Skaters, Neighbors Find Own Reasons For Thinking Skate Parks Just Uncool

by Mike Hudson

HOLLYWOOD – How cool are skateparks?

With a population of 3.9 million, Los Angeles, the birthplace of skateboarding, has just 13 citywide. And complaints from the neighbors combined with apathy and rejection on the part of the skaters themselves make it unlikely that more will open anytime soon.

Meanwhile, in Niagara Falls, the city is getting ready to spend $494,000 to build its own skate park. Officials say the project could be completed by fall, just in time for it to be covered in snow for the following six months.

Seth Piccirillo, the city’s youthful director of community development, said he hopes skateboarders who have been using Old Falls Street in front of the Niagara Falls Conference & Event Center, resulting in damage to concrete benches and planters, will move to the new site.

“They are not wanted there,” Piccirillo said. “They don’t have a place that is safe and dedicated to their sport.”

The new skate park would be along Hyde Park Boulevard, adjacent to the John Duke Senior Center parking lot. The $494,000 skate park is funded by a federal grant as well as a $10,000 Tony Hawk Foundation grant. Hawk is a American professional skateboarder.

City officials stressed the importance of the grant, failing to note that more than 900 communities across the country received the Tony Hawk grant prior to Niagara Falls.

When he wants to look cool, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster wears a Hard Rock Café T shirt. His closet also includes a jersey that makes him look like a hockey player, one that depicts cartoon character Jiminy Cricket swooning in the arms of Harriet Tubman and now, one that makes his appear to be a hip skateboard dude!

When he wants to look cool, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster wears a Hard Rock Café T shirt. His closet also includes a jersey that makes him look like a hockey player, one that depicts cartoon character Jiminy Cricket swooning in the arms of Harriet Tubman and now, one that makes his appear to be a hip skateboard dude!

Des Planes, IL; West Bloomfield, MI; Monticello, MN; Harrisonburg, VA; Othello, WA; Glen Jean WV; Bellevue, PA; Bend, OR; South Jordan, UT; Gilette, WY; North Laurel, MD; Bemidji, MN; Fairfield, IA; Owensboro, KY; Houma, LA; Aurora, IL; Hornell, NY; Dublin, OH.

And even tiny Beaver Dam, WI, are among the bustling metropolises that previously received the grant.

Buffalo’s LaSalle Skate Plaza opened in 2013 without the benefit of Tony Hawk’s involvement.

Piccirillo said the Hawk grant excited the young people, but also gave them guidelines for engaging the community, especially skaters, in the process.

“We constantly hear there’s not enough stuff for kids, especially older kids, to do, and this (skate park) is something we have wanted in the community for years,” he said.

“We are proud of the grassroots push behind the skate park and thankful for the Tony Hawk Foundation’s help,” said Mayor Paul Dyster. “Our community is collaborating to create a special neighborhood space for our young people. Our partnership will complete a skate park project that has been discussed for decades.”

Dyster is often given to hyperbole. Actually, the term “skate park” wasn’t coined until 1998, just 18 years ago, and, even then, it was being used almost exclusively in Southern California where the sport began to take off. No mention of it is found in the archives of the Buffalo News, the Niagara Gazette or the Niagara Falls Reporter prior to the beginning of Dyster’s second term in office, which began just four years ago.

Young California surfers looking for something to do when the waves were flat invented “sidewalk surfing” during the 1950s, using homemade boards with roller skate wheels attached. By the 1960s, a number of major surfboard manufacturers had entered the field, and interest in the sport by amateurs began to take off.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, though, that skateboarding exploded into the American consciousness. The advent of highly publicized and sponsored competitive events would eventually lead to more American kids riding skateboards than playing baseball.

In Los Angeles, some skaters say the parks themselves just aren’t cool. They complain about the helmet requirement at municipal skate parks, the fact that BMX bikers, scooter enthusiasts and in-line skaters are also permitted to use the facilities as well as the presence at some parks of safety officers.

These things obviously detract from the rebellious nature that leads many to take up the sport in the first place.

In Atwater Village, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in what used to be known as East L.A., skaters congregate at the Chevy Chase Park and Recreation Center rather than going to the city-run Marsh Skate Park, which is a 15-minute bus ride.

“I was up over there one time and everybody freaked when they saw a cop drive by because apparently they fine you for not wearing a helmet,” said one skater who’s a fixture at Chevy Chase and goes by the name of Brainstorm. “I was like f**k that s**t. If I’ve got to worry about the cops, I should at least be skating a good street spot. It’s all just too much of a hassle that I don’t need.” 

Residents living near the facilities have their own complaints. 

Noise levels from the parks are such that heavy metal singer Rob Zombie and his wife Sheri were the first to complain to the town of Woodbury, Connecticut, about excessive noise at a skate park near their home there, according to the Associated Press.

Sheri Zombie asked about the availability of funds to move the park at a town budget meeting, claiming the park “proved to be a significant noise pollutant” that lowered the quality of life for the surrounding area.

And in trendy West L.A., apartment dwellers across the street from the Stoner Skate Plaza at Stoner and Nebraska avenues say the slides and grinds of skateboarders who disregard posted hours have shredded their dreams of a good night’s sleep.

Mindy Glazer, a 15-year resident who lives across the street from the facility, told the Los Angeles Times that many people who use the park create “normal park noise,” including a saxophonist and bagpiper, that doesn’t compare to the noise of the skate boarders.

“It seems like something that just showed up,” Glazer said. “This is eye opening to me. This is public land, and public money has disturbed the peace of a lot of people who have been here for a long time.”

In Niagara Falls, numerous issues regarding skate-park operations have not been publicly discussed, including the annual cost of liability insurance and whether the skaters will be supervised by a safety officer or some other responsible adult.

Niagara Falls City Council Chairman Andrew Touma has been pushing for the skate park since he first ran for office in 2013.

“I’m thrilled that this is happening,” he said.

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