Yesterday the skaters came together to show our Memphis Parks and Rec staff just what skating meant to them. It was a day where the tight knit nature of this community, it’s passion and diversity where on full display for those who attended.
Seemingly this event was doomed for failure. If there ever was an event with every factor working against it, this was that event.
The American Ramp Company, one of the more notable metal skate ramp manufacturing companies, was on the road for a mid-south skate demo tour. They had contacted the Memphis Parks and Rec department the week before and made themselves available for a Memphis stop. Our Parks staff agreed, and on April 16, I received an email from Memphis Parks staff, Mike Flowers, requesting that I get the word out to the skate community that they will be hosting the demo.
I said yes and then looked at the date and time for the event. It was in the middle of the week and the school-aged skaters would be just getting out of school. We had 8 days to get the word out. Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity that they were offering the skaters.
Our organization, Skatelife Memphis, has a companion Myspace website so I posted the event on our Myspace bulletin board. For those of you not versed in the Myspace phenomena, a bulletin board is a virtual announcement area that all your Myspace “friends” can see. Your “friend” can then post your announcement for their “friends” and pretty soon you have the Revlon commercial. In short, it works like an exponentially replicating virus. The Myspace skaters posted the demo announcement nonstop up until the hour before the demo. The big mystery was did these virtual skaters really exist?
Parks had placed an announcement in the Commercial Appeal but the demo was advertised for the 23rd not the 24th! The Flyer published the correct date but only one day before the event was to be held. Skatelife Memphis sent demo details the day Paul contacted me via email. 60 skaters responded to the email - a disappointing response despite sending out 220 emails.
Three days before the event, Parks and Recreation was having difficulty with ARCs liability policy and with two days left the paperwork was finally sorted out.
If that was not enough, the weather forecast predicted a healthy all day rain that would last through the scheduled demo time. Not the greatest forecast considering we were planning to hold the event outside. The day before the event I took my family over to the Fairgrounds to familiarize ourselves with the demo area. We ran into Mike Flowers and we discussed back-up options in case of rain. The Youth building seemed to be the logical indoor option. He concurred. He would make the official call on the location the next day-weather pending.
I took a chance and sent out a last minute email and another Myspace bulletin. My day job was very busy the day of the demo and I received a morning email from Paul that the demo would not be in the Youth center but inside the arena which was next to original outside location. Back to Myspace to update again! Ahhh! We were doomed!
Enter the local and national skate scene
In all my various meetings with the government and private sector I have been tirelessly touting national statistics to convince them that we desperately need skate facilities for Memphis skaters. Nationally 5% of our population skates and close to 20% of our youth skate1. Skateboarding has surpassed the number of little league baseball youth in that same age group so clearly there must be a lot of skaters in Memphis- right1? We have 175,000 youth so even if we were well below the average, suppose 5% of our youth skate, then we would have around 8,000 skating youth. But the event was during a time that would be hard for youth to get there and did we really have that many skaters here? Did they get the last minute Myspace bulletin?
Desperate times…the local skate scene
The local skate community is indeed in a desperate situation. Josh Lowry, after operating the private fee-based Skatepark Of Memphis (SPOM) for the past 5 years was shutting its doors in May. Josh and his staff poured their hearts into that park and provided a safe and positive place for youth to hang out. The skate community and the parents of skaters will dearly miss SPOM. Private, fee-based parks historically are not money-making operations and so when the land lords decided to double SPOM’s rent, Josh had little choice but to cease operations. We are really sad to see SPOM close its doors and hope he is able recoup some of his costs. His efforts and devotion to the Memphis skaters has set the stage for the next step – a permanent, concrete, public skate park.
I believe that Josh’s predicament gave our plea a heavy sense of urgency. The skate shop owners were the first to sense the magnitude and importance of this event in light of Memphis losing it’s only skate park. In response, all the local skate shops in the area closed their doors for the event. This included Josh’s Cordova board shop, Cheapskates, Desoto Skate shop and Oxford’s Suite 10 skate shop.
