All photos by Stephanie Dubin, @artiswhy
We got the skateparks we wanted, but what have we lost?
Written by Zach Pape
“Where we skating today?” This is perhaps the most commonly asked question in any group of skateboarders, and it’s one that becomes more difficult to answer as you get older. When you’re 15 and the only thing that matters in life is learning more tricks, you don’t really care where you go, and furthermore, you don’t care how you get there. Your whole day revolves around seven wood plys glued together with wheels strapped to the bottom. Eat as much as you possibly can in the morning because lord knows you don’t have two nickels to rub together to make a dime, and when you do have money, it’s getting spent on hydration; aka, dollar cans of Arizona. We were possessed by the board, and more often than not, I’d find myself skating miles across town on the world’s worst streets, just to skate a 6-inch curb.
That aspect of skating is something you don’t see as commonly now in Buffalo. With the rise of skateparks in the area, meeting up and pushing around the streets from spot to spot seems like it’s slowly becoming a lost art, even for myself. Now, I grimace at the thought of having to skate all the way to downtown from the lower west side, just so I can skate a ledge. Perhaps we’ve gotten lazy, or maybe that’s just part of getting older and the desire to get somewhere faster outweighs the desire to really have a connection with the journey from Point A to Point B. Buffalo is, admittedly, not the greatest city to skate around. While the streets can be rough for cars, it’s far worse on a skateboard, and having to skate from place to place isn’t just a task, it’s a physical nuisance.
Skateparks are undeniably a blessing. Hard to argue that point. Local figureheads in the skateboarding scene fought for LaSalle to come to fruition for years, and now that it exists, it seems to be an ever evolving space. With a third addition coming to the plaza within the next year or two, the skatepark has become a breeding ground for new skateboarders, and a local haunt for the others in-between. Yet, under a different light, does that blessing become a detriment? Does complacency become a synonym for comfort?
Before skateparks really began to pop-up in the area, Sunday Skateshop (now defunct) was the meeting place for many groups. Arrive at the shop, get a coffee, and go street skating. Whether you pushed or drove to a spot (and sometimes got caught at the shop for a bit too long), the plan was never to just stay there all day. Getting to experience a different slice of life, and furthermore, a different piece of the city outside the confines of your meeting place is something that can be lost with the existence of LaSalle Skatepark.
“Street skating is a thinking skateboarder’s game,” says former Sunday Skateshop employee, Andy Maholsic. “You’re taking something not intended to be skated and appropriating it. Skatepark skating – all the obstacles are there for you and built to spec.”
To a young kid from the suburbs, the city of Buffalo can seem like a big, daunting monster. But on the journey of going from spot to spot, you discover and bank knowledge of the city itself. History comes to light, street names become familiar, and seeing different people and cultures becomes the standard rather than the exception. You become a part of the machine, so to say, rather than a bystander looking inward; purely by just getting out there.
Does LaSalle set these experiences back? When you have a place that is not only safe, but has a huge variety of options, smooth ground, and nobody to hassle you, the argument to leave that skatepark behind is difficult. Where the West Coast skateboarding thrives in having never to deal with salt and plows, Buffalo makes up for it in providing a wealth of crusty, chunked-out, deteriorating spots. While these aspects do add to the charm and feeling you get when you’re able to successfully skate what’s here, it doesn’t change the simple truth of the matter; Buffalo’s streets can be pretty fucking bad. gmaik When you happen upon a safe, curated spot (such as a skatepark or a DIY-built spot), it’s easy to get lost in a vortex and want to go back to that one place each day. Every skateboarder, including myself, has and still continues to experience this.
Nothing is inherently wrong with sticking at LaSalle more days than not, but there is a definite aspect of what makes skateboarding what it is that’s missing from primarily staying there, trying the same tricks on the same ledges with the same people. There is something about using the environment around you in an alternative way that is freeing. Taking parking blocks, benches, or a curb, and getting a whole day of use and development from them is a form of art.
For decades, skateboarding counterculture stood boldly against racism, and so in Buffalo, one of the country’s most segregated cities, it was often skateboarders who didn’t think twice about crossing Main Street to explore, or get where they were going. Before LaSalle, the city was the skatepark. After LaSalle’s arrival, when you’re kicked out of a spot, the confrontation normally begins with “Isn’t there a skatepark now? Why don’t you go there?” This question is the catalyst for many as to why they prefer to just be at a skatepark, and rightfully so. Why run the risk of skating (or driving) across town to a spot, just to get kicked out, when you could just go to the skatepark and not be bothered? Ultimately; it just isn’t the same. While there is always a sense of accomplishment in landing a trick, that level of joy is much greater when it’s experienced at a more difficult spot with more history. That same kickflip you try down the stairs at LaSalle is going to feel much better if you do it down the stairs at Pilot Field (Sahlen’s). The cracks, the people, the environmental noises. The minutia of what makes skateboarding truly amazing will always be missing from a spot perfectly built and intended to be ridden on.
Like the electrifying feeling of exploring the old ruins of the Central Terminal or holding up traffic while you haul down a street with your friends, there’s magic in being, and skating, where you’re not supposed to be.