Surfing, skating, tragedy: Skate park pioneer makes sense of life

By JASON REYNOLDS

Tennessee Christian News

Loss. Pain. Grief. Faith. Family. Love. Surfing. Skateboarding. Music. Purpose. These are all words that describe a memoir of a man’s life journey. Friendship is the word that ties all these elements together.

Roger W. Thompson shares his triumphs and tragedies in “My Best Friend’s Funeral: A Memoir.” The book interweaves themes that include how Roger met his best friend Tim Garrety in middle school, their rite of passage, how they became pioneering skateboard park businessmen, and Tim’s death and memorial service at a sold-out theater. Another major theme of the memoir is the death of Roger’s father, who struggled with addiction.

“My Best Friend’s Funeral” is published by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

Roger and Tim founded Skate Street Ventura, a revolutionary indoor skate park in California. Later, Roger helped Christian musician Michael W. Smith design Rocketown, a Nashville indoor skatepark/concert venue that serves as a ministry outreach to youths. Roger lived in Middle Tennessee to run the park in its early days.

Thompson says he never planned to write a book about his life.

“If I thought I would be published, I probably would not have written all that,” he said. “When I started writing, I was stuck in life, spiritually stuck. I still struggle a little bit.”

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Growing up in a southern California beach town, Roger and Tim gravitated toward outdoor activities like surfing and skate boarding. That’s when they weren’t playing in their garage band.

The lost boys

The early days of their friendship were cemented by a common denominator in their lives: broken relationships with their fathers. Before Roger met Tim, his father descended into a haze of drug addiction that broke the family apart and led to his father’s death. Tim’s father had a drinking problem that affected the family for years, although they reconciled before Tim died.

The boys became men and had their own families. Roger is a father to boys ages 11 and 9. They go surfing and fly fishing together (something he did with his own father). He walks the boys to school.

“I’m living a lot of my childhood dreams through my boys,” he said. “This season we’re in is magical, with the boys this age.”

Tim left behind a wife and son.

Eulogy and purpose

With his family and in ministry, Roger is making a life that matters. That’s a purpose he searched for over the years, but especially after his best friend died. Tim’s funeral service was held in a fully packed theater with the people he had touched over the years.

Roger writes of the utter pain he faced while walking up to the theater to deliver the eulogy.

“I’d been selfish. The last few days I’d been absorbed in the pain of Tim’s death as if I owned the exclusive license for it. I never stopped to think the pain might be bigger than me. As we pulled up to the Ventura Theater, a line was wrapped around the block. It was full of people. It was full of pain.

“The pain had become a shared experience of an entire city. They had all come to experience, one last time, or for the first time, the remnant of a life wonderfully lived. We were collectively, beautifully bound by pain. Mine was just one story in a thousand of how a life was shaped by knowing Tim.”

After giving the eulogy, Roger writes that he “went backstage and collapsed. Utterly spent, but no longer alone.”

Painting with words

Roger has a powerful way with words, a way of painting each scene in your mind. Here he talks about his time at camp after his father died: “Night approached with a sadness I thought had been long stuffed into dark places and meant to be forgotten. I sat at a quiet spot on the lakeshore where childhood memories were triggered by the smell of pines and sound of jumping fish. Beyond the lake rose ridges of granite mountains, immovable as the feet of God.”

He told me that he expects each reader will take away something different, that he is not trying to make a point, just tell a story. For him, the story deals with loss and suffering — and redemption, of his father’s and friend’s deaths.

“The impact of Tim’s story. The idea that every part of our life can be redeemed, and there is hope for us all no matter where we are in our walk in life. The redemption of our suffering. As Christians, we kind of assume we are entitled to this blessed life. That’s not what the Scriptures say at all. We will experience joy, but we are not entitled to anything except Christ. That’s why this story seems to be resonating with people. It seems to represent life more than what the books on the shelf are promising. Real life is not pretty all the time. Our deepest joy sometimes comes out of our worst suffering. That’s the beauty of God.”

Lifetime of memories

I asked Roger to name his favorite memories of Tim.

“My favorites are the ones most recent. My favorite memories of Tim are the times with quiet moments, where we surf together and be together, not having to talk but having this relationship that transcended everything that went on in our lives. The friendship was bigger than all that.”

Even though it has been nearly 10 years since Tim died, he has become part of the narrative of Ventura, Roger said. People continue to be affected by Tim’s life. People still talk about him and his fatal motorcycle accident, and the memorial service.

Making a difference

Being on the stage for the memorial service, Roger said, made him ask himself if he was living a life that truly matters.

“Am I making the impact I am capable of? That turned into the question for me. It’s remarkable to see how someone has that affect on people. We all have different callings, but we all need to ask the same question: Are we really living a life that is worthy of our creator?”

I can tell you that Roger is living a life that matters. Although he is not currently involved in the skate park industry, he is working on projects that reach out to young people. He is working with an organization to develop tourism in Haiti, one that will make a difference to the people there. That’s all he can say for now while the project is under development. Roger also helps produce surfing movies with a Christian worldview, including “Beyond Sight,” which was released recently. More information on the films is available at WalkingOnWater.com.

The book is available at ThomasNelson.com. You can connect with Thompson on Facebook, and on Instagram at roger_w_thompson.

“My Best Friend’s Funeral” is a moving story, full of pain but also redemption and hope — and humor. It’s also one of my favorite memoirs.

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