Skateboards, Footballs And The End Of Fun

The Great Stadium devours Regina’s scruffy, loveable Indoor Skatepark

by Patricia Elliott

Skate Park

The house where my son grew up barely had heat. The sinks were cracked and emitted whiffs of sewer gas. Furnishings included a ragged couch in the back room and a sign at the entrance that said, No Bikes! The words were a minor strident note amid a nightly clatter of laughter and 7-ply maple skidding along metal rails.

Shabby and ill lit but never a cleaner floor in all Regina. In this house, pushing a broom made you a patriarch. Thus my son grew up admiring people with names like Chappy and J-Rod.

His admiration was not misplaced. The guy on the broom was usually the smartest one in the room. J-Rod, for example, was engaged in a mighty struggle to scale the walls of higher education, dodging the boiling oil of tuition on a budget that barely included food. A man of the people, his conversation held no artifice. Whether you wore a suit or rags, he addressed everyone just the same, placing an expletive between each word. A conversation my husband overheard:

Nervous suburban mom: “Is it okay if I leave my son here for an hour?”

J-Rod: “Fuck, yeah, he’ll be fuckin’ fine, no fuckin’ worries, ma’am.”

His swearing was so open and friendly that none could take offence. It was equal opportunity language for an equal opportunity place. Anyone with a toonie could enter — three bucks if you didn’t own a helmet and needed to rent one of the “lice lids” hanging behind the counter (which didn’t really have lice).

The boom of skateboard wheels hitting plywood ramps drew in all kinds of kids, those with toonies in their pockets, those without. As near as I could see, no one with a reasonable disposition and a desire to skate was ever turned away from the Regina Indoor Skatepark.

My vantage point was a metal chair under the coat hooks, because I didn’t expect J-Rod and company to take full responsibility for the bruised shins and hungry tummy of a kid then in grade one. So there I sat, Mom to one and Hey Lady to many, as in, “Hey Lady, what time is it? Hey Lady, is my ankle broken? Hey Lady, did you see that front-side feeble I landed?”

I kept sitting there as years passed, usually with my schoolwork balanced on one knee. Every now and then I would look up to see a little kid with a t-shirt to his knees fly off the end of a ramp, lighter than air. When the Tapaquon brothers ollied right over his head, his grin was a mile wide. I wasn’t worried — the Taps were that good.

Turned ankles were about the worst injuries I saw, although getting nutted by your own skateboard looked more painful. I never saw a fight of any kind. People got mad at themselves instead, the way golfers do, launching their skateboards into the air or hammering them against walls. But even that was rare.

Once I walked across the parking lot for a cup of coffee from the neighbour, the indoor soccer facility. It was culture shock: heated air, functioning bathrooms, even a Tim Horton’s.

I used to think skateboarders suffered from benign societal neglect. Only when plans for an outdoor skate plaza got underway did I learn the neglect was not benign at all — it was directed and hostile. When a kid steps onto a skateboard instead of bicycle, he or she becomes a statement of non-conformity and counter-culture, a menace to wider society.

The good thing about neglect is you can create your own world.

The Indoor has always been a world of fun, where the air smells sweeter as day progresses into evening. No referees, no angry knots of adults bitching about league politics, no children crying because they lost the big game, no coaches, clinics or drills.

No one teaches kids to tre-flip and nose grind. They learn by osmosis and experimentation, then go on to invent their own marvels. But there are plenty of lessons in the ethos of non-aggression, non-interference and how to build a community. Thus I watched my boy grow into the quiet, unassuming demeanor of his mentors.

The only time I ever felt endangered at the skatepark was during this November’s annual skate jam. My kid didn’t need (or want) watching anymore so it had been a long while since I’d stepped through the doors. A spate of furious ramp construction — perhaps touched off by a sense that doom was nigh — had left so much sawdust in the air that I seriously worried the place would explode if anyone decided to light a match.

The Indoor’s ending will be less spectacular, as turns out.

The skaters’ mistake was to build their happy world in a place called The Heritage Building — a name that, in this town, pretty much sealed its date with a wrecking ball. To make way for the stadium, it will join the ghostly rubble of the Jubilee Building and stately Grain Show Building, as Regina Exhibition Park completes its mutation into Evraz Place. On May 4, its young citizens became as homeless as the colourful, grizzled punters of Queensbury Downs, now the Queensbury Convention Centre.

In this age of synergies and efficiencies, the skaters have been encouraged to find someone to share space with. But the skatepark’s magic was its autonomy. The skaters built their own ramps, dragged in old bits of furniture and ran their own security. Adults seldom entered. Neither did the police. It was in neutral territory — no one was crossing into anyone’s neighbourhood. The old walls held a mixed population together against a fragmented world.

These intangibles will prove harder to duplicate than the physical needs of a skatepark, which are hard enough to find.

North Central has some abandoned churches that need adopting, if you could find one without columns. The City recently re-appropriated the spacious former Optimists Gymnastics Club, but has vowed to protect the current tenant, a microbrewery. Moneymaking beer vats versus toonie-less kids is a poor contest. At this point, any alternative would be one less reason to curse the coming of the Great Stadium. Meanwhile young hearts skate the ledge of uncertainty.

This we know from folks who commit sociology: bricks and mortar do shape communities. Their essence leaks into the collective state of mind. The sense of belonging, ownership, history and social cohesion contained in a physical space takes years to build and mere hours to rip apart with the shovel of a track hoe.

