by Britt Chester

Fighting for the right to skateboard in the Triad

Lance Mountain, one of skateboarding’s pioneering forefathers, sums up skateboarding and the culture in one brilliant quote: “Skateboarding doesn’t make you a skateboarder. Not being able to stop skateboarding makes you a skateboarder.”

There are a lot of skateboarders in the Triad, and more specifically, Winston-Salem.

Despite the city placing a ban on skateboarding in the central downtown business district, one that makes it unlawful to use a skateboard for transportation on public streets, sidewalks, and parks, skateboarders still find a way to enjoy, nay, practice, their chosen pastime.

This is what skateboarding is all about, though. Birthed as the bastardized, concrete-adapted form of surfing, skateboarding since the beginning has been about individuality. It’s not a team sport. There are no coaches, save for organizations like Camp Woodward and Mt. Hood that have developed training facilities complete with coaching, room and board, and professional tutoring. But the core of skateboarding resides in the lonesome world of singular efforts resulting in punishment and success.

Photo By Britt Chester

However, when a large group of skateboarders get together, the result is a thriving community, an organismic brotherhood (or sisterhood) that works as one to attain personal success as defined by the individual.

Winston-Salem has approximately $450,000 allocated to build a skate facility. With a test run last year in the Education Building at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds – the temporary ramps cost the city roughly $75,000, which was not taken from the $450,000 budget – proving to be a success, city officials decided it was time to build a permanent park to meet the needs of the skateboarding community.

There’s just one problem, actually many problems, but the biggest one is this: Nobody bothered asking the actual skateboarders what they wanted.

There was no consulting. There was no feedback requested.

The same people who order pre-fab playground equipment for public parks decided it best to order a pre-fab skate park to place on a piece of property that lies on the fringe of the Fairgrounds just off Deacon Boulevard.

There have been rumors that it would be a concrete skate park, which would show the commitment of the city in actually supporting the sport, but those rumors have been quashed. The City of Winston-Salem tapped American Ramp Company, a Missouri-based company that designs and installs skate parks almost straight out of a box, to design and install one at the designated location. The park will include the staples of any park; quarterpipes; bank ramps, a pyramid with downrail; ledges and boxes, and what looks in the rendering to be a gap obstacle. There is also a pumptrack.

A pumptrack?

For $450,000 the skateboarders get a pumptrack.

Actually, it’s not even that price. The total spent on ramps from American Ramp Company comes to $140,000 (not including the $75,000 spent on ramps last year, which will be used at the upcoming park). The rough estimate for site development, which is being done by Creative Design Construction, totals at $240,000. This leaves right around $80,000 left of the budget, which is most likely going to be allocated to construction of restrooms.

It’s going to cost the city of Winston-Salem $240,000 to get a concrete pad poured at the Fairgrounds and to have some landscaping done. Harris Gupton, the contractor for the project, said that he thinks everything should be ready to go by the first of year.

William L. Royston is the Park Superintendent for Winston-Salem Recreation and Parks. He said that a concrete skatepark just can’t be justified at this time.

“We talked about it, but there hasn’t been enough momentum for it yet,” he said. “If this thing really takes off, I don’t see the city frowning upon doing something like that.”

After the success, which could arguably be called “momentum” in this context, of the Education Building’s temporary indoor skatepark in 2014, one might think that the demand is high given that city officials decided to actually pull the trigger and build something a bit more permanent to the tune of $450,000.

Williams added that introducing something like a bowl, which essentially is an empty pool with coping running along the edge for grinding, might be too much for Winston-Salem at this point in time, nevermind the fact that there are more than a dozen local half-pipes tucked away in backyards and warehouses all over the town.

“We want to make sure that what we are doing has a user base, a need, a want, so hopefully this will drive future facilities,” Williams said.

Admittedly, skateboarders were not really consulted for the skate park design, so let’s go ahead and assert two things: There is a need. There is want.

Photo By Britt Chester
Wasteland, one of the many DIY spots in and around Winston-Salem, is an old concrete area that is filled with potential skate spots, and could be used by the city.

Zach Curtis, a San Diego-transplant who grew up skating in the streets and on the backyard ramps of Winston, is fulfilling that need and want with help from Ed Venard. When Curtis moved to San Diego, he connected with a start-up company called American Cream, which at the time dealt in t-shirts and apparel, but has since grown into other avenues of skateboarding culture.

