Gilroy and started the not-for-profit Extreme Youth event three years ago as a way to showcase extreme sports in Gilroy while connecting with kids who aren’t part of school and community athletic programs.
If Tarasco and Hayes work hard during their free time to help Gilroy’s skateboarders and BMX bikers, that’s because “we were those kids,” says Hayes. Tarasco can still do a mean kick flip, which no longer surprises the kids helped by Extreme Youth.
The real trick is finding sponsorships from the city and local companies to make sure these young extreme athletes have a safe environment to practice their sport.
Gilroy Patch: How long have you two known each other?
Steven Hayes: Since 2001. We met at Gavilan when Mark was at the police academy and I was in the firefighting program.
Mark Tarasco: After college, when we both started working for the city, we hung out together.
Patch: Mark, you were a skateboarder as a kid, and Steven, you were a BMXer. This is a little bit of a disconnect for me. It doesn’t seem as if many die-hard skateboarders grow up to be police officers.
Tarasco: A lot of people have a perception of skateboarders as the kids hanging out at the park, skipping school, wearing saggy clothes and not caring about society. There’s an element of that in skateboarding, but this is a case of one bad apple spoiling it for everyone. Most of the kids we see are regular kids looking for a way to have fun in a safe place.
Hayes: The kids we see are really, really good kids. Some are straight-A students. For whatever reason, they’re not on baseball or football teams. They try skateboarding or BMX biking and they find they’re naturally good at it.
Tarasco: Except Gilroy doesn’t have the facilities for these sports. There’s the skate park at Las Animas, but it’s small, outdated and locked up at night.
Hayes: The kids tend to build their own jumps. They find locations that most people have no idea are even there. All they need are shovels and some water—they’re pretty enterprising. But these homemade jumps are a liability for the city. The city has to flatten the jumps that the kids work so hard on. The only contact they really have with the city becomes a negative.
Tarasco: It leaves a bad taste with the kids, when that’s the interaction the kids have with the city and with the police. From their point of view, they’re building something, they're doing it on land nobody uses, and not doing any damage. They know they can't skateboard in the Starbucks parking lot on First Street; they're just looking for a place to go.
Hayes: We want to bridge that gap with Extreme Youth. I was one of those kids. I grew up in Hollister, and my friends and I would build those jumps in the dirt and then watch the city come and tear them down.
Patch: What did you do when this happened repeatedly?
Hayes: My friends and I went to City Council meetings. We filled out speaker cards and spoke to the City Council, saying, “If you’re going to tear down our jumps, can’t you build us something we can use?”
Patch: You were 14 years old?
Hayes: Fourteen or 15.
Patch: Did you get your skate park?
Hayes: No. A few years after I left, Hollister did build a skate park that is designed for both bicycles and skateboards.
Patch: What does Extreme Youth hope to accomplish with Saturday's event?
Tarasco: It’s the once-a-year Little League day for skateboarders and BMXers. It’s the one day of the year where they get to show what they can do.
Hayes: Some of these kids are amazing athletes. And they don’t have coaches. They are their own coach. If they were football players or soccer players, they’d have people cheering them on every week. Extreme Youth is a chance to showcase extreme sports in Gilroy, but it’s also a way for us to connect with the community and ask for public support for these kids and not let them fall through the cracks.
Patch: What kind of support are you hoping for?
Tarasco: Donations always help, but we would like to see this event turn into more of a program. A program aimed at kids involved with extreme sports in Gilroy.
Hayes: We’d like to have some corporate sponsors take an interest. When I was young, I was part of a BMX team. I had several sponsors including corporate and local businesses. The team paid for me to travel around California. They paid for gear, food, bike repair. BMX racing opened a lot of doors for me.
Patch: So in a way, Extreme Youth is a way for you to pay it forward.
Hayes: It is. Extreme sports are becoming more mainstream. The X Games have done a lot to bring these sports to a wider audience. BMX racing was an Olympic sport for the first time during the last summer games. We just want our local kids involved in these sports to have community support.
Patch: Is this happening with skateboarding too, Mark?
