The Ohio Valley is a surprisingly robust place for skateboarders to practice their extreme sport. Athens, Ohio, has a professional grade skate park built right behind the local community center. Forty minutes down the road in Parkersburg, West Virgina is another quality skate park and Meigs County, Ohio is home to one of the most notorious anarchist skate parks in the country.
The wide availability of skateboarding space has likely grown out of wider acceptance of skating. Some older skaters will say that skateboarding used to illegal. Back in the day, they had nowhere to skate but the streets, where it is illegal to ride. Due to this lack of space, skateboarders had an outlaw reputation up until recently. As skateboarders grew up, they built places to do it legally. As more skate parks have been built, more young people have gotten involved. Skating fashion and social media has introduced a lot of young adults to the actual hobby and even though skateboarding used to be somewhat of a boys club, more and more women are going pro. The Olympics has even adopted skateboarding as a summer game.
Though the sport hasn’t always been widely accepted, it has always found a home in the heart of young people. After all, the most common type of person you’ll see on skateboard is still a teenage boy. But it is noticeably expanding into young adulthood and into women. On a sunny day in Athens, Ohio you can spot a variety of wheeled boards rolling around Ohio University’s campus, under the feet of young adults. Long boards, electrically powered skating contraptions and traditional boards are all over the place. You will likely see a variety of men, but the occasional young woman will be out as well. This growth is good for skateboarding as a whole, but, some people in the local scene are concerned about who isn’t skateboarding.
Ohio University student and Cleveland area skateboarder, Noah Yonkers, said that he hasn’t seen very many local kids skating around Athens. He’s been skateboarding in Athens for three years and is well connected with other local skateboarders, yet he hasn’t met many skater kids. When speaking about the local skateboarding scene, he said, “It seems like right now, it’s a lot of older dudes.”
Flipside Skateboard Shop owner, Moss Miller believes that part of why kids aren’t skating as much in Athens is because there was stunt in generational growth. According to him, there was an odd shift in who was skating around Athens. It used to be that generations of teenagers would look up to the slightly older kids to keep skating, but somewhere along the way a new generation didn’t show up and college students took over. It’s like a group of teens out grew skateboarding and a huge group of college students took over instead of local thirteen year olds. Miller actually believes as a whole, that skateboarding is on a rise in Athens, mostly because of college students.
Leif Wakefield, an Athens native and local skateboarder, has also noticed a decline in the amount of kids skating. Even though there is a strong community of college aged skateboarders around, Wakefield wants to ensure skateboarding has a future in the Ohio Valley.
Skateboarding might be growing with young adults, but many local skateboarders have noticed a decline in kids at the skate park. Local skateboarder Leif Wakefield is looking to bring local kids back to the skate park by starting the Athens Skate Club.
The club aims to bring kids together in new community of young skaters. Wakefield said that a big part of what encouraged him to continue skating as a youth was having friends who skated, and that’s part of what he believes will help keep kids interested in skateboarding.
Of course, it’s pretty hard to get involved if you have no idea how to skateboard. But, that’s why Wakefield has worked with local officials at the Athens Community Center to develop classes for kids and teenagers.
According to Andrew Chiki, the assistant director of the Athens Arts, Parks & Recreation department, surveys given taken in the community showed that parents were interested in after school programming beyond homework help. Apparently, the Athens community is interested in teaching their children skills, including how to skateboard.
Wakefield planned to have a week long camp for the classes over Athens City School’s spring break. During that break he planned to have a morning session with students aged seven-to-11 and an afternoon session with students aged 12 to 15.
Going into spring break, Wakefield had only a few kids signed up, but just a few days before the camp started, several more signed up. Eleven skateboarders ended up being distributed between the two classes. Most of the students were complete beginners, which Wakefield expected. Because seven of the skateboarders were in the younger division, Wakefield decided to give extra attention to the safety of his students. “I didn’t want anybody to do anything they weren’t ready for and get hurt.”
Unfortunately, Wakefield didn’t have enough students to warrant hiring another instructor to help take care of his classes. “Honestly it was kind of like hearding cats with the younger group. Because they take direction, but they just need to hear it five or six times. But yeah, I think for future programs I’m just going to make sure that we get the numbers that we need to hire someone else.”
