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Bainbridge Island's street skater blues
It’s been seven years since the Rotary Skate Bowl opened at Strawberry Hill Park, but you can still hear the rolling wheels, enthusiastic shouts and the crack of wooden decks popping against concrete around downtown.
There are many telltale signs that Bainbridge’s skateboarding community is as vibrant as ever, but not in the confined area that many thought would be achieved with the completion of Bainbridge’s world-class skate bowl.
Groups of teenagers can be seen all around the downtown corridor, at Waterfront Park, BPA, The Pavilion and even Bainbridge High School, which has a covered area near its theater that can be skated during wet weather.
It’s not necessarily legal or permitted and many of the skaters acknowledge they split their time between skating and running away from shop owners, police and agitated citizens around the island.
“Most people assume skaters are the worst people... they think we’re just damaging things and have a bad attitude,” said 14-year-old Nile Gibbs. “When they tell us to leave they yell at us. We’ve been given fines, we’ve gotten kicked out of places for trespassing.”
“I think most people see skating as a nuisance,” said Shannon Buxton, the Park District’s Teen Center coordinator. “Those adults that are positive towards it see it as a dangerous teenage activity. Those that are negative want skaters to be totally out of sight.”
The bowl at Strawberry Park is regarded as one of the best bowl courses in the state and still attracts thousands of skaters each year. When it was created, it was touted as a place for skateboarders to congregate, but it fails to draw the kids who like to “street skate,” – the sport of turning urban surroundings into obstacle courses to ride, jump and grind along. There are also issues of access for teenagers who can’t skate the graveled side of High School Road to Strawberry Park.
“You have to walk three miles to get down there,” said 13-year-old Anthony Brookins, who was taking a break from skating near Bainbridge High School. “Plus it gets kinda boring because there is no change, it’s just up and down. We can skate here and if we get bored we can go somewhere else around town.”
“The big problem is we have a world-class skate park but there are other styles of skating that are more popular,” Buxton said.
The Teen Center, which moved to it’s interim location on the backside of the Aquatic Center to make room for the high school’s library during the BHS expansion, has had some success in providing a place for kids to street skate. It’s a small enclave of park property within the confines of the school district, in which skaters are allowed to jump over steps and grind on a portable rail.
“It’s a little island of leased property, so the portion that belongs to the parks they can skate that,” Buxton said.
Since the Teen Center made the move, the number of kids going to the facility has tripled and many of those are teenagers who skate after school, Buxton said.
However, when the new BHS facility finally opens its doors next month, the teen center will move into its old location behind the stadium grandstands. That location is not physically skateable due to the gravel lot that surrounds it.
That will likely mean more skating around town and at the High School, despite the school’s policy that discourages skating on the grounds.
“There are a lot of great kids skating out there, but it is clearly challenging for us,” said BHS principal Brent Peterson. “We have liability concerns and we have an obligation to protect the facilities, so we don’t have any choice but to say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that on school grounds.’”
However, many street skateboarders feel confined with their options.
“This is the only place on island where there is something we can skate and we won’t get kicked out every minute,” Brookins said. “It’s the best place to skate around here. It has everything a street skater needs.”
The park district has taken steps to accommodate skateboarding around the island aside from the $117,000 Rotary Skate Bowl, which was funded largely by the Bainbridge Rotary Club. The district offers beginning skate classes and workshops where teens can customize their skate decks, and has been been looking at the feasibility of sponsoring skate competitions and adding street features at Strawberry Hill Park. DeMeyer admits there is more to be done to appease downtown skaters and relieve agitated community members.
“Having skate spots around town is another goal,” DeMeyer said. “We’re still trying and facilitate that group. Just looking at what happened when we moved the Teen Center off campus, it is amazing what happens when a facility is provided.”
However, until those facilities are provided for the street skaters of Bainbridge Island, skaters will continue to use hard surfaces to perform ariel stunts around the island.
“Bainbridge is a small place and there is not that many skate spots, so if we skate somewhere and get kicked out, we’ll probably be there again,” Gibbs said.