Don’t h8 the sk8ers
By Katie Scarvey
This past Saturday ó unofficially designated “Go Skateboarding Day” ó skateboarders gathered outside of SkateCity Skate Shop on South Main Street to do what skateboarders do.
Wingate student Travis Morgan, 19, was there, along with his girlfriend Katye Beaver, an upcoming senior at the N.C. School of Science and Math. She skateboards sometimes with Travis but acknowledges that the sport hasn’t caught on in a big way with girls ó though maybe they’d feel differently if they saw her cool Hello Kitty skate shoes.
Matt Wilcox and Christian Cline, both 12, were there, as was Chris Stephenson, 16, from Butler, Penn.
As skateboarders, most of them have experienced negative reactions from people who don’t always appreciate the sport being practiced in public places ó or on private property.
Travis Morgan acknowledges that he’s been “kicked out of a lot of places,” like bank and church parking lots. He’s also been harassed by police officers just for being on the sidewalk, he says.
He’d simply move on, he says, until he found a place to skate where he wouldn’t be bothered, like an abandoned warehouse.
Dr. Mary Frances Edens can see both sides of the skateboarding debate.
Her son Fletcher ó now 34 and living in Hickory ó used to be an avid skateboarder, and she supported his skateboarding habit.
But as an elementary school principaló now retired ó she reluctantly had to ban skateboarding on the grounds of Overton Elementary.
She’d go to school on Sunday to prepare for the week, and there would be teenagers outside, skateboarding and playing basketball. Initially, she didn’t view the skateboarding as a problem.
But when she began noticing damage to property, like benches, she didn’t see how she could let it continue.
She had signs put up prohibiting the activity.
“It was a shame,” she says.
Melinda McHone and Rick Morgan, co-owners of Skate City Skate Shop at 211 S. Main Street are aware of the challenges local skateboarders face trying to find places to skate. They often speak out for the rights of local skateboarders ó including their son, Travis Morgan.
They are quick to point out that Travis is not a juvenile delinquent ó he’s an Eagle Scout who has just finished up his first year of college at Wingate University.
“This has been his thing since he was 12 years old,” McHone says. Travis’ identification as a skateboarder affects the way he dresses, the people he hangs out with, and where he goes, she adds.
McHone and Morgan have always supported their son’s interest, even tailoring their vacations around Travis’ hobby which, they believe, is far preferable to having him sitting home “vegetating in front of a computer screen or TV.”
Skateboarders love a challenge, love the thrill of setting a goal and mastering it.
“I like it because it’s not a team sport,” Travis says. “Anything you accomplish, it’s just you yourself doing it. You can always push it farther ó it’s pretty much limitless. Anything you think of you can try.”
And skaters can think of lots of things to try. They tend to be drawn to rails and steps and ledges óanything that presents a skateable obstacle.
Melinda laughs about Travis bringing home all kinds of “garbage” and announcing, “I’m gonna skate it.”
“We once came home to see our picnic table set off at an angle off the front porch,” McHone says.
In his many years of skating, Travis has never been seriously hurt, she says ó no broken bones, although there have been plenty of scrapes. It’s usually when kids are starting out in the sport that they get hurt, she says.
Edens’ son Fletcher did break his finger once, though he didn’t tell his parents right away because he was afraid they’d confiscate his skateboard. And when a family friend broke his arm on Fletcher’s quarter pipe, they quickly tore it down.”We didn’t want anybody else to get hurt,” Edens says.
McHone says that people tend to stereotype skateboarders, who have a tough time pursuing their sport without being harassed, she believes, even when they’re not doing anything illegal.
There is an ordinance that prohibits skateboarding in public parks and on public property, but it does not apply to city sidewalks.
The ordinance reads:
“No person upon roller skates or riding in or by means of any coaster, toy vehicle or similar device shall go upon any roadway, except while crossing a street at a crosswalk or intersection, and except upon streets set aside as play streets; provided, however, that this section shall not be construed to prevent skating on sidewalks in a residential district.”
When they are discouraged from skating in public places, skateboarders tend to create their own underground skate spots, McHone says, in less than desirable areas, like empty warehouses and old mills.
She describes one spot in particular where all that is left of an old building is a concrete pad.”The area is littered with nails, screws and other debris, but it’s all they have,” she says.”I wonder how good our local football, basketball, baseball and soccer teams would be if they had to find their own practice facilities with cops and security guards constantly chasing them off?” she asks.
Although it’s legal to skate on sidewalks, she says she’s witnessed shop owners being rude to them and chasing them of. Some police officers have threatened skateboarders with arrest even when they’re breaking no laws, she says.
Police chief Mark Wilhelm acknowledges that while no law prohibits skating on sidewalks, “We don’t encourage it,” especially in the downtown area. One of the concerns that Wilhelm has is the possibility that skateboarders may inadvertently collide with pedestrians.
The city has discussed drafting ordinances to prevent skateboarding in downtown Salisbury, Wilhelm says. That hasn’t happened, but he believes it may in the future.
Most of the problem with skateboarders involves them being on private property, he says.
The problems often arise when they’re on brick walks and brick railings and doing their jumps, he says. “They do destroy some property,” he says. “It becomes a real problem, for instance in church parking lots.” First Presbyterian has had problems with skateboarders, he says, as has Easy Street.Property owners are not only concerned about damage but about liability issues if skateboarders get hurt on their property, he says.
Morgan understands this and has conveyed this to his son: “Private property is private property, and trespassing is trespassing,” he says.
He wants to see skateboarders have a place of their own so they’re less likely to seek out tempting private property.
There are several skate parks in Rowan County, including Sweet Sk8s near Salisbury Mall and the South Rowan YMCA, but the admission charges can be prohibitive for those who skateboard frequently.
Also, Sweet Sk8s and the YMCA park are both “vert parks,” McHone says, which feature ramps. Many skateboarders, she says, prefer “street skating,” which is about skating obstacles found in the urban environment, such as ledges, benches, rails and stairs.
Thomasville, Greensboro, Charlotte and Winston-Salem and even Denton have skate parks, Morgan says. He’s not sure why Salisbury hasn’t made it a priority.
The city expressed interest in building a skate park a few years ago ago, Morgan says, but nothing has come of it. Mayor Susan Kluttz says that in 2005 she appointed a task force on the issue, and while everyone agreed that a skateboarding park would be a good idea, it stalled because of budget issues. She acknowledges that a park would be a great thing to have ó if funding could be found.
“We certainly haven’t ruled it out,” says Kluttz, whose own son used to be a skateboarder.
If Salisbury uncovered an “old historic skate park,” Morgan says, “they’d preserve the heck out of it.”
Wilhelm says he doesn’t know what the solution is. “If they had a place designated for it, would they go?”And who would pay for it?”
Dana and Susan Robinson sing dust-on-the-boots vignettes of rural America. Dana delivers his lyrics with such poetic clarity as to... read more