The more frequently things rip apart, the more fragile the toeholds of social cohesion become. It’s how friendly cities turn mean.

Thankfully the skaters have optics on their side. Turning children and youth into the cold streets doesn’t look good on a city government, even in this jaded town.

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2013-05-16

11 thoughts on “Skateboards, Footballs And The End Of Fun”

  1. This is so sad. My son and his friends skate boarded for years and years. He is now 27 and skates and lives in Vancouver. He grew up in that building. Wasn’t out on the streets unless skating, didn’t smoke, not healthy if you are a skater and spend many hours after the park closed building ramps.

    He faced the negative remarks because his sport was a skateboard and not hockey or soccer or football. Didn’t matter to him or his close group of friends that spent their youth at the skate park.

    I hope they can find a place for today’s youth. Skateboarding is a sport and you really have to be fit to endure the endless hours on the board and have talent to do all the tricks and leaps and jumps.

  2. Great article. I worked at the skatepark pre J-Rod and also while in post-secondary school. That skatepark was like a babysitting service sometimes and I understand how scary it would feel to leave a grade one there alone as a parent of a 5 year old now, but knowing the Regina skate community I wouldn’t worry about it if they were with a friend or two. The cool thing about that park being in North Central was that skateboarding doesn’t care about your economic status, race, or age. I can guarantee that the skatepark paid for itself in the kids it saved from being in gangs or dragged into an expensive damaging lifestyle like junior hockey. I hope the city finds a new spot for them and also keeps the cost down. The indoor little skatepark I go to here in BC costs $10 per hour and as an old timer yuppie I can now afford it, but to spend a whole Saturday skateboarding in the Regina winter for a toonie was the best!

  3. Great article, so true about skaters. My sons grew up skating in all sorts of places before the indoor park was set up. I was relieved that there was a safe place where they could skate without getting harassed. Over the years they were strong advocates for skateboarding and even came up to La Ronge to do workshops with the youth. My boys are now adults with kids of their own but they are still saddened to hear about the park as I am. I hope it can be relocated somewhere in the same area.

  4. Great article, Trish. Maybe they can move the skate park to the now empty sound stage.

  5. Great article! Loved your descriptions. Just another reason why “the stadium” needs to be re-thought. Oh wait, there’s my anti-Regina, anti-progress, anti-whatever, outside voice talking again.

    Oh look, homeless people. *shiny* (stadium glistening)
    Oh look, potholes. *shiny* (stadium glistening)
    Oh look, no skateboard park. *shiny* (stadium glistening)

    It is so sad. So very sad.

  6. I’m 38 now, but I was a skater in Regina years before the indoor skate-park. We used to skate all over the place — loved it! Mostly we would look for great curbs and railings and we’d unintentionally piss off the security guards at every major office building.

    We were a small community of skaters then — every skater in town knew every other skater in town! We yearned for an skate-park but every attempt to organize such a thing ended up with $0 and lots of red tape.

    I had stopped skating in my late teens but I was happily supportive when the city finally realized the value of skate-parks. A few parks were built around the city — awesome!! If only they’d don’t it a decade earlier :(

    When the indoor skate-park was established in Regina, I knew it would provide an awesome adventure for thousands.

    Let’s hope the community of skaters is resilient and that they’ll find new facilities.

  7. This is among the best things I’ve ever read on skate culture and urbanism. My eyes welled up more than once. The world needs more skaters, but also more righteous moms like Trish.

  8. Kudos Trish for the excellent article, and I sincerely hope that the powers that be are directed towards this article, so that perhaps they can truly understand what these decisions mean to people. Not just for those that are being displaced by the new stadium, but for those that are directly impacted by this forced lifestyle change. I sincerely hope and pray that these skateboarders are able to find an alternative location, and the City works their ass off to help them find said location. I also hope that the City will provide it at a tax-exempt status, so that the toonie price tag can remain, or at least somewhere close to that. This is evidence of the true nature of those who do things by necessity. Heat, luxuries, amenities be damned! As long as they have an indoor location that allows them to do what they truly love, THAT is what matters the most.

    This is the kind of proactive thinking that I sincerely hope that the City of Regina and the Regina Police Service start taking a serious look at. THESE are the kinds of things that provide the at-risk and marginalized youth with true life alternatives. THESE are the kinds of things that help make them who they come to be as adults. Life lessons are learned in situations like no other than this. Thank you to whomever was the original creator of this indoor skatepark, and thank you to whomever works their ass off to find a way to continue this going forward!

  9. I can’t speak to the specifics of how this will affect your community, but I imagine it will be similar to other situations I’ve seen down here in south Louisiana and the Gulf area.

    I’m a 38 year old professional government computer admin and program coordinator, I started in 1985 and never quit. I still push myself and take a role in my community and park scene to keep our kids on board, and I’m far from unique, even down here.

    Skateboarders have had an unfair stigma attached to them for as long as I remember, and even though there’s been a significant mainstreaming of our passion, it seems like a double standard has developed… ie, I’ve been ticketed for skateboarding (by a polite police officer) who, while writing the ticket, kept asking me questions about X Games. Go figure.

    Regardless, I wanted to give you a sincere hat tip for one of the better written pieces I’ve seen as it concerns skateboarding.

    Cheers from the dirty dirty.

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