Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Finding a Place in Richmond to "Go Skateboarding"

For Richmond – and the rest of the northern hemisphere – June 21st marked the summer solstice. For some, the summer solstice is the true kick off event for the summer. Richmonders plan bar-b-ques, parties and any number of other events to celebrate – and for good reason: the solstice gives us a whopping 15 hours of sunlight to work with. But for the more than 300 people that turned out to Chimborazo Park yesterday, the solstice meant one thing and one thing only: going skateboarding.

“Go Skateboarding Day” is a loosely tied together group of events and contests held by skate shops all over the globe, with the intention of unifying everyone to drop everything and go skateboarding. The events take place every year on the summer solstice and occur in virtually every corner of the globe, from San Diego to Sydney. Locally, “Go Skateboarding Day” was put on by Dominion Skateboards in conjunction with Born Ugly Magazine, a publication that covers skateboarding and skate culture.

Kim Blankenship, owner of Dominion Skateboards and one of the lead organizers of “Go Skateboarding Day” in Richmond, says the communal aspect of the event is one of its main draws.

“Today is 'Go Skateboarding Day, June 21st, so we're doing an event, we’re doing a best trick contest, we're giving away some food, giving away some product and just getting people together to skate. We try to keep people involved, because if you don't then they kinda just get bored and just, I don't know if they just stop skating or whatever, but the more you keep them involved the more you keep them together they get to know other skateboarders it just builds the whole scene up more and more.”

“Building up the scene” was a recurring theme among both organizers and skateboarders at “Go Skateboarding Day,” because Richmond has a currently fragmented skating scene: the number of skateboarders is flourishing – and any trip around Richmond is proof of that – but that number is juxtaposed against the number of publicly funded skate parks in Richmond, which remains at zero.

Because of this, local skateboarders and organizers took to true skate-culture DIY ethos and built their own. Home built skate ramps were trucked in to add to the meager assortment that exist at Chimborazo Park already.

Tom Gillis is a Richmond local who was skateboarding at the event and helped build some of the ramps at Chimborazo Park.

“I'm just out here having fun with everyone, longest day of the year, enjoying it with some skateboarding, just build some crazy things for everybody to ride and came out here and everybody's riding them, it's great.”

Gillis says that the city's lack of initiative in getting a public skate park built in Richmond not only hurts skateboarders, who are consistently herded away from some of the last spots they have to skate, such as public streets and neighborhoods, but is detrimental to Richmond as a community.

“Richmond has no public parks that are skateable or that they built intending to skate. I mean there's a YMCA and lots of independent projects, but most of the time the city's trying to shut those down and not grow and prosper. It's just a way for people to express themselves and it can just help you turn a bad day in to a great day and things that can do that, whether it's a job or a hobby or a past time for people, that's a good thing to have. Communities that embrace it generally get things back just by everyone being in a better state of mind.”

The park at Chimborazo is in sort of a grey area when it comes to defining a skate park. The ramps were built and brought in by local skateboarders and exist solely because no one has removed them. The park is not publicly designated as a skate park and local skateboarders constantly fear abrupt removal of the ramps, as happened at Hippoland Skate Park, formerly located in the Azalea neighborhood. One of the theories of why Hippoland shut down is that the property managers, who are located in Atlanta, heard of large amounts of trash and debris being left at the site, a perception that Jim Callahan of Born Ugly Magazine says they are trying to avoid with “Go Skateboarding Day.”

“We're trying to do things like this just to give neighborhoods an idea that if events like this can happen then there can be things set up for kids to skate and it doesn't have to be a dump, it doesn't have to be ratty and trashed and people can take care of the stuff and respect neighborhoods and respect parks. Having a public park like that has lots of benefits: for the people skating, it gives them a place where they're not bothering anyone else, they're not wrecking any other sort of public or private locations that they're not getting damaged or annoying people.”

Mickael Broth, the other co-founder of Born Ugly Magazine says “Go Skateboard Day” is a prime example of community involvement in action and is one of the best ways to tout the merits of a skate park to the city.

“We were talking to a friend of ours earlier, that we should have probably thought this through and contacted somebody from city council or something like that to see the hundreds of kids who are out here skateboarding who would really benefit from having a place where they could actually do this. I know there's a push for getting a public park built in Richmond and I think it really needs to happen.”

The push for a public skate park will no doubt continue in to the future, with more involvement from organizations like the “Friends of Chimborazo Playground”, who hope to work together to construct a plan that works for the city and the skateboarders alike.
However, others like Richmond local and skateboarder Andy Newsome who was at the event for the duration, stay out of the politics of getting a skate park constructed and simply skate.

“I'm skateboarding, living life, chillin' with my homies and my dogs. It's about hittin’ up the streets with your homedogs and tearin' the world up.”

/Brad Fulton

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