Interview: Derrick Dykas and Alex Aho of Community Push on House of Vans Detroit

Written by Broccoli & John Akers.

On Thursday January 24th, Vans will take over a vacant school building in Detroit to activate four days of art, music and of course, skateboarding. The House of Vans series started in 2010 with an event space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY, and has since expanded into more cities across the US and the world, adding Detroit as its biggest production to date.

The talent lineup is insane- a slew of legendary music and visual artists will showcase their contributions to skate culture, including Jason Abraham Smith and Joe Brook alongside performers Thundercat, Protomartyr and Danny Brown. Local Detroit artists have also been invited to contribute to the weekend activities with live-painting and installations to cover the space including Tony Whlgn, Sheefy McFly, Shaina Kasztelan, Sydney James and Ellen Rutt, all in an effort to create the vibe for what is sure to be an epic weekend.

We can thank Community Push for their part in bringing House of Vans to Detroit. Community Push is a criminally underrated organization that has been empowering skateboarding community in Detroit since its inception in 2014.

Spearheaded by de facto leader and community organizer Derrick Dykas, Community Push is comprised of “skateboarders banded together with a single goal in mind, to give the city a multifunctional, alternative recreation facility to be designed, built and maintained by the community, for the community.” Four years ago, they began building obstacles to skate at the nearly abandoned Wigle Park, AKA the ‘Wig’ which featured a decrepit building and neighboring view of the highway and Motor City Casino.

Since then “The Wig,” has had its fair share of challenges. Just as the park was becoming a flourishing hotspot for local skaters, the city announced the land had been bought for a $77M development plan for the neighborhood. Though the beloved local spot may soon suffer the same fate as many DIY spots that came before it, the skateboarding community’s efforts in the city of Detroit have sparked an interest to entice one of the biggest names in the industry to lend a helping hand.

photo by Evan Hutchings

Check out our interview with Derrick Dykas and Alex Aho of Community Push on what to expect this weekend at House of Vans, and what’s next for the organization.

How did the House of Vans event come to Detroit?

Derrick Dykas: I’m very excited about our relationship with Vans… [they are] there for skateboarding more than competitor [brands]. They do more community outreach and they are the originals. We knew we needed a shoe company to work with, starting doing research [on who would support the work we are doing] and it’s funny, because they called us the week after we did all our research. We were gonna hone in them and hit them with a proposal- and by a stroke of luck, they called us.

Our first project with Vans was Murals in the Market in 2018. They came in late as a headlining sponsor and we started to discuss House of Vans. This isn’t going to be the only event we do together, so hopefully we can take this relationship even further.

What will be Community Push’s presence be at House of Vans Detroit?

We’ve spent a couple of days building a pop-up store and we’re launching a full product line of shirts, long sleeves, crewnecks, hoodies and hats. Hopefully this will be the beginning of us doing more merchandising and people dig the stuff that we’re putting out. I’m looking forward to doing more. Shout out to Dunwell Goods for taking care of us.

The following Monday, we are launching our webstore instead of hustlin’ shirts at The Wig. Our store is called Puddle Club- anyone who has skated The Wig knows where that name comes from. Puddle Club will be on the third floor, come check us out!

photo by Evan Hutchings

Describe Community Push and its role in Detroit.

DD: Detroit is in a lot better shape skate-wise than it was before we started, and I want to take this momentum and help other cities nearby. We’re planning events to help out in Flint, and hopefully Ypsilanti, on top of opening an indoor park. But we need a lot of money to do that. I’m maybe too optimistic at times, but I think fundraising with House of Vans might get us into a place to start building. We’re all waiting for Spring to come, but it’s gonna get cold again in 10 months, and we’re going need a place to skate again. At this point, there’s nothing accessible or affordable locally to skateboard in the winter here. We’ve got a bunch of ramps in abandoned buildings, and it’s dry, but it’s not warm. Our future is bright and we hope that Vans wants to continue to work with us.

Alex Aho: Our long term goal over the next year or so is to work towards the permanent indoor space, and once we get that space we will have a home base to do stuff out of- after-school skate programs, and getting boards to kids in exchange for good grades. We have some local neighborhood kids coming to the park, but we want to expand to be more of a destination outside of the neighborhood kids, and make skating more accessible to kids to keep them out of trouble- give them an outlet and a community to do stuff within, doing things they might not be familiar with.

photo by Evan Hutchings

The Wig is a staple in Detroit’s skate scene, but its future has been uncertain. What is the current status of The Wig?

DD: We still have no idea. We had the late July 2018 demo date, so we organized a funeral but I think the developer still isn’t where he needs to be to get started. It’s been unclear the whole time, we are in the same position we’ve been in for four years.

They’ve given us their word that we will be the first to know once decisions are made, because they realize the importance of the place. I don’t think they want to see it go, but money is money and we’re not giving anyone any… It is what it is.

The Wig will go down in skate history in Detroit, but I’m excited to do it again. We’re gonna have Riverside and Chandler Park, but I want a park where me and my friends can go build stuff. Nothing can take that away. There’s plenty of space and opportunity for us to do it. Five years from now, there might even be too many places to skate in the city!

If this development does go through, I want to take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again because people are realizing the importance of the place, far beyond skateboarding. If you take this out of the neighborhood, there isn’t much in terms of recreation. Where would people play basketball? Where would the kids play?

[The developer is] trying to attract families to Midtown, but what about the ones already here?

There is nowhere for the kids to go… So hopefully The Wig stays a neighborhood fixture; I live right down the street, and I see its use and the importance of it every day.

photo by Evan Hutchings

How might losing The Wig affect Community Push?

DD: We’re already looking ahead. It would be devastating, but it wouldn’t stop us. We want places to go, and places to build. And to provide that for other people. Hopefully we can get something solid, I’ve always wanted to focus more on youth programming, but we can’t do that until we have a home base. With The Wig on such shaky ground, it’s been hard to maintain stability. Once we get stability, I don’t think anything is going to stop us.

What are you looking forward to the most at the House of Vans?

DD: I’ve never met Greg Hunt and Mind Field is easily one of my top five videos. He’s from Michigan so it will be so cool seeing him.

Joe Brook, I’m so glad they brought him on. He brings the limelight to skateboarding more than people know. He stands up for Detroit every chance he gets. And on top of that he’s the nicest guy. Listen to some of his stories. because he’s probably the best storyteller I’ve ever met.

I haven’t asked around about any pros coming out because I want to be surprised. I haven’t even thought about how much fun this is going to be because I’ve been so focused on our stuff being as good as it can be. All the brands coming out are great. I’m excited to show Detroit off.

You feel like a proud parent when people come in and you get to show off.

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