Pearl Jam founder Jeff Ament is one of the world’s most famous bass guitarists, but these days, his attention has shifted to a different goal: using skateboarding to empower the youth of Montana.
Originally from Big Sandy, Montana, Ament is familiar with the challenges of growing up in a small town. For kids who don’t feel compelled to join team sports, it can be difficult to find healthy athletic outlets. Montana also has the third highest suicide rate in the country, a rate which is even higher on Native American Reservations.
Ament’s nonprofit, Montana Pool Service, builds and maintains skate parks throughout the state to help kids who might feel disconnected or isolated find a new passion and meet others who share their interests. Montana Pool Service has built 27 skate parks, mostly in Montana, but also three on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Among these is a 13,000 square foot, $300,000 skate park called Thunder Park in Browning, the capital of the Blackfeet Nation.
Ament lives in Missoula now, but a few times a year, he hops in his Sprinter van and makes a loop of the state, sweeping, repairing, and cleaning his parks and connecting with the youth who use them. He emphasizes that the parks help build a sense of community and teach kids to get up when they fall. They are also highly inclusive spaces. “The great thing about skateboarding is you don’t have to belong to a club or pay a fee,” Ament tells The New York Times.
Skateboarding mentor and longtime ally of Ament Kim Petersen tells NYT that skateboarding can also help open kids’ eyes to the world beyond rural Montana. “People come from all over the world to skate here and if you’re a kid, you are going to see some amazing stuff.”
Thanks to Ament’s work, Montana is now home to the highest number of skate parks per capita in the world. He has also cultivated a following of young skaters who look up to him. Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person even bestowed him with a Blackfeet name, which translates to Holds Water, a reference to the beaver which “builds dams that create ponds that allow other creatures to flourish.”