Curtis pitched Venard on a skateboard event to be held on his property, Camel City Cream 2014. Venard was eager to help with the effort. After the original Phuzz Phest event, Curtis approached Venard with the idea for Camel City Cream. Enthusiastically, Venard accepted the offer. The turnout for the original event saw a couple hundred people filter in and out.

Initially, the idea behind the ramp was that it was to become somewhat of a sustainable entity: Skateboarders chip-in to cover the cost of maintenance and space. That model became increasingly difficult when Venard learned through asking skateboarders just what they were looking for in a skate facility that this ramp in particular, namely because of its size, wasn’t exactly what they were looking for in the community.

“There were at least 20-30 people who helped build the ramp,” said Venard, 44, who has been skating off an on for right around 30 years. “There was a core group of about five people who really pushed the whole project to completion.” The ramp, aside from salvaged and scrap pieces, cost right around $5,000 to construct.

Over the years Venard has helped build dozens of ramps. He’s lived in Winston-Salem for 16 years, and in that time has been able to watch the city grow and prosper out of the time when downtown was a ghost town.

Photo by Ethan Greene
Pete Simpson stands up on a 50-50 grind on one of the boxes built by Jerry Cooper at Hoots Beer Co.

“Skateboarding is an individual sport”¦it was just my friends. I can say I never made up a trick, or contributed back to skateboarding by giving in that way, like Rodney Mullen, but it’s been a ridiculous amount of fun and a journey, for not just me, but for anyone that skates. The pain and pleasure you get from it, and to go back to it again and again, just cracks me up,” he said. Venard added that he is now on the other end of it, not healing as quickly, and maintains happiness in just being able to still skate.

Venard believes in the community, as does Curtis, which is exemplified in their efforts to both push the sport and support the scene. Skateboarders want contests and events and places to skateboard, which is the demand that Venard has been able to meet, albeit with something that may not withstand the test of time due to viability and demand.

This Saturday, Curtis is bringing back Camel City Cream to The Hut, which is the warehouse in West End that houses the halfpipe. The event is sponsored by Exodus Skate Shop, Reanimator Records and Hoots. There will be a $5 entry fee and the contest starts with the beginners at 10 a.m. Curtis and Venard have decided that all proceeds from the contest will be put towards another DIY project in the area.

“Building a skatepark in a centralized area where it’s accessible by kids to ride a bike to and skateboard to is pretty key,” Venard said. “And I realize the downtown business district is not that spot, but putting it close enough”¦ having it at the fairgrounds is going to prove challenging.”

Venard makes a valid point.

To access the park, some may have to pass through the downtown business district. This is difficult since Winston-Salem municipal code section 74-20 states “Except as otherwise provided, it shall be unlawful for any person to coast on a sled, coaster express wagon or toy wagon or move or skate on any roller skates, skateboard or other similar device upon any public street, right-ofway, sidewalk, park or other public property located in the central business district of the city as shown on the official zoning map of the city adopted as part of the city zoning ordinance by the city council.”

So, the answer to not being able to skateboard in downtown Winston is to put a skatepark on the outskirts of the area.

Photo By Britt Chester

This sounds like a plan devised by people who don’t skateboard and who do not have the best interests of the skateboard community in mind. This, instead, sounds like city officials agreeing that skateboarding is in demand and that there is the need for a skatepark. But again, why not ask the actual people who skateboard?

In almost any city across the country, you’d be hard pressed not to find concrete ledges that have been grinded down from the metal trucks of a skateboard. Walking up a flight of stairs with a handrail? There’s a good chance you’ll run your hand over scraped paint from boardslides and grinds. And if there’s a transition anywhere, there’s a good chance it’s been skated.

But cities started to take notice over the years. Signs began popping up prohibiting skateboarding, and overzealous security guards became the bane of existence when it came to filming for parts in skate videos.

One of the ways that skateboarders have taken matters into their own hands is by simply building skatespots in the oft-overlooked places in the city. Burnside is one of the most popular skateparks in the country and was built by skateboarders. Due to popular demand, the city of Portland approved the land to be designated a public skatepark. It is one of the most famous skateparks in the world.

This happens everywhere, though, but perhaps not on that level. DIY spots can be seen in the nooks and crannies of every city if you know where to look for them. And most skaters do.