Can you imagine a city losing it’s only baseball field with a baseball little league that had over 5000 kids enrolled? Folks, that’s the situation that our skating youth find themselves in right now! If you’re old enough, you get to drive 20-30 miles to a skate park in Marion, Southhaven or Hornlake. If you are real “lucky” you may live next to the Germantown Houston Levee high school skate park and get to share a tiny 8,000 square foot space with 30+ skaters. The place is dangerously overcrowded. Housing 8,000 skaters in a 8,000 square foot location - that’s a sardine can, not a skate park! If you are under 16 and don’t have a ride then you share your board with cracked side walks, cars and your favorite spot ends with someone chasing you off.
Crazy circumstances (no press, bad time, no time, weather) vs. Desperate skaters (closing skatepark, HUGE pent-up demand) WHO WINS???
I’ll give you a hint. If you attended the Greening Memphis rally at the Botanical gardens in February 2007, you know the answer. The “only” difference was that the Greening event was promoted for months!
I got off work around 3:20 and made it to the demo not knowing what to expect but deep down hoping that my own desperation might be a shared feeling among my skating peers. The rain had ceased only around 3pm so maybe skaters had not had enough time to see the change in plans. I entered the Fairground complex and before my eyes was a completely packed parking lot. Was some other event going on? Who else was hosting an event? Constant second-guessing banged around in my cranial cavity. No ! These were skates popping out of cars. Wow! This was our event.
Detric Golden, from Golden Child Ministries, brought his 15+ youth that live in North Memphis in a bus. I have been teaching these inner city youth to skate for the past year. Their expressions mirrored my own disbelief and excitement.
We entered the arena together. The arena is a huge indoor shell around 100,000 square feet in size. The scene was unreal. The place was packed with skaters. The ARC ramps were bursting with skaters - it looked like a scene from the sinking titanic. The place was buzzing (or rolling) with energy and was semi-chaotic due to the sheer number of skaters. A skater by the name of Tyler built some homemade launch ramps just for the event. Parks and Rec had not cleared this but with so many skaters and so much to manage this issue seemed to get lost in the roar of wheels.
Cindy Buchanan and Mike Flowers as well as the rest of the Parks staff were there to witness just what skating has evolved into. This event stamped the validity of those skating statistics with an exclamation mark. Over 400+ skaters showed up for the event with close to 500 people there in total.
The stereotypical skater is a white teenage male. John Branston made reference to this when listing off “redneck” facilities that he would like to see in Shelby Farms. Maybe 10 years, maybe 20 years ago this was true. Not now! Our Memphis skate community is bound by its passion to express itself through skating. Our culture transcends racial barriers and brings different communities together. This was on full display for our Parks officials to see. Witnessing this diversity had a powerful impact on Osie Lewis from the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser. He remarked to me “this is what it’s all about, about kids getting together to have fun!” Skating will be an activity that will continue to bring people to together from all different socio-economic backgrounds. This has been the primary mission of why I promote skating. To see this mission being fulfilled in real time was like living for one day in paradise.
At one point the skaters started to rally by skating in circles-roller rink style. They were coming to grips with what the power of community means. They were finding their brotherhood and the rally was the beginning of this discovery. Finally, someone was beginning to understand them and the rally reflected this. Gregg Simmons, from Witness BMX remarked” I have never seen skaters do something like that.” Maybe skaters are not as anti-social as they are stereotyped to be. A little appreciation and respect goes along way. Even for skaters!
The rally was misunderstood and I think a bit frightening especially if you are a staff member not wanting to see anyone get hurt. We were able settle everyone down. But let’s get it out now, the skaters were saying “thank you” in their own “extreme” fashion. Thanks Parks and Rec - this day will not to be forgotten for a long while. Thanks for understanding and seeing what the skate scene is all about. This is just the beginning, a new dawn in the era of the Memphis skate scene is upon us. Memphis is now waking up to what has been building for three generations. Skating is here big time and skaters are out there. May our fourth generation of Memphis skaters grow up hearing those “old” stories of what skating in Memphis was like without a skate park. Perish the thought!! Go grab a skate board and join us!
1. Public Skatepark Development Guide Handbook For Skatepark Advancement. Peter Whitley. Copyright 2007. http:www.skatersforpublicskateparks.org