Tarasco: I hope so. Extreme sports have been frowned upon by the police and by schools while school-sponsored sports get a lot of positive attention from the city and the schools. The ironic part is many of these school athletes jump on their bike or skateboard after their team practice.
We want to level that playing field a little, offer the skateboarders and BMX kids a safe place to practice their sport and just have fun. The kids would benefit incredibly, and Gilroy would benefit.
Patch: Explain how Gilroy would benefit.
Tarasco: If you offer kids a safe, wholesome outlet and you show them that the adults in our community support them, you’re going to see those kids do the right things.
Patch: How many kids would a skate park benefit?
Tarasco: It really depends on the facility. We’ll see about 1,500 people at the event on Saturday, and at least 500 of those will be kids.
Patch: What would the perfect skate park look like?
Tarasco: Cool in summer, dry in winter. Foam pits. Maybe a skate store to help support the park. In doesn’t have to be expensive. Just a place where kids can listen to music at night but where the police check in, in a positive way. Right now there’s no place in Gilroy for kids to hang out at night.
Patch: Where would you put a park like this?
Tarasco: There are several warehouses in Gilroy that have sat vacant for decades. If the owner of one of those warehouses stepped forward and volunteered the use of the building, that would be a great start.
Patch: Both of you have put an incredible amount of work into this.
Hayes: These are really great kids. They get excited that Mark and I can talk to them. We used to be them. We’d like to keep this positive momentum going between the city and Gilroy's youth.
Tarasco: Steven and I were talking with the owner of the Santa Cruz Skate Shop. I told him that I’m running out of steam and new ideas for the event. When we began, Steven and I were both single. Now I’m married with a 2-year-old, and Steven will be married in August.
Hayes: The owner of the skate shop told us, “You have a good thing going; don’t give up” and he offered to help.
Tarasco: We have some great people helping us, people like Steve Ashford and his son, Kelsy Ashford. Adam Jones as well. These are solid people who come out and help us anytime we need something. From generators to stage set up, we just ask, and they’re always ready to lend a hand.
Patch: Still, doing all this in addition to having a family and working a full-time job is a lot.
Hayes: The first year of the Extreme Youth event, Mark and I worked so hard that we didn’t even stop to eat during the event. (Both men laugh.) If this event becomes a city program that supports these activities, then all the work will be worth it.
Patch: And I know you’ve gone up to kids skating at Las Animas and told them you could do a kick flip. How did they react?
Tarasco: They don’t believe it.
Patch: How do they respond when they see you can skate?
Tarasco: I think it helps open communication between us. They see me on a skateboard, and immediately we have something in common.
Patch: Does the kick flip impress Myles (Tarasco’s 2-year-old)?
Tarasco: At the rate he is growing and the rate these sports are progressing, my little trick will soon be a thing of the past.
Hayes: The one thing we’d really like to happen as a result of Extreme Youth is increased community awareness. We’d like people to contact their City Council members and tell them that a safe place for kids to hang out is a good idea for everyone in Gilroy.
Patch: How have your colleagues from the Gilroy oolice and fire departments reacted to Extreme Youth?
Hayes: The support from both Gilroy fire and Gilroy PD have been incredible. Mark and I could not have done any of these events without the support of the people around us. Both Gilroy PD and fire unions sponsor the event monetarily every year. Mark and I are truly blessed to have the support we have from our colleagues.
Tarasco: And from Nahal and Malina.
Hayes: They say behind every good man is a woman with a really long list. That's true for us. My fiancé, Nahal, and Mark's wife, Malina, have been our biggest behind-the-scenes support. They handle the registration booth, and they push us year round to make this event happen. Thank you, Nahal and Malina. Extreme Youth would not be possible without the two of you.
To support Tarasco and Hayes's work on behalf of young people in Gilroy, make checks out to Extreme Youth and drop off the check or mail it to Extreme Youth, 7070 Chestnut St., Gilroy 95020. Checks also may be dropped off at the Extreme Youth event.
The Extreme Youth event takes place in Las Animas Park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday. It's free and kid-friendly.