Given the resources available, skateboarders do what they can with what they have. In various spots around Winston, there are concrete transitions built upon barriers, quarterpipes leading up walls, and ledges and boxes dispersed at random locations.

Hoots Beer Co. has become a popular gathering place for skateboarders on Sundays, even going so far as to provide food for those in attendance.

Ladarius “Munchy” Williams is a 21-year old skateboarder in Winston. He lives on the Northside of town and takes pride in a location he refers to as “Wasteland.” It’s a large tract of concrete that looks as though it has not been touched by a developer since the Reagan administration: weeds have grown into fully formed bushes, broken glass is scattered around, and graffiti lines the retaining walls.

But it is at this undisclosed location that Munchy and his friends have found a skatepark of their own.

Wasteland is really just a simple collection of “stuff.”

Photo By Britt Chester
Ladarius “Munchy” Williams stands in the middle of Wasteland, his DIY skatepark that keeps growing.

There’s an old freezer tipped on its side, an old piece of railroad propped up on cinder blocks, rudimentary pipes hammered and screwed to boxes to give an edge to grind on, and small launch ramps over gaps of cracked pavement.

It’s simple. It’s crude. And it’s a haven. “I’ve been coming here since fall of last year,” Munchy said. “We used to have a spot by our friend’s house, but some stank-lady pushed it into the creek.” After that, Munchy said he started collecting random items and bringing them to Wasteland.

“This railroad track, I’ve been told, has been in videos,” he said, proudly pointing to the rusty piece of yesteryear’s primary means of transit.

The do-it-yourself mantra of skateboarding has been around since the birth of the sport. When there were no ramps, people carved on sidewalks. Over the years, business owners decided it best to, instead of trying to police skateboarders, install skate-stoppers on ledges, handrails and anything that could potentially be utilized by skateboarders. Locally, you see them everywhere.

So, DIY is apparently the only way. DLXSF is one of the largest distributors of skateboard brands in the world. Earlier this year, the San Franciscobased company decided to put together a program called The Build Project.

“The Build Project is us showing support for DIY skateboarding,” said Damon Thorley, a marketing assistant at DLXSF. The company picked 250 shops around the world, including Exodus Skate Shop in Winston and Board Paradise in Greensboro, to send five-gallon buckets that are to be used for accepting donations to raise money for skaters to build spots in their towns. Along with the bucket came fifty dollars cash and the encouragement to use the hashtag #TheBuildProject, which has already accrued more than 1,000 posts on social media sites from various users around the world.

It’s scary to think about, but it’s almost as if the forthcoming skatepark is being designed for the temporary.

The city will have invested roughly $210,000 on ramps that, for all intents and purposes, are not in-demand by the people who need a place to skateboard. What will be leftover is a new pad at the fairgrounds with restroom facilities and a shade structure that could be adapted to whatever the city sees fit.

In placing the skatepark at the Fairgrounds, a location that has almost unanimously been criticized, the use may not meet what city officials see as a rational reason to maintain, thus giving them the option to unbolt the ramps from the ground, throw them in the garbage, and use the plot of land for something else.

If city officials had any interest in supporting skateboarding, they would have asked skateboarders what they wanted. Trackside, for instance, is the newest skatepark in North Carolina located in Apex. Director of Parks and Recreation John M. Brown said that prior to building the town’s new park they asked skateboarders to come share their thoughts with the community on what they wanted. This proved to be monumentally successful with meetings seeing regular attendance of 50-70 skateboarders voicing their opinions. The result was a 13,000 sq. ft. concrete skatepark that has already garnered positive praise from skateboarders up and down the east coast.

“There were two things that really sort of impressed me early on when we met with these kids: I was really impressed with how enthusiastic they were and how creative they were,” Brown said. “It’s a niche that we had never really tapped into.”

That niche is also here in Winston-Salem. There are high school kids developing skateboard brands (NERD Grip, Grind Guru Wax Co.), DIY spots hidden all over the city, and a long list of skateboarders who have grown tired of having to walk through downtown with a skateboard in hand.

There are people flying across the country to support the momentum the skateboard scene has. Ramps peppered in neighborhoods should be enough to warrant a concrete park, but if you never look, you’ll never see.

Winston-Salem, your skateboarders are here and they want a park, but you should probably ask them what they want before giving something they don’t need. Afterall, they aren’t able to stop skating. !