"People say Memphis is behind a couple of years from everywhere else," says Clay Clements, manager of CBS Skateboards in Cordova.
A couple? Try about 23, at least when it comes to skate parks.
The parks have been around for nearly 30 years in the United States, and there are currently about 800 in the country. Curved plywood ramps were first used for skating in Melbourne Beach, Florida, in 1975, and in 1976, Port Orange, Florida, became home to the first skate park, Skateboard City. Memphis didn't join in until 1999, with the construction of Houston and Kullison. And on June 9th, SPM, the city's largest, opened its doors.
SPM is the Mid-South's first professional skate park and boasts 14,000 square feet, 10 quarter pipes, 10 ledges, eight bank ramps, a six-foot bowl, and a 1,400-square-foot pyramid with ledges, stairs, and rails. At the grand opening, ages ranged from 7 to 35. Skaters zoomed from ramp to ramp, somehow managing to avoid collision. There were, however, quite a few "slams" -- that's skater-talk for falling off your board.
Josh Lowry, co-owner of CBS Skateboards, saw SPM to fruition with the help of his parents Janis and Jeff. The facility was designed and built by experienced skaters from the Memphis area. "We want to be a stopping-off point for the major teams that come through," says Janis Lowry. "We want to do demos, contests, that kind of thing." On June 30th, the park will host Mike Vallely, a pro skater with his own line of boards and interactive DVD-ROM skater trading cards. Vallely also sings in a band called Mike V and the Rats and recently released the skateboarding video Drive.
Skaters can join SPM for a $50 annual membership fee and receive a discount on skate sessions. BMX bikers get to use the facilities on Thursday nights.
Kullison (pronounced "collision") is smaller than SPM but has a loyal following. It has 8,000 square feet with 13 ramps, including a half-pipe, a pyramid, two jump boxes, and a box rail. The park is open to skateboarders, in-line skaters, and BMX bikers, or, as owner Derrick T. Jones says, "We ride and jam on bikes, skateboards, and blades." And since Kullison is the only park that allows BMX bikers to practice alongside skaters, there are quite a few regular bikers.
Kullison is located inside an old warehouse that was once used for designing BMX bikes. Several bike sponsors suggested to the warehouse's previous owner, Clyde Warner, that he build a few ramps for bikers to practice on. The ramps were constructed, and the park was opened as Darkside Ramp Park, catering to both bikers and skaters.
The park's signature is a ramp built for the MTV Sports and Music Festival, which was held at Tom Lee Park in October 1998. "We found out where a bunch of MTV ramps were. This guy wanted to sell them, so Clyde Warner bought a ramp. We put it back together, and it's still rockin'," says Jones.
The park charges an annual membership fee of $20, although nonmembers can skate or bike for a few extra bucks. The park even has a lounge so tired skaters can take a breather and watch some TV.
There's also the option of skating for free at Houston, located within the Houston Levee Park in Germantown. Composed of various slopes, embankments, walls, rails, curbs, and a fun box, it's open only to skateboarders and in-line skaters -- no bikes allowed.
Houston was built in 1999 by the Germantown Parks and Recreation Department. The area has safety rules posted, but since it's located in an open area in a public park, there is no one to supervise and ensure those rules are followed. And while the park attracts skaters due to its outdoor location, it also lacks the large obstacles found in the other parks.
"I usually skate at Houston, but I'll be going to Skate Park of Memphis in the future because it's one of the best parks in the South," says Joseph Williams, who, at 20, has skated half his life.
Just having the ability to choose is a good thing. Says Williams, "There's a pretty decent skate culture [in Memphis]. It's not as big as in other parts of the country, but it's definitely growing."
Skate Park of Memphis: 7740B Trinity Road in Cordova. Kullison Ramp Park: 116 Cumberland, just off Broad Avenue in Memphis. Houston Skate Park: behind Houston High School in Germantown.
Putting on the dog
Skateboarding is as popular today as Monopoly, french fries, and vacations to Walt Disney World. Tony Hawk is a household name, and the X Games cater to the loyal fans of this "extreme" sport. Numerous video games allow the less active a shot at perfecting their virtual frontside air. But none of this would've been possible without the Z-Boys, the fathers of modern skateboarding. Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary about the group's activities in the 1970s, chronicles skateboarding's history back to the days before its commercialization.
Ex-Z-Boy and filmmaker Stacy Peralta tracked down 11 of the original 12 members (one could not be found) to come together and bear witness. Peralta tells the story of growing up in Dogtown, a rundown area of Santa Monica that served as a mecca for surfers, street gangs, and graffiti artists, through a montage of interviews with grown-up Z-Boys, 1970s video clips of the skaters, and stills of the boys frozen in action.
The film is beautifully edited, and the chaos created by the mix of media, pumped up by the soundtrack of '70s rock-and-roll, paints a picture of the anarchy ingrained in the Z-Boys. Dogtown brings long-forgotten moments back to life with an amazing energy that makes you wish you'd been invited to the party.
Narrated by Sean Penn, a former skater himself, and with guest appearances by Henry Rollins and Tony Hawk, the film not only tells it like it was but also shows how much influence the Z-Boys had on aspiring skateboarders back in the day.
Dogtown and Z-Boys takes the story of a group of beach-bum teens with bad grades and a hatred for authority and makes them modern-day heroes. This is not just a film for skateboard enthusiasts but for anyone with a streak of rebellion in their heart and a touch of rock-and-roll in their soul. -- BP