How a Bunch of Kids Built a Skatepark: The story of my first experience in activism when I was 12
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
I picked up a skateboard for the first time when I was in 6th grade, completely unaware of how much riding a seven-layer piece of compressed wood sitting on aluminum trucks and polyurethane wheels would change my perspective, mindset, and ultimately my life.
As a skater, we spent our entire childhood evading the police. We were “allowed” to skate anywhere, but we were kids so, naturally, we skated everywhere.
I was in 7th grade when I was assaulted by a police officer one day after school when skating in the back of an office building, trying to do tricks off a picnic table. We knew we weren’t supposed to skate there, but the janitor that day said it was fine. As expected, the police showed up to kick us out for making too much noise. After a long process of explaining how the janitor said it was okay and some back and forth arguments, we got the message and went to leave. My two friends and I hopped on our skateboards and started riding away, when, like a smart ass, I shouted “We all share the air, man!” I still remember looking back and seeing this overweight police officer in his mid-forties chasing after me like a lion gunning down its prey. We weren’t skating fast, just casually out of the complex to who knows where. But I remember the terror that came over me when I saw him directly behind me. The officer tackled me to the ground and put me in a chokehold. I couldn’t breathe. He then flipped me on my back and used his forearm to dig my face into the asphalt before grabbing me by the neck, digging his knee into my chest and holding his fist to my face as he shouted at me.
I was crying.
I was a good kid who always excelled in school and never got into real trouble. And here I was, caught underneath a police officer who told me he was going to arrest me. While he never did, the experience scars me to this day.
It was around the same time, maybe a little earlier or a little later, I don’t quite remember, that our group of skaters starting advocating for a skatepark; a place where we could go, be ourselves, and do what we loved. With the help of a few involved parents, we worked for years to get our skatepark built.
There was a politician running for county supervisor in 2009 named Lee Tu. He promised that if he got elected, he would built us the skatepark. We were all around 13 or 14. We spent the days and weeks leading up to the election going door to door asking people to vote for Lee Tu.
He lost the election.
We didn’t give up though. After another two years of advocating, we finally convinced the local politicians to put up the money to build the park. We participated in all the town hall meetings, debating designs within the set budget until we finally got to the design we wanted, drawn up by one of the older skaters, John Bagnato.
Shortly thereafter, the skatepark was in construction and eventually built. The Manorhaven Skatepark was opened in October of 2011.
When it finally opened, we were called "Roll Models" by the local newspaper.
Below is a compilation of the photos from opening day, my favorite skate photos by Austin Shafkowitz and my clips from the park over the many years to follow.
This was my first experience with advocacy / working with the public sector to create something important to a community. It was formative to say the least, and it was all thanks to the seven-layer piece of compressed wood sitting on aluminum trucks and polyurethane wheels that I still ride today.