Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Local Skateboarders Take Matters into their own Hands

Listen to the audio version here.

You can find a public skate park in most cities in the U.S. Henrico and Chesterfield Counties each have one but when safe havens for skateboarders began popping up around the country in the '90's but the city of Richmond never got one. Local skateboarders use Richmond streets or build ramps in their backyards but one longtime skateboarder Patrick Lowery decided to tackle a larger project. He and a crew of friends began constructing a swimming pool designed to be skateboarded in.

"It's the dream of every sixteen year old," Lowery said.

In his twenty five years of skating, he's traveled and seen what other cities have to offer. Lowery said he decided to build a pool because Richmond's never had one.

" I don't know I figured this is the only way this was going to happen. Every time we ask the city, nothing happens. So we did it."

The planning for the 8 foot deep kidney shaped pool began sixth months ago after Lowery bought a house in southside Richmond. So far 40 or 50 people have contributed man hours to the project which he said ultimately will include a wide array of skateable concrete structures.

"Tons of little towns all over the country, in the middle of nowhere, have concrete skate parks. Richmond, nothing," Lowery said.

Which is why he said local skateboarders have been willing to put in 1000s of man hours, digging out dirt and installing rebar. Lowery said often ramps and other items built to skate have been taken out of he local parks. But he said his project is different.

"The city gave me permits to build a swimming pool," Lowery said. "They can't really, i mean, how mad can they really be about what I do when it doesn't have water in it?"

Lowery's pool won't fill the niche a public skatepark would (you wouldn't necessarily want to bring your child to the DIY park to try skateboarding for the first time) but he said it will be more open than several private spots tucked throughout the city.

"Pretty much anyone that skates in Richmond will be welcome as long as they know me or a friend or approach it in the right way," he said.

So far Lowery has spent 7,000 dollars but the pool will cost about 5,000 more to before it is complete. He used his first time home buyers credit to get the project started. But the project is running short on cash and there is still much to be done.

"Now we have a page on kickstarter trying the money and I'm going to be selling t-shirts and stuff just trying to raise the rest," Lowery said. "Hopefully not paying it out of pocket because I don't have it in my pocket."

81 backers have pledged money to what Lowery has named "The Lost Bowl," so far, bringing the total to 4,189 dollars at press time. Kickstarter says it is the "largest funding platform for creative projects in the world." People with ideas who are short on money can explain their project on the website and set a goal for fund raising, in Lost Bowl's case 5500 dollars. Pledges can also be rewarded. Lowery is offering t-shirts, skateboards and a banner that will hang in his backyard. But Kickstarter only releases funds if a project reaches its goal. The projects has until Friday and its still 1300 dollars short.

James Wainscott has been skateboarding in Richmond for over twenty years and has been working on the DIY skate park since the projects inception. He said it didn't seem like the city of Richmond was interested in building a skatepark and skateboarders are burnt out on waiting for the city to come around.

"You might as well do it yourself and make it the way you want it and have it turn out the way it's supposed to. In a lot quicker time, you know. We've only been working on this for like two months and even though going into it we didn't know a lot about it we were able to pull a lot of knowledge off the internet and through friends who had done stuff like this before and it seems like it's been turning out pretty good."

Guy Maury Blankenship the Fourth, co-owner of local skate shop Dominion, has also put in some time at Lost Bowl. Blackenship has been part of the push for a public park but he has had little success.

"Because no one has the time to go to all the meetings and jump through all the hoops the city makes you to do just about anything but skateboarding is still, it's hard to believe, new to them, and they still don't understand," Blackenship said. "I think they're focused on keeping the city conservative, brick cobblestone instead of doing anything remotely new. Which is a shame."

Blankenship has helped design skate parks outside of the city. In one case, part of his design was omitted completely and deck builders ended up building the park. He has looked into opening a private skate park but because of rent and other expenses it didn't seem feasible.

Blankenship has visited other cities like Tampa, Florida, Lousiville, Kentucky and New York City where public skate parks are well lit, don't require pads and are open 24 hours.

"Other cities are more with it I think," he said. "It's not like I'm trying to say anything bad about the city I mean this is our city I like everything about it besides the one thing."

Blankenship said all he's ever known is no trespassing signs and getting kicked out of skate spots on Richmond's streets .

"I mean I could take you and get kicked out in less then five minutes, it's like that everywhere," he said.

And Blankenship said allowing skateboarding at existing parks doesn't work either because the ground and space isn't amenable to skateboarding.

"That's what their game plan is, they do it to kind of like make us be quiet is throw them a tennis court, let them use it, let them make their own stuff," Blankenship said.

One of the few viable options for skateboarders who want to practice in a legal space designed for their sport is the Richmond Outreach Center or the ROC which is associated with a ministry off Midlothian Turnpike. One skateboarder who WRIR News met at a southside tennis court turned makeshift skate park said the ROC is cramped and only open from 3pm-dusk.

"Pretty much why I come here. That's the only reason the ROC was worth going to because it was a free park, didn't have to wear pads," he said, "I mean it was supervised but it was cool, besides you kind of get bombarded with religion when you're there."

Within the last year, the Friends of Chimborazo Playground, which lies in Richmond's Church Hill neighborhood, expressed interested in developing a skate park. Blackenship said he drew plans as he does every couple years. He thought they were serious about building a public park but he never heard back from them.

"If they would have done it, it would have been really good. But they ended up flopping again, as usual. Which I'm used to, kind of," Blankenship said.

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Despite many failed attempts at getting a skate park built in the city of Richmond, Blackenship said he is willing to put the work in.

"I just do it all for free, I don't even care. I just want to have something. I don't even want a park to go to every day. I just want a place to go to when I get kicked out of all the spots," he said. "I just want to skate street like I usually would and then when I get kicked out or it's not working out, or whatever then I want to go to a park where I don't have to worry about a hassle which may be 2 or 3 times a week, maybe even more."

Blankenship's message to the city if they decide to build a skatepark is "don't ruin it" by building a park without talking to the people who would be skating it and he said there are people who want a skatepark badly enough to design and help construct it for free. But until then, Lowery will do it along with a community of skateboarders who helped dig and anxiously await the completion of the Lost Bowl.

-Caroline Jackson

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