I started skateboarding at 12 or 13 years old, which was 4 or 5 years before suburban America’s skatepark boom. While my town didn’t have a skatepark at the time, there was a public outdoor park about 45 minutes from my house. There was an indoor skatepark about the same distance away. While my dad did occasionally chauffeur me to these parks, visits to designated places for skateboarding was a rarity for me. Most of the other skateboarders I went to school with were no different. Trips to skateparks were few and far between. Thus we took to driveways, cul-de-sacs, and parking lots to work on our tricks and dream of being the professionals we idolized in videos.
The lack of skateparks forced us to do two things. For one, we either had to skate the everyday architecture found at churches, strip malls, and school yards or we had build our own ramps and rails. Secondly, we often had to negotiate our ability to skate in many of these locations. Most property owners were deathly afraid of personal liability and setting up in our neighborhoods would often draw the ire of our neighbors. Those growing up in the current era of skateboarding where most every town of significant size has a skatepark, don’t experience the challenge of finding places to skate.
Right around the time I was 14, one of my friends got permission from his parent’s church to store a grind rail and box on their property and skate them in the parking lot virtually any time other than Sunday mornings. This church parking lot quickly became the after school meet up spot for skateboarders in my hometown. I was lucky in that it was about a 15 minute bike ride from my house. (I rode my bike rather than skated to it, because it allowed me to spend more time skating in the parking lot.) While I was familiar with the skating of most of my classmates at the middle school I went to, I was quickly exposed to the skating of some of the high school students in my town as well. During those sessions at the church, I became acclimated to the nuances of style, fashion, and trick selection. I saw tricks done that I had never seen before. I learned how to talk like a skateboarder, get rid of my goofy style, and I learned a ton of tricks too. I look back on that time fondly.
Right around the time I turned 16, the suburban skatepark boom began. The town north of my owned their first skatepark right around the time I got my driver’s license. Being just 15-20 minutes, it became the new meet-up spot me and the skateboarders in my town. This meant the end to meet-ups at the church and end of an era for skateboarding in my area. A few years after that, my town built their own skatepark.
I still look back on those sessions at the church fondly. I was fortunate to be a part of such a strong and eager skateboarding community. In some respects, I think the community feel of skateboarding as been lost. Skateparks are very transient these days, such that you rarely see a consistent set of faces any more. Everything “good” is documented on Instagram so there’s hardly ever good skating being done for the sole purpose of having fun or challenging oneself. I’m not complaining, it’s just the reality of skateboarding today. At any rate, I’m hopeful that the community feel will one day return to skateboarding. In the mean time, I’ll be at my local skatepark doing the same thing I was doing as a kid in the church parking lot.