Alley-oop

The M.V. skatepark is a place to test your wheels and gather with friends.

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If you’ve ever driven down Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, past the regional high school, you have almost certainly caught a glimpse of the concrete hips and waves that make up the Martha’s Vineyard skatepark. If you’ve ever gone for a workout at the YMCA, you may have heard the pops of skaters propelling their boards up into the air, and the crisp impacts of their wheels reuniting with the concrete. Perhaps you’ve even seen us in town, announcing ourselves through the disconcerting roar of hard wheels on the pavement as we grind atop a ledge or nudge our wheels into a slide down a hill.

Though we may seem aloof, or perhaps reckless (and sometimes we are these things), and though one may think there is a disconnect between the young skaters, still in their tweens, and the older crowd, we are an unspokenly cohesive community, both unified and diverse, with motives both simple and complex.

At an afterschool park session, when asked to speak about skateboarding off the top of his head, Leo Napior, 12, said this: “It feels really nice, skateboarding, like the style of it. And it’s really just fun. You can do it a lot, and there’s always something you can learn.” At the time, he was trying to learn a Smith stall on the quarter pipe, a trick where the skater locks the back set of his wheels onto the metal spine atop the ramp while letting the rest of the board rest in front of it.

“Skateboarding is always the same; it’s always fun. Wherever you are, whether you have a skatepark or not … it’s always fun,” said Oliver Reed, 36. Reed moved to Burlington, Vt., after growing up on the Vineyard. He has skateboarded since age 11, and this summer he could be seen working on slides and grinds atop the M.V. skatepark ledges.

After a weekend street-skating session in Oak Bluffs, where he focused on ollieing (the controlled popping of the board into the air) small gaps, and holding out powerslides (sliding the wheels across the ground), 19-year-old Ryan Mendez echoed similar sentiments in his first words about skateboarding: “It’s really fun.”

Calder Martin, a longtime skateboarder and surfer who teaches mathematics at the Charter School, tried to provide an in-depth articulation of why the word “fun,” such a general term, is so synonymous with skateboarding, especially when compared with similar activities. “I always see skateboarding as utopian and futuristic, because it is so improbable. The feeling of skateboarding is as close as I can imagine to flying, with elements of gliding, hovering, and floating. But then you have to add in grinding… [and] the lack of binding between board and rider makes the connection so satisfying, regardless of whether one is just cruising around or ollieing over a garbage can.”

Beyond the inherent enjoyment of the activity, skaters spoke to more personal aspects, such as its role in their life growing up, its therapeutic nature, and other individual insights.

As Hunter Broderick, a seventh grader at the Tisbury School who is sponsored by the small skateboard company 1989 Skateboards, had to say after the street-skating session, “I guess skating’s just like, it’s different for everyone. So you’re never gonna find one person that has the same story as another … For me it’s the violent movements, ya know, just slamming on stairs, then landing the tricks, the adrenaline rush, like, ‘Damn dude, I landed that.’”

“It’s a way to get off a lot of my anger. Whenever I’m angry, I just go skate, and it kinda soothes my mind because I’m working on something that’s meaningful to me,” said Robert Goodale, a senior at MVRHS, as we sat atop one of the larger skatepark ramps with a few other skateboarders in the middle of a gentle snowfall last week.

Twenty-year-old MVRHS graduate Mercer Kelley, who began skateboarding at age 6, described what it was like to enter into the community during that conversation: “I feel like I was in contact with everyone from 5 years old to 50 years old. Everyone has that same love for the sport, so it really brings you together. It doesn’t really matter the age.”

“Yeah, it’s a very welcoming community, even if you’re not the best at [skateboarding]. It’s just good to see people having fun at it,” added Goodale.

MVRHS juniors Silas Abrams and Nick Cranston, who began skateboarding this September, shared that they have made many new friends since coming to the skatepark, and said that they would likely continue with the activity. Abrams has been working on ollieing onto the park features and performing manuals (balancing on the back wheels), while Cranston has focused on becoming familiar with cruising the various ramps.

While skateboarding has a history of being a male-dominated sport, with only 20 percent or so of skaters being female, Martin noted that “middle-school girls have been shredding. We talked about it at the last [skatepark] committee meeting.” In his personal estimate, the number of girls skateboarding at the park has “quadrupled.”

“The skatepark is great because it’s a place where all ages can come together and do something, ya know, positive, and learn tricks from other people. It’s just like, good vibes, no conflict,” said Kevin Brennan, a local skater and surfer in his 20s. “It just makes me happy to come skate, and it’s good to see all the [skaters].”

Since the skatepark was founded in 2004 in a communal effort coordinated by a coalition of parents, skaters, and business people, it has been a boon to the Island skate scene. Older skaters such as Zeb Weisman, who currently resides in Boston, and Richard Medeiros, a resident of Oak Bluffs, have used the park to host summer skate camps for introducing younger kids to the sport, as well as occasional skate competitions. For some, these camps have been the catalyst to discovering a passion for skateboarding.

“I was doing a summer camp, and it wasn’t going that good, but there was this skate camp I started going to [run by Zeb], and I enjoyed it pretty well, and [skateboarded] for the rest of the year,” said Broderick, recalling when he started skateboarding in the summer of 2019.

However, at its heart skateboarding remains a deeply personal endeavor, and when COVID-19 quarantine restrictions last spring disrupted much of the community functioning, including the ability to go to the skatepark, skaters continued to skate, and many picked up the activity for the first time.

“I started seriously skating just like nine months ago, right when quarantine started, and ever since that I’ve been skating every day,” said Sam Cranston, an MVRHS graduate who now goes to the University of Vermont.

Skaters have had a history of making the best of bad situations, as is perhaps best epitomized by Medeiros’ recollection of his beginnings in skateboarding: “My friends and I in the city had found a crappy old board in a trash can. We were all sharing for a while.” Later that year, he would come to the Island in the summer, and his dad would buy him his first board at the Green Room.

During this trying time of the pandemic, skaters, both those picking up the sport for the first time and those who had skated before and were familiar with the park, were perfectly happy to practice their flatground on tennis courts, use homemade boxes to hone their grinds, and creatively session various street spots. A few chose to shift their focus to freeride and downhill longboarding, which centers on maximizing speed down hills and holding out various powerslides to stay in control.

“Skateboarders always find a way … but having a little help is always appreciated, like i.e. a skatepark,” said Reed.