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Q&A with Aaron Shafer

Founder of Skatelife Memphis

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When the city broke ground on a new skate park in Tobey Park earlier this month, St. Jude scientist and skateboarder Aaron Shafer's half-pipe dreams finally came true.

When Shafer moved to Memphis in 2006, he immediately noticed the lack of public options for skateboarders. In DIY skater style, Shafer founded Skatelife Memphis to push for a city skate park.

He got the ball rolling with city park officials, but the project took years to reach the groundbreaking stage. Now construction is under way on the 10,000-square-foot park, which will feature two concrete bowls, a mini half-pipe, rails, and other obstacles. Construction should be wrapped up by December. — Bianca Phillips

Flyer: Currently, there's no place to skateboard in Memphis, right?

Shafer: Not right now. There's a skate park in Marion, Arkansas, and a couple in Horn Lake and Southaven, Mississippi. There's one in Germantown behind Houston High School.

There was a do-it-yourself skate park off of Evelyn in Cooper-Young. Skaters adopted an abandoned property and started pouring their own concrete. They did that a few years ago, but the property got bought and they were kicked off.

What was the turning point that convinced the city to back the skate park? At the end of 2008, [the skate community] rallied at the fairgrounds. That was probably the peak in terms of excitement for the skate park. That really gave [parks department director] Cindy [Buchanan] the impetus to justify requesting money [for the park].

It took years to get off the ground. What was the hold-up?

A lot of time went by between 2008 and now, but it was just a matter of getting our loud voice out in the community. It got lost until [city councilman] Jim Strickland and Mayor A C Wharton took ownership of it last May. They put a timeline on it rather than letting it float.

At one point, I said to Jim that I didn't think this project was going to happen. I thought we were going to lose the money because we were in the third budget cycle of rolling the money over. He said he'd see what he could do. Three months later, they made the announcement that they would get this done by fall.

What park features are you most excited about?

I've journeyed into a lot of different skate parks, and I've seen a lot of things I didn't like. But what excites me is this skate park is everything that's right with those other parks. It really provides an opportunity for someone at the entry level.

So it caters to new skaters?

Not just beginner skaters, but people who enjoy other board sports like surfing or snowboarding or even skiing. It starts you off at a beginner level and gradually allows you to transition to more advanced features.

You teach youth to skate in your backyard. Will you lead youth programs when the skate park opens?

Absolutely. When the skate park opens, I plan to hold free skate clinics for kids at least one Saturday every month.

Wasn't Skatelife Memphis also pushing for a skate park on Mud Island?

We made a huge push. They did a land-use study there, and we got a lot of traction. But I just don't know if we'll get the funding for it. I think it will depend on how well the Tobey skate park is received. It's important to grow it organically.

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