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Rad but Mad: Skaters Give New Park Mixed Reviews

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

April 19 -- There’s a buzz that’s been vibrating throughout the subculture of skateboarding since early this year, as construction workers troweled the last of the concrete and began putting the finishing touches on Santa Monica’s long-awaited soon-to-be open 20,000-square-foot skate park.

E-connected skaters throughout the region -- some of whom will travel hundreds of miles to skate a new park -- had been posting photos of the construction site on the internet for months, using superlatives like “awesome” and “gnarly” to describe the facility.

That is until word got out about the fees and the hours for the half-million dollar state-of-the-art skate facility slated to open at Memorial Park in mid June. That’s when words like “lame” and “sucks” began to appear.

Alex Adelman, 15, checked out the park last week. (Photos by Gene Williams)

Many a skater is now complaining that the fees the City is going to charge are nearly as steep as the vertical walls of the cement bowls they’ve been waiting so long to skate -- especially when you add to that the limited hours the thing will be open.

“Here’s the thing. Santa Monica is to skateboarding what Waikiki Beach is to surfing,” said local skate-‘n- surf icon Skip Engblom. “This is the central and spiritual home of skateboarding.

“And here’s the problem,” he said. “You build this beautiful skate park, and then you make it so no one can use it.”

While Glendale, Hawthorne and Bellflower all have skate parks that are free -- or nearly free -- those who skate Santa Monica will first have to pay registration fees of $10 for kids and $15 for adults ($15 and $20 for non-residents).

Then either buy a day pass: $3 for kids and $5 for adults ($5 and $6.50 for non residents).

Or get a quarterly pass: $20 for kids and $35 for adults ( $35 and $45 for non residents).

But many say they wouldn’t whine so much about the money if there were more hours to carve up the concrete.

On weekdays throughout the school year, the park’s ramps, curbs, rails and bowls will be open only about three hours a day from 3 p.m. to dusk.

In the summer and on weekends year-round the park will open from 11 a.m to dusk.

Also, unlike many other regional skate parks, Santa Monica’s has no lights for night skating, although the wires have been laid in hopes the City can find funding to light the place up.

Skaters were talking about it Sunday at RIP City skate shop on Santa Monica Boulevard near 26th Street, where the fee schedule was posted on the front door.

“It’s financially impossible for the kids who really need this thing,” said Engblom, who gave Santa Monica the name “Dogtown” in the early ‘70s when he put together the city’s legendary Z-Boys skate team with business partner and surfboard maker Jeff Ho.

Skip Engblom (left) with a friend at RIP City skate shop

The City of Glendale “has a beautiful facility where you can skate twelve hours a day for free,” said Englbom, whose overalls reeked of polyester resin and fiberglass.

Hanging out at the skate shop, twelve-year-old Ben Beeman and a friend recognized Engblom and asked for his autograph.

“Kids don’t have any money,” said Beeman. “If we can’t go to skate parks we tend to go to private property where we’re told we’re trespassing, or we skate the streets and sidewalks where we’re told we’re harassing pedestrians. So it’s a vicious circle.”

“It should be free,” his friend added.

RIP City owner James McDowell agreed that the park is a beautiful thing but the fees and hours have to change.

“Why is it that we’re living in such an affluent community and we have to charge these kids, when the City of Hawthorne can provide a beautiful park for their kids for free?” asked McDowell, who’s been running the skate shop in the same location since 1978.

“The City should look to other communities to see how their skate parks have been run and have been run quite successfully,” he said.

A shop employee looked up from behind the counter. “You know how most skaters are. They don’t have two nickels to rub together,” he said, rubbing his thumb against the tip of his forefinger.

And locals aren’t the only ones talking.

On one internet bulletin-board, www.concretedisciples.com, sumdumsurfer wrote, “The place DOES look rad. But I’m just not gonna fork out that much money to skate……no pinche bueno.

“It’s just wrong to charge that much,” he went off. “Like joining a friggin’ country club.”

Meanwhile, over at Santa Monica City Hall, Principal Community Services Supervisor Rich Rollins wants to tell the skaters not to worry.

“We’re trying to make this park as user friendly as possible,” Rollins explained. “We’ve designed the fee structure so they are very inexpensive for Santa Monica youth.”

Rollins pointed out that the $20 quarterly pass works out to less than 25 cents a day, whereas the City’s tennis courts cost each player $2.50 per hour and the swimming pools charge similar fees.

In addition, kids who have a hard time paying to skate are eligible for financial assistance that will cover as much as 80 to 90 percent of the fees, Rollins said.

“Any recreational pursuit you do nowadays costs a certain amount of money, and this is very economical,” he added, especially for “a really top quality product for people to skate.”

And what about the hours?

Rollins acknowledged that some adult skaters have told him that they want the park open weekday mornings while the kids are in school.

“I think that would be a good thing if the demand warrants it,” he said. “I think what we’re going to do is look at the attendance some and log the community feed-back.

“Then we’ll look at what the actual use and demand is and pick the optimal times and adjust the schedule accordingly,” he said.

Over in Venice, Louis Antonio said he can’t wait for the park to open and doesn’t mind paying the fees.

“Five bucks? It sounds good,” said Antonio. “I drove by and the park looks like it will be a good one.

“I’m a biker. I like BMX,” said Antonio, referring to the small stunt bikes that have been gaining in popularity in recent years.

He added that Santa Monica will be one of the few skate parks that will allow him to ride his bike.

“Hopefully there will be a good vibe between the skaters and the bikers,” he said.

And that brings up another issue.

Back at RIP City, McDowell said, “Skaters don’t like BMX. It’s a clash of cultures.”

Another skater agreed, explaining that putting skaters and bikes in the same place is “like bringing the Bloods and the Crips together.”

“But the problem is much more real,” said McDowell, adding that it’s dangerous skating around the heavy steel framed bikes which also tear up the concrete surface creating more hazards.

Once again, recreation supervisor Rollins said not to worry.

Separate sessions will be worked out for skaters and bikers, said Rollins. Also, pegs and other bike equipment that could potentially damage the surface will be banned, he said.

Last week the City Council formally adopted the rules for the park’s use. Here’s some of them:

  • You must be at least six years old.
  • Everyone has to wear a helmet as well as knee and elbow pads and sign a waiver of liability or -- if under 18 -- have a parent sign one.
  • No spectators allowed.
  • No food or beverages allowed.
  • No intimidation, hazing, fighting and antagonistic or disruptive behavior.
  • No smoking, drug or alcohol use.
  • No gambling.

And, oh yeah -- no profanity whatsoever, not even on your t-shirt.

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