Seven years ago, a group of skateboarders, tired of having nowhere in Athens to practice their sport, got organized. They made a plan, took it to the city, put together over a quarter of a million dollars, and built the Skate Park of Athens at Southeast Clarke Park. More than just a place for skateboarders of all ages to cruise the concrete, SPOA gives back to the city, from keeping kids off the street, both literally and figuratively, to garnering national attention, like the young Athenian whose championship career may take her to the Olympics. This summer, SPOA’s hitting the streets again with celebratory events that everyone, even people who wouldn’t dream of jumping on a skateboard, can take part in to raise money for Phase 2.
“The park is seven years old. It’s in need of a little love and repair,” says Jason Thrasher, a first-generation street skater, current transition skater and local photographer, who was the point person for the building of Phase 1. “Also, we lost a beloved skater, Ian Brussack, last year to a tragic accident that was not skate-related. We decided right away to raise money for an addition or memorial to celebrate something he loved doing.”
The words “love” and “repair” are as much of the park’s vocabulary as “rad” and “gnarly.” The skaters and their friends share a sense of community and continually look out for one other.
“Skateboarding brought me back to life,” says 23-year-old Brandon Barnett—but everyone at the park calls him B.B. “I always wanted to skate, but, y’know, growing up in the ‘hood... ”
B.B. once saw three kids walking out of a skate shop and asked them about skateboarding. They told him about SPOA and taught him everything he needed to know about the sport. “It kept me staying out of trouble. I don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have skateboarding.” Now B.B.’s paying it forward to other skateboarders and their friends by making sure they have a safe place to skate, ride bikes or just hang out by hosting gatherings every weekend at the park.
“We’re just a family. It really is just one big family,” says 16-year-old Harrison Tyner, a student from Madison County High School who first heard about the park from his mother. He comes to the park four or five times a week after a 15-minute drive.
“I come out here to skate, but these are also some of my closest friends because I know them so well. It’s a whole different experience. People say it’s not an organized sport, but I think it’s very organized. We all play as a team, pretty much. I’ve been coming out here three years now. When I got my first skateboard, everyone was completely nice. Everyone helped me with everything.” He adds, “We had some kids here the other day who didn’t have boards or anything, they just wanted to fight us. We told them to get out. That’s not part of the family. That’s not part of the park if you want to do that. That’s not how we do things around here.”
It's How They Roll
Thirteen-year-old Eleaza Rodriguez’s fellow SPOA skaters compare his natural skill on the board to another SPOA skater, 13-year-old Kaden Campbell, whom many consider a young Tony Hawk. According to B.B., Rodriguez “has only been skateboarding a year, but he’s already better than me.”
And then there’s 15-year-old Lindsea Lumpkin, a national snowboarder and six-time USASA National Champion—twice in slopestyle, twice in halfpipe, once in giant slalom and once in boardercross—who calls SPOA “a super fun park with a great learning vibe.”
“I watched her start her skate career at SPOA the year it opened. That was about the time the Tony Hawk Wasteland Tour stopped here,” says her father, Tommy Lumpkin. “Since then, she’s been on the podium 20 of 34 attempts at Nationals.” She is also invited to train with the U.S. Development Team in snowboarding for the fourth consecutive year this year with an eye on the 2018 Winter Olympics. As with Lindsea, the skill level of the current SPOA skaters has grown, along with its population, and the park needs to expand.
“If it were up to me, I’d just build more bowls, more transitions, more pools, more stuff that they can all skate when they get older,” says Thrasher. “But this phase needs to be more street. Tony Hawk was here, and I asked him what he thought of the park, and he said it’s amazing, but you need more street.”
Case in point, Tyner returned to the skate park one evening after being thrown off the UGA campus for skating a ledge. “Everyone was in class. There was no one walking around, no chance of anyone getting hurt,” he says. “Then they tell us we can go downtown and skate, and we get caught there, too. There’s nowhere to skate in town. And our street spots are all gone, so we have a bunch of ramps to skate, but no stair sets. Because there are so many different types of skaters and so many different personalities and styles, one amount of ramps can’t support everybody. SPOA has a ton of variety, but it’s basically around tranny [transition] skaters, and that just doesn’t give all the needs to people who want to jump down stair sets or grind rails. For Phase 2, I’ve heard a bunch of different ideas that just sound amazing, that would add so much to this park for all the locals here.”
Concerning additions, Thrasher says: “I do have a pretty clear idea of one thing we want to do that’s cool [which] is a replica of the China Banks from Chinatown in San Francisco: that’s a really famous bank wall with sets of benches built into it out of bricks. We’re selling bricks to individuals for $50 and to businesses for $100, where we’ll have your name put on a brick, so the bricks we sell will actually be built into the skate structure as a replica of this famous skate spot. So, I think that’s kinda cool. It all depends on how much money we raise.”
With “The Endless Summer of SPOA,” Thrasher and the SPOA team are working up a series of fundraising events and opportunities that will run all the way into October. Different venues in town, including Farm 255, the 40 Watt Club and the Georgia Theatre, will host a variety of shows, including performances by Dead Confederate, Twin Tigers, Brothers, SheHeHe and Grass Giraffes. Currently at Ciné through July 25 is “Concrete Culture,” a photography exhibit by Bob Brussack, Chad Osburn, Kent Pierson, Porter McLeod, Ian McFarlane and Thrasher. Those photographs will be available for purchase. Additional items for sale at the events include t-shirts and the personalized bricks.
The biggest event in September will be “The Board Room,” an auction of decorated skateboard decks and one of Phase 1’s most popular fundraising events, returning with even more entries for Phase 2. Over 50 local artists, including Lou Kregel, Dan Smith, Michael Lachowski, Nina Barnes (of Montreal) and James Barsness, have painted, carved and reconstructed skate decks that are currently on display at Hotel Indigo until they’re auctioned off the walls on Sept. 9. See Art Notes. The Phase 1 skateboard auction raised $17,000 in a riotous evening of fun bidding.
Then comes the big finale weekend beginning Oct. 5, with a rock show at Hotel Indigo, followed on Oct. 6 with a huge show at the park itself. “The city is bringing out the big AthFest stage for a rock festival at the skate park. We hope to have skateboard and BMX pros in town and an all-star rock show,” says Thrasher. As soon as the budget is set and the plans are approved, construction will begin and Phase 2 will be complete as soon as possible.
“This was the first concrete skate park in the state of Georgia, and the first really good one in the South outside of Florida,” says Thrasher. “It’s twice as big as it should have been for our dollar price. The guys who built this, Grindline, got here and just loved Athens, and the city took care of them. We treated them right, and they showed up and gave us one of the best parks in the world. We now have this great advantage with some local people who built the Atlanta park with the same Grindline crew that built SPOA. So, we have some people in Atlanta that grew up skating this park who want to come over and help us expand it.”
“We’re looking for a new generation of skaters,” says Tyner. “We encourage every kid to come out here and skate.”
“Men, women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever... all that good stuff,” adds B.B. “The more the merrier.”
[For more information on The Endless Summer of SPOA and related events, check the Skate Park of Athens Facebook page and Flagpole Calendar listings.]