In the city of Atascadero, Kevin Campion is known to civic leaders and members of various service organizations as a business owner, booster of the town’s economic and athletic endeavors, and generally a good guy to have on your list when organizing a neighborhood event. Children and teens from across SLO County though know him as a defacto coach and mentor. Especially if they have any interest in skating or BMX.
Involved with the A-Town Skate Park for 12 years and running it through a contract with the City for ten, Campion has taken on the kind of role one thinks of as a “Big Brother” for hundreds in that time. Although he prefers to think of work with youth as fostering more of an Uncle relationship.
At 62 he has grown children of his own, and grandkids, even though his youthful energy and a lifetime of sports have given him the facade of someone 20 years younger. However, that’s an observation he dismisses by pointing out some of the less obvious signs of an aged body, such as the bite that skin cancer took from his nose. That’s part of the price he paid for a lifetime in the water before moving to the Central Coast from Marin County.
“I’ve been working with kids my whole life,” he explained, “I started as a swim coach at 14 working for an Olympic medalist.”
He learned the mantra of mutual respect and a teaching presence growing up in a family with six kids and from a father who was also a community leader and even a local celebrity as an administrator for the Golden Gate Bridge and the voice of their County Fair. That was on his mind when the SLO Journal called Campion in December, thinking about themes of renewal and changes afoot for 2019. As it turned out it was the third anniversary of his father’s death.
“What I’ve tried to create is what my Dad would do. These are the lessons he gave me that I try to pass on. I think a lot about him and what he left behind … you know, to be completely honest I’m not so concerned about what someone rides at the park or if they ride at all if they come. It’s about having a place where people care about having better social interactions, about teaching the skills at the core of community and having great uncles around for the younger kids. And I think after a few years now people are really getting that,” he said, adding that, while there is a group of regulars at the park for whom he’s a solid adult male presence that may be lacking elsewhere in their lives, “I’m just being my father’s son. That’s lent itself to being able to help kids at the park. But we’re not a band of misfits hanging out. A few have their own quirks and issues but so does everyone.”
The business side of the park operation makes for a unique private-public partnership maybe a little easier for Campion to run than it would be for some others. His local company—in business before taking over A-town—805 Boardshop on Traffic Way, just a few blocks from the park, was the latest retail venture for him after selling off a chain of successful stores in the Bay Area in the 1990s.
“I’ve been doing this a long time too,” he said. “But the reality is I’m just a middle-class guy who manages very carefully so I can do what I love. That just means you have to be comfortable driving a 10-year old car.”
Both the park and his store do well in their own right, he adds, but that means knowing what goal to pursue. “My goal is to have A-Town be a solid venture I can hand off to the right person, and it is, but when the time comes. I’m not out of energy yet.”
That’s a good thing too because the work never ends for a facility half indoors and out. Constant maintenance is an overlooked need while donations, such as the nearly complete enclosed ramp made possible with help from the Atascadero Rotary Club and local Home Depot, receive more attention.
“So of the decks have been exposed to weather and the elements for15 years now,” he adds, although notes that the casual vandalism one might expect from a skater subculture is not one of the issues they’ve had to deal with. “In the early days there were groups of local kids that thought it was a free-for-all to jump the fence if no one was here but you know they’ve grown out of it and some have kids of their own now.”
Which isn’t to say there isn’t an occasional personality conflict.
“It is a strange fit with what is essentially an anarchist culture but if you want to be here then you abide by rules and respect,” he said noting that kids aren’t necessarily the problem, “We had a guy come up with his son from South County and he pitched a fit that we wouldn’t let them ride in non-certified helmets. We’ll let you use one if you can’t afford a couple bucks for a rental, but we can’t let you get hurt because you won’t abide by the safety standards we have to follow to keep our insurance. So, he took the kid and stormed out, got in his truck and left. That’s fine. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Full information, for those contemplating a visit to the park or in need of items available at the proshop, is online at atownpark.com.
Camas Frank has been a San Luis Obispo County print journalist for over a decade. First drawn to the Central Coast for a stint at Cal Poly, he’s focused on community affairs, people and technology.