Either eat it or learn it’— the ways of the skate park

by Brian Clarey

‘“That’s a kick turn,’” says Jonathan Smith, age 11, in a whispered tone that approaches reverence. ‘“That’s a varial kick flip. That’s a rock and roll. That’s fakey to rock. That’s an axle stall. That’s a board slide. That’s a caveman.’” He’s pointing out the skateboarders and naming the tricks they’re performing. The caveman, a jump off a tall ramp intended to finish with a strong stomp atop the board, was executed by his big brother Mark, 16, with mixed results. Jonathan, however, is truly impressed.

‘“He’s been riding a long time.’”

We’re in the 915 Skate Park, a big industrial room between Lee Street and the railroad tracks rigged with a half pipe, quarter pipes, a fun box, a bowl and everything else the fearless skateboarder needs to grind, flip and catch air. Music weaves through the rafters overhead, punctuated on the ground by the hard clatter of lost boards and swear words inexpertly deployed by teenagers who have not yet learned to properly curse.

School’s out for the summer, and the place is starting to fill for the afternoon session with kids that hop out of SUVs with their boards tucked under their arms and wave goodbye to their moms as they drive off. There are a few bikers in here, too ‘— Wednesday is bike day at the 915 ‘— and one of them, Brian Wilkinson, takes a spectacular spill off a wall that leaves him sprawled on the ground, tangled up in his machine. When he gets up his face is pale with mild shock. He bails out on his next attempt at riding the skinny, but when he drags his bike back to the top of the ramp this time he wears a more determined look. On his third try he nails the trick.

‘“Ha,’” says Richard ‘Cricket’ Hooks, who owns the skate park, the adjacent skate shop and a second location in the Brassfield Shopping Center, with his wife Kate. He’s sitting Indian style on the counter of the skate shop when he hears about the wipeout. ‘“If he was still riding the third time then he’s okay. It builds character.’”

Cricket, who at 32 has not given up boarding (though he admits he’s slowed down a bit), knows a little something about eating concrete. ‘“The first time you fall like you’ve never fallen before,’” he says, ‘“either you get up and do it again or you say, ‘I’m done.’ Skating is all about you and how far you’re willing to take it. The ‘I quit’ attitude just doesn’t apply to these kids.’”

He slides off the counter to sell a monthly pass to a young teenager in with his parents. The pass, a $50 item, will allow him to attend any of the park’s twice-daily sessions for the entire month. Cricket shoots the kid’s photo and affixes it to an ID card, which he then runs through a laminator. The parents sign a waiver as Cricket explains to them the house rules: helmets are worn without exception; the park must be kept clean; no alcohol or drugs are allowed on the premises; this is not a daycare so drop off your kids at their own risk.

‘“Some of these kids come in every day,’” Cricket says after the sale is made. ‘“I’ve seen kids transform over the course of a summer. Some of these kids who really suck in May can get pretty good by August.’”

And though some serious boarders make occasional stops at the park, the meat and potatoes of the clientele are teenage boys trying to differentiate themselves from the posers who skate at the mall.

‘“We’re here because of the kids and for the kids,’” Cricket says. He lets them hang out in the shop and answers their questions about tricks and their boards. He gladly makes change out of the register and even offers a prepaid 915 credit card so kids can buy skate time and pull cash out for the vending machines. He stocks the coolest hats, shirts and shoes. And spending his days and nights around kids who don’t know who Billy Idol is has a serendipitous side effect.

‘“I perpetually feel like I’m fourteen,’” Cricket says. And he laughs.

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