The older group had some experience, but they were still mostly beginners. Although, they made it to the actual skate park a little earlier than the younger group. While the older group had to learn some of the basics, they quickly began to focus on kick turning and tic-tacking. Soon after they began to roll through cones and obstacle courses. It may have taken a little extra time, but both groups did make it into the skate park. Footage posted on the Athens Skateboard Club Facebook page shows most of the students who participated in the club in one of the bowls at some point. There is also impressive footage of students carving through one of Wakefield’s obstacle courses.
The week long camp seemed to be a big success. The students were enthusiastic and to Wakefield’s surprise, even the younger group handled their failures very well. “With the younger group, I was very worried that like, they would try for two hours and be like, ‘this is too hard, I don’t want to do this,’ you know, have like little freak-outs and stuff,” said Wakefield. “But it was amazing, every single kid, they were like six, seven, eight years old and they were all just like super stoked and there to learn.” One of Wakefield’s major goals was to get kids to the skate park, but unfortunately he hasn’t seen too many camp kids return. However, parents who have told him that their child is still very interested in skateboarding have encouraged him. Wakefield suspects students are just busy with school.
Wakefield plans to do more instructional camps in the future, including some this summer. He also wants the club to be more than just camps with plans for more after school style activities in the works. He wanted to start those after school events this past semester, but said that time got away from him. Once he has a consistent group of students coming to skate club, Wakefield wants to help students explore other skate parks. “I would like to kind of establish a group of kids who are really into it, kids that you can tell, like skateboarding is going to be their life and then eventually maybe try and get a van and start taking kids to different skate parks on the weekends,” said Wakefield.
Wakefield also wants to start adult skateboarding lessons, and if he can build a cliental from those, he wants to do private lessons as well.
Ultimately, skateboarding is about community and Leif Wakefield is doing whatever he can to keep his community strong.
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Leif Wakefield said that skateboarding has become really accessible, which has benefits, but also downfalls. “It makes it more affordable, and it makes it easier for parents to buy their kids stuff, but skateboarding is all about community and having people in the environment you feel comfortable being around.”
Wakefield said even when he was a kid you could order stuff online, just like you can today, but most kids got their gear from the local skate shop. “When they went in there, they would see Moss, and they would see me, and they would see other skaters in the community,” said Wakefield. Now, with skateboards easily ordered online, young skateboarders are missing out on that community. Wakefield added that the skate park can be an intimidating place to come to by yourself.
Moss Miller, is a big part of the skateboarding community in Athens. He is actively involved in the community and has an active group chat with local skaters. If they need something, all they have to do is text Moss and he’ll open up shop for them. He is very supportive of the new wave of college skaters as well, and helped build the street style skate park on Ohio University’s South Green. Miller even gave a 20% discount to Leif Wakefield’s students. From an outsider’s perspective, it certainly seems like getting to know Moss Miller is a cornerstone of becoming a skateboarder in Athens. Almost all of the skateboarders I spoke to while working on this project mentioned Miller or recommended that I speak with him.
A Brief History of Skateboarding from Moss Miller
The Athens Skate Park
According to Andrew Chiki, the skate park was built in 2004 as a combined effort between the City of Athens, Ohio University and The Tony Hawk Foundation. The local skating community was highly involved at the time and helped push the effort forward.
The park is a rather challenging transition skate park. Transition skating is also known as “vert” skating, which references the vertical ramps skateboarders ride in this style of skating. The skate park was built by professionals who knew how to shred vert, and some in the community wish they would have incorporated more street style skateboarding obstacles and perhaps a more beginner friendly area.
The park moves from a shallow bowl into a deeper bowls. As the bowls deepen, a side pocket opens toward the rear, where skaters can enter a hollow pill shaped obstacle. According to Chiki, the closed capsule toward the rear of the park was one of the first of its kind across the country and won some awards for being there.
Chiki said that his department would be taking a look into the skate park’s maintenance in the near future. First they will look at what needs fixed, but then they may look to what they can add.