This article was written prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The sound of wheels scraping smooth cement echoes throughout Derby Skate Park. Skaters gain speed as they glide down the sides of the snake run into the bowl. Someone speeds across, launching himself out of the course. Others do fast kick turns and skate along the sides of the bowl.
Skaters are often regarded as reckless delinquents looking to start trouble, but I got a different impression when I went to Derby Skate Park.
Local skaters filmed each other while they tried new tricks, encouraging each other to get back up after each fall. One guy even approached me, handing me his skateboard and asking if I would like to learn how to skate.
“[Skateboarding is] hands down the most accepting out of anything,” said Bill’s Wheels Skateshop employee Shane Scoffone. “The camaraderie is amazing. When guys are trying new tricks, everyone pushes them to do it.”
Skating has paved the way for lifelong friendships and an easy way to connect with others. The skate community has never cared about gender or race, Scoffone said. Everyone is at the skate park for the same reason — to shred and have fun.
Watching skaters carelessly drop into bowls from high surfaces and zip around the sides can be a nail-biting experience. The focus and intensity of their facial expressions can make it even more daunting when wanting to step in for a turn on the course.
Although skating may have a reputation for gatekeeping, local skater Sophia Murphy found her place in the skate scene.
“I used to be so freaked out coming here,” Murphy said. “Especially just being the only girl, it was super intimidating. But coming here you get to know everyone. There are regulars that come, everyone becomes homies.”
Although Murphy doesn’t meet up with most of the skaters outside the park, she refers to the connections she’s made at Derby as a special sort of friendship.
For local shredder Connor Buchinski, an often reserved fellow, skateboarding helped him connect with others.
“I wasn’t very good at making friends before I started skating,” Buchinski said, “but skating it’s kinda easier cause it’s an easy thing to talk about. Everybody’s on the same page.”
Skateboarding offers more than just lifelong friendships. After trying tricks and failing and trying again, skaters learn self-discipline and bravery from cruising around and practicing difficult moves. For local skater Sam, skating has brought him perseverance and courage.
“A lot of the morals, fundamentals and thick skin that I have [come from skateboarding],” Sam said.
Although landing an ollie impossible is a big accomplishment, it can be easy to fall into a love-hate relationship with the bone-rattling sport. Getting intimate with cement and asphalt is an unavoidable aspect of skateboarding.
“[Skateboarding] has saved my life and ruined my life all at once,” Sam said. “It’s destroyed me mentally and physically, borderline financially, but it’s also created the life I have today.”
Falling is no big deal for experienced skaters. After the initial shock and fear of some bad tumbles wears off, the sport can be relaxing. Some skaters even get into a sort of meditative mode, with earbuds popped in during a solo skate sesh.
Local skater Koa Catron uses skating as a way to channel his creative energy. He appreciates the patience and perseverance that comes from the trial and error of skateboarding.
“Skateboarding to me is just like a meditation and something I can do by myself that kind of brings me back to full peace of mind,” Catron said. “It’s like the greatest teacher that I’ve encountered in my life really.”
Derby Park, built in the 1970s, is a skateboarding monument. There was a rumor that surfers came together to build the park, but the truth is skatepark pioneer Ken Wormhoudt designed the park with the advisory of local wave-riders, according to skater Shane Scoffone.
The park is covered in graffiti, with local skaters’ tags and images spray painted throughout the course.
“A lot of the art is done by people who skate here,” Murphy said. “It all looks so chaotic but if you skate here you know where every single piece is. […] Even just a little mark, everyone notices when it’s there because it’s fresh, slippery paint.”
Just eight years ago the park underwent resurfacing due to worn out curvatures. Despite the sudden changes, the 46-year-old skatepark remains a favorite for many local shredders.
“You’re not gonna find anything like this,” Buchinski gushed. “None of the [transitions] or any of the obstacles can be found anywhere else.”
After the 2012 makeover, Derby now has a rocket pocket, a smaller bowl, where skaters can do tight turns and dash down the snake run and pour into the larger bowl. The sidewalk surrounding the obstacle course consists of pump bumps, where shredders can get a boost before hitting the schlappy, a slope next to the rocket pocket.
Ken Wormhoudt Skate Park, also known as Mike Fox, built in 2007, is a playground for all kinds of skaters. The park is a site for both transition and street skating, with a full pipe, wall rides and a street course with steps.
Its proximity to Downtown Santa Cruz has made Mike Fox a network for the entire Santa Cruz County skate community.
“People from like Watsonville, or Aptos would all kinda congregate,” local skater Sam said. “Not everyone had cell phones, so it’s like ‘let’s see who’s hangin’ out.’”
The park has not always been a welcoming area for skaters, however. Around 2012, police would ticket young skaters for not wearing a helmet.
“For a while there was a ranger that would be a [jerk], so no one would want to come here,” Sam said. “[The ranger] made half a gate of cops here, and they would lock people in and line them up and give them helmet tickets. What’s a 16-year-old kid gonna do with a $20 ticket? I can’t afford a car, that’s why I ride a skateboard.”
After the police presence diminished at Mike Fox, local skaters continued to freely shred throughout the course.
“It’s been almost inherited by a new generation of little rippers,” Sam said.
The park is an inviting space for skaters of all levels, with ramps for newbies to test the waters. Elementary and middle school kids show up at the park to practice ollies, carve bowls and befriend other young skaters.
Skating in Olympics
After decades of skateboarding infiltrating the mainstream, the sport will be in the Olympics for the first time next summer in Tokyo. Skaters expect the sport to continue getting more trendy and for the skate industry to expand. But they don’t expect the culture to change.
Local skater Sophia Murphy is indifferent about skating being in the Olympics. Skate culture has already impacted her style and music taste, offered her job opportunities and long lasting friendships.
“Skating’s fun, if they wanna have it in the Olympics, they can have it in the Olympics,” Murphy said. “That’s not gonna change skate culture for me.”
No matter how popular skateboarding gets, the people who grew up with concrete burns from unsuccessful skate trick attempts will not lose their special connection to the sport.
“I would say that the Olympics needs us way more than we need the Olympics,” said local shredder Shane Scoffone. “I don’t think it’s gonna affect the core of skateboarding. They can never take away the hardcore aspect of skateboarding with the hardcore actual people that are involved in it.”
Others see the Olympics as a bad move for skateboarding. Santa Cruz skater Sam worries the international competition and popular brands will be able to take advantage of pro skaters. Competitive skateboarding can also restrict the subjectivity that comes with the sport. No one wins in skateboarding, and there’s no out of bounds or scoreboard.
“Anytime you try to put skateboarding in a box, you’re doing it wrong,” Sam said. “That’s gonna lead to exploitation of both athletes and franchise companies.”
In the end, no amount of popularity can diminish the culture and intimate relationship shredders have with their sport. Their love and passion will undoubtedly live on as long as the sport does.