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Surf in Santa Ana? Snowboard in summer? New pop-up makes action sports accessible

Southern California is known as one of the few places in the world where you can surf, snowboard and skate in the same day, with the ocean and mountains just hours from one another and plenty of skateparks in between.

Now, you can do all those board sports in just one place.

A new action-sports playground recently launched at the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana, bringing together all three activities in a 45,000-square-foot space set up in the parking lot outside the shopping center. It’s expected to remain at least until September.

The idea for the pop-up park, called DIVERTsessions, was the brainchild of co-founders Zach Adamson, CEO, and David Monhait, the company’s president, who both have a passion for action sports. They hope their creation can bring aboard a new generation of riders who may feel intimidated or have economic barriers to trying out the sports, while also attracting Southern California board-riding enthusiasts who already enjoy the extreme sports lifestyle.




Both Adamson and Monhait credited board sports as a creative outlet that kept them out of trouble growing up.

“I was kind of a hell raiser. Not because I was a bad kid, I just didn’t have the right outlets for my time and my energy,” said Monhait. “I picked up a skateboard and that just kept me on the straight and narrow.”

It was in Breckinridge, Colo., after Adamson’s family moved to the mountain town, that he found an outlet for his “rambunctious energy” on the slopes, learning valuable life lessons like self motivation.

“If you want to do it,” he said, “you just have to go do it.”

To excel, he found he had to be resilient and have an appetite for progression.

“You’re going to fall a bunch and you have to just pick yourself up,” he said.

Adamson first pitched the idea for a pop-up sports park in a college entrepreneur class about 12 years ago. “Nobody in my class voted for it,” he said with a chuckle.

Finally, six years ago when Adamson met Monhait, connected by mutual friends at a concert and bonding over a few beers, they decided to take the idea and make it a reality.

Their first big project together was building a skatepark, with the help of Red Bull and about 70 volunteers, in San Jose, Costa Rica. They’ve done a few weekend events with their pop-up featuring the three sports. But the Santa Ana operation is the biggest yet, a pilot project they hope to mimic in other areas like Austin, Miami, Denver and San Diego.

“A big part of this is making it accessible for people to come and try these things, and hopefully find some love and passion in it – and hopefully spend their time doing this instead of other negative things,” Adamson said.

The most popular feature so far seems to be the snowboarding area, the slopes made with thousands of synthetic, thin sticks created by a European company called Proslope, since real snow can’t withstand the summer heat. It’s the same material the United Kingdom’s Olympic team trains on, Adamson said.

Beginners are given helmets, pads, snowboards and boots, while experienced riders can bring their own gear.

Guides stand atop of the slopes, holding beginners’ hands if needed or giving people tips on how to balance on the board’s edges. For skilled riders, obstacles like rails, jumps and boxes can be set up and changed out.

The snowboarding park is where Tiffany Wang, who drove in from Los Angeles, spent Thursday afternoon, July 8. She took up snowboarding a few years ago and wanted to fine-tune her skills.

“I just wanted to do some extra practice in the summertime,” she said. “If it (the hill) could be longer, that would be perfect – but this is good enough. This is a good place for practice.”

Adamson thinks the “snow” hill, which measures 20 feet high and 100 feet long, is most popular because real mountain snowboarding is harder to access and can come with a hefty price tag.

“It’s the most far out of reach for people,” he said. “I think that’s why we’ve been getting such a good response from it.”

The FlowRider Wave Machine – a river of rushing water that shoots upward toward riders – is a nice place to cool down. It’s where Chase Chirco and friend Mason Mark, both 10, immediately headed when they got to the park.

Kim Chirco, who brought the boys from Yorba Linda, said they’ve been several times since the operation opened in late June, buying season tickets that last through the summer.

“They ask all the time. They would come every day if they could,” she said. “They really came first because of the skateboarding – then they tried (the Flowrider) out for the first time and they just loved it. At first they were timid, but once they got on it and realized it wasn’t that scary, they were totally fine.”

The wave machine isn’t quite like a natural wave, rushing upward toward the rider rather than coming from behind. Riders have the option to bodyboard or use a small surfboard to try and balance on the whitewash.

Already, it’s been a confidence booster for the boys, who now want to go to the beach to try surfing in the ocean, she said.

Kim Chirco said she opted to not sign Chase up for summer camp this year, so the pop-up park is a perfect way to keep him busy for a few hours.

Chase and Mason both seemed like pros on the wave, jumping in from the top and standing up with ease. They came extra prepared with goggles to keep the water that’s rushing into their faces from ruining their rides.

“You have to go straight to the middle of the whitewash,” Chase advised.

After the session in the wave machine, the two friends hit the skate park, set up with rails and ramps and a half pipe.

“The half pipe is really smooth,” Chase said.

In addition to the sports, there’s a creative education studio where people can upload photos, edit videos or learn other computer skills on site. DIVERTsessions is teaming up with groups that aim to keep lower-income youth off the streets, with several non-profits lined up to come out for a day of play.

The set-up will change through summer, with the wave pool swapped out for a rock climbing wall and a trampoline for practicing tricks to do on land.

For the adults, next week they’ll launch alcohol service with a beer garden, as well as offering food. Live music and competitions are also on the line-up.

The entrepreneurs will also hold “watch and learn” parties during the X-Games and upcoming Olympics, which for the first time will feature skateboarding and snowboarding.

Monhait said he hopes that high-profile debut helps erase “this lingering stigma that surfers, skaters and snowboarders – action sports athletes in general – are these deadbeat, pseudo-criminal people.”

“That’s just not the case,” he said. “We’re excited about how action sports will be held high, they are going to be up on a spotlight and in a new light. There’s a lot of kids who will see it for the first time and say ‘I want to go do this.’ And a lot of them can’t afford to go do it, or are not close enough to go and do it. With DIVERT open, they can now.”

The goal is to place similar set ups across the country, even in areas without mountains or oceans. If the market takes to the idea, better quality wave pools, skate parks or slopes could be put in permanently, Adamson and Monhait hope.

“We set out to create a place that can allow people to come and experience these things, divert their attention to a positive influence of action sports and away from the negative influences in their life,” Adamson said.

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Source: Orange County Register

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