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Celebrating the almost real

Local skateboarders celebrate a day and the park

BRATTLEBORO—About 100 skateboarders and spectators braved the nearly 100-degree heat on June 21 to participate in the global celebration of skateboarding known as Go Skateboarding Day.

Skateboarders showed off their moves on ramps and rails donated by Townshend-based Catamount Ramps. Companies Vew-Do and Wat-aah also held demonstrations and donated products.

Committee members of Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming (BASIC) cooked hotdogs and hamburgers. The skatepark’s poet laureate, Lynn Martin, was honored for her work and poem, Freewheelin’ Teens.

BASIC organized the event at the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue, the proposed site for the town’s skateboard park. An organization of advocates and skateboarders, BASIC is collaborating with the town to build a skatepark at the Crowell Lot.

According to the Go Skateboarding Day website, the International Association of Skateboard Companies started the worldwide event in 2003 to “celebrate the pure exhilaration, creativity, and spirit of one of the most influential activities in the world by blowing off all other obligations to go skateboarding.”

“I’m really excited about where we’re headed,” said BASIC committee president Marty Vallender in a separate interview.

He described Go Skateboarding Day as also celebratory for BASIC. The group reached one of its short-term goals — sending out requests for proposals (RFPs) for park designs.

Vallender called sending out RFPs “a big step” that represents a tangible step in the park’s construction. Once a designer comes onboard, the design options will be open for public input, he added.

“We’re starting to see a real result of the work,” he said.

The RFPs, said Vallender, are due mid-July and are under the supervision of the town’s Recreation & Parks Department. The skate park, ultimately, will fall under the department’s jurisdiction.

The group has also raised $91,000 in pledges, grants, and donations toward its ultimate goal of $300,000.

Vallender said Go Skateboard Day posed an opportunity to reconnect with the people supporting or volunteering for the park. The event in Brattleboro seems to keep growing, he said. People from Manchester, Vt., had contacted him to say they would attend.

“All this for some moveable ramps in a parking lot,” Vallender said.

The why of skating

BASIC committee member Jeff Clark and his sons, Patrick and Andrew, skateboard as a family.

On one memorable skateboarding trip, Jeff took seven kids to New Hampshire, where they hit five skateparks in one day. Jeff said he learned to skate as a young man in the 1970s, and later taught his boys. Skateboarding was different for a young Jeff, where skateboarding provided less sport and more a mode of transportation.

Andrew and Patrick said they skate because “it’s fun” and they like the challenge of learning new tricks.

“I like the independence of skateboarding,” said Patrick, who is 18 and also a BASIC committee member.

To Patrick, skateboarding keeps him active and provides time with friends outside the traditional route of team sports like basketball or soccer.

Andrew, 16, echoed Patrick. He said likes skateboarding because he can skate when he wants, do what he wants, and “there are no rules.”

Patrick skateboards about twice a week and Andrew about three to four times a week at the Boys & Girls Club’s indoor skatepark on Flat Street.

Patrick said he will help run the club’s summer skateboarding camp.

BASIC spokesperson Francine Vallario said the group plans to construct the park to accommodate multiple skill levels.

Vallario, a former educator, said she loves that the skateboarding community involves people of all ages and hopes that this intergenerational mix at Brattleboro’s park will provide positive role models for young people.

A rocky ramp

The park’s construction has met with opposition by some community members that has prompted lawsuits and mediation. Vallender, Vallario, and the Clarks said they feel that, although vocal, the people opposed to the skatepark are few.

“Step away from the stereotype,” said Jeff about skateboarders’ negative rap.

“The whole community isn’t like that,” he said. “Once you break the ice, it’s people doing what they like.”

Vallario said that her son played hockey and baseball in school. But after buying the equipment, those sports could get expensive. Also, she added, not all kids want to participate in organized sports.

Kids should have the opportunity to “be active in all ways” and for the community to make such opportunities available, she said.

In other communities, Vallario noted, the town has tucked the skateboard park away in a back parking lot or a hard-to-access area.

“It sends a message of segregation,” she said.

In her opinion, the Crowell Lot, which also has swings and basketball, sends the message, “We want you to skate, but we want you with us.”

Vallender countered the fear that having a skatepark in town will draw negative crowd by saying that the community needs to identify where it is making these “assumptions and premises.”

Introducing a skate park to town won’t create the dynamic of the feared “they.” The town needs to ask itself where a negative dynamic already exists.

Vallario said she spends a lot of time dispelling negative myths about the future park. She said people thank her for the good information. She said she hopes that more town committees, such as the Arts Committee and Walkable Communities group, will tie into the park so it will serve multiple parts of the town.

“Make [the park] what people would like it to be,” she said.

Patrick said people his age have an easier time accepting skateboarding because they’re around it more. He said he couldn’t imagine where the sport’s negative image originates.

Vallario added that hockey had a similar negative stereotype in its early days because people didn’t view it as mainstream.

“It’s not a sport frozen in time,” said Vallender.

Skaters who started skateboarding in the 1960s have grown up and taught their kids, he said.

Skateboarding is intergenerational, Vallender added. Younger people can benefit by watching older skateboarders.

He said the community shouldn’t look at skateboarding as a separate sport, but as something youth enjoy.

The sometimes-contentious reaction to the town’s future skatepark led to a heated Selectboard meeting on March 20, when Selectboard member David Gartenstein made a motion to reopen the skatepark process for more public input and to ensure that all permits and procedures had been followed.

The board voted against reopening the process.

BASIC members preceded the March 20 meeting with a letter-writing campaign to board members.

Flow

Vallender said BASIC hopes to break ground next summer. He said the committee will endeavor to talk with the whole community and explain realistic options for addressing design concerns.

Jeff said that the skateboarding community is diverse and members of that community inspire one another.

Patrick said he is practicing skating in a bowl, a large skateboarding structure shaped like a mixing bowl. He likes the bowl because it allows “flow.”

“You never have to stop,” he said.

The closest bowl for him to practice on is in Northampton, Mass., he said.

Andrew is practicing his technical skating on ledges and boxes to “broaden what I can do with technical tricks.”

Patrick started skateboarding at age 9 and Andrew at about seven.

“It’s great exercise,” Patrick said.

“It’s so rewarding when you can land something [a trick] every time you try,” Andrew said.

The best part about having a designated skateboard park, said Andrew, is “we wouldn’t get tickets.” A town ordinance prohibits skateboarding on streets or sidewalks except areas designated by the Selectboard.

“There are all different ways to skate and express yourself,” said Patrick. “But there’s only one way to play baseball.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #158 (Wednesday, June 27, 2012).

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