that would be tougher to buy, but I know oftentimes people have them sitting around, is a paver. I’m looking to do an eclectic paver pattern out here. I don’t need a lot of the same pavers. I just need pavers. If anybody has any extra ones, almost like you might see it in a Mexican restaurant. I think it’s more fun to kind of do an eclectic pattern. So if anybody has pavers that they want to donate, so we’re not getting dirt on our feet and dragging it on the ramp, that would be phenomenal. Those are the main things.
[Luke] This is such an incredible thing to give back to the community. You’re obviously a standup guy, teacher, sixth grade Flagler college graduate care about the community. Thanks for doing this. Let’s rip this ramp. Let’s show everybody how to skate this thing. Is there anything else that we need to tell the public about this ramp that we didn’t catch in this interview?
[Brennan] Just extreme gratitude. A huge thank you to everyone who’s been involved. I’m not going to name drop other than, um, my lovely fiance, Maria, who lives here. She’s beyond supportive of me and anything that brings me joy. And I think she sees how much good this is already doing. And she has been such a trooper. So I’m just super grateful for everyone involved in the vision, specifically her. And that’s the last thing,
[Luke] There’s so much passion behind this project and you’ve been like on it since day one. It’s been really fun to follow the process, come back here after selling you the home back in July. It’s been almost a year. Seeing you clear this land, it’s been a phenomenal project and fun to watch. So congrats. Thanks for doing this for the community.
[Brennan] And lastly, if you want to skate, please hit us up on our Instagram @datilperrpervertramp. DM me, and we’ll session; just hit me up first and we’ll make that work.
[Luke] Very cool. Let’s do it let’s get this thing!