Skateboarding wasn’t a very popular sport where I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas. At my high school, there were five of us interested in skating. We’d go out on weekend nights and skate around town, trying to learn the tricks we’d seen in Thrasher magazine. It wouldn’t be a complete lie to say our community gave us mixed reviews. A few people liked what we did and, occasionally, observers would stop and watch us pop ollies or grind curbs. But more often than not, we got negative feedback. We were asked to leave most businesses by owners or managers. Sometimes there would be yelling or the occasional police siren. In the end, civic leaders made skateboarding illegal downtown, and kids like me didn’t have many other places to go.
Twenty-five years later, ollies and grinds are still the tricks of the day for skateboarders. However, this once “criminal” act is now among the most popular sporting activities in the U.S. It’s even become more popular than America’s once beloved pastime, baseball. Along with the sport’s new popularity have come designated places to skate. Many communities are putting in skateparks designed specifically for skateboarders.
In November 2011, Memphis joined Oxford and Little Rock in building a new skatepark — and not just any park — Memphis has one of the best skateparks in the Mid-South. Tobey Park, just off of Central and Hollywood, is a godsend to area skateboarders.
The skatepark at Tobey was designed with both beginner and advanced riders in mind. The 10,000-square-foot park has a street skating area with slanted embankments (simplified to “banks” by skaters) that are great for younger kids, known as groms in skater terms, to learn on, as well as a “micro pipe,” a miniature half-pipe designed for the groms to learn their first tricks. Older, more advanced skaters get to ride the winding “snake run” and a large bowl area that varies from 4- to 8-feet in height.
If you’re taking young children or new skateboarders without much experience to the park, timing matters. My 5-year-old son and I like to go early on a weekend morning. We arrive before the teens and 20-somethings are even awake, and leave when the mass of older riders begin to show up. At this point, my son enjoys riding down the banks in the street course, and rolling just into the snake run. I walk along side him, ready to grab him should he fall.
He doesn’t really like having his dad next to him; he wants to ride freely through the park. But for now, he’s learning, though I suspect his day of “flowing” the whole park is just around the corner.
I love sharing one of my favorite, lifelong activities with my son in a safe environment. He is quickly learning both how to ride and the etiquette a day at the park requires. For instance, it is of the utmost importance that you wait your turn. Not waiting your turn (called ‘snaking’ by skaters) can lead to crashes and being ostracized from the rest of the skaters. Nobody likes a snake.
Skatelife Memphis, a skateboarding advocacy group, is offering a clinic to kids and adults who’d like to learn. The clinic will be held Saturday, March 23rd, at 8:30 a.m. Skaters are divided up by ability and taught new skills by advanced riders. Afterwards, there will be a loosely judged competition for kids aged 5 to 16 with prizes from local skateshop sponsors.
Having an activity like skateboarding is an amazing way to connect with your kid. My advice to parents is to stay off the benches and out of the parking lot and come into the park (whether you skate or not). Being there to encourage your child, to offer support for each attempt, is an amazing feeling. And to being there to celebrate your child’s successes is one of the best feelings a parent can have.