Skateboarders say numbers growing, outlet needed

By Tammy Keith Published August 3, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Jacob Smith, from left, Matt Musser and Tevell Winston are skateboard enthusiasts in Conway. Winston said he prefers longboarding on hilly areas. He said skateboarders need safer areas to skate in Conway, and he suggested a “share-the-road” space, such as bicyclists have.

Skateboarding is picking up speed in Conway, but it’s being stymied by what some people say are unfair stereotypes.

“Skateboarders are everywhere,” said Tevell Winston, 20, of Conway.

They’re not welcome everywhere, though. A 1996 city ordinance prohibits skateboarding in the downtown business district.

Winston said skateboarding is growing in popularity.

“When I started, which was maybe two years ago, Hastings only had one rack of longboards, not to mention Crazy Wheels Skate Shop wasn’t even there,” he said.

When he leaves work at Goodwill in Conway, he said he often sees people longboarding down the street.

“I’d say it’s on its way to being extremely popular,” Winston said.

It’s still a male-dominated activity, and several young men who skateboard in Conway said it’s not only fun; it’s a form of transportation.

Bobby Holts, 21, is assistant manager of Crazy Wheels Skate Shop, which opened in March in Conway. He’s been skating for about six years, since he was about 15.

The Conway resident rides his longboard to work.

“I don’t have a car; it’s literally my only form of transportation,” Holts said.

He said longboarding and cruisers are most popular right now.

“A cruiser is kind of like a shorter version of a longboard, kind of a mix between a longboard and a technical board,” he said.

He said technical boards are primarily for doing tricks; longboards are made for coasting, and some people race them; and cruisers are “in between” a short and long board.

”The scene is getting bigger, and I want it to be bigger,” Holts said.

Winston, who lives in Conway, said he started skateboarding in about 2013, his freshman year at the University of Central Arkansas.

“I saw a lot of my friends doing it and I kind of wanted to roll around with them. I tried getting on one of my friends’ boards, and I wasn’t that great, but I just kept on trying,” he said.

He practiced on a skateboard, but now he prefers longboarding.

“When it comes to skateboarding, it’s not as fast. Longboards … they roll a lot longer. They’re usually for faster speeds and longer distances,” Winston said. “I like it more for coasting, just being able to roll down a hill at a good enough speed that I can enjoy the ride.”

John Comford, 25, of North Little Rock works two jobs, one at a Little Rock medical clinic, the other at Goodwill in Conway; and in his spare time, he likes to longboard.

“Longboarding has softer wheels and is used for bomb hills,” Comford said, explaining that by “bomb,” he means really good hills. He said he finds many of those in Conway.

“Longboarding is just cool to me because it’s so much more relaxed, and you get from point A to point B. It’s faster than walking. It cuts commute time down; plus, it’s just fun,” Comford said.

Garry Webb is on the flip side of skateboarding — he prefers to perform tricks on a regular skateboard.

“Longboarding is mostly for cruising around, just enjoying the ride. I feel like with the normal one, there’s so many possibilities, so many things you can do,” Webb said. “If one day you want to ride around, like a longboard, you can do that. The next day, if you see a rail you just really want to grind on, you can do that.”

His best trick is the 360 flip, called the tre flip among skateboarders.

“It’s probably one of the more complicated tricks. A beginner wouldn’t be able to do that,” Webb said.

He was a child when he got on his uncle’s skateboard, but Webb didn’t get serious about it until he was a teenager.

“I tried to get into it when I was a kid, around 8 or 9 years old,” he said. “There was an old beat-up board, and I tried my best to do something on it. I would always fall and get hurt some kind of way.”

Webb said he never lost interest, but he gave up until he was 13.

“It just became a passion. I fell in love with it. It went from being a hobby to being a passion. I really loved doing it,” Webb said.

For a while, he practiced four or five hours a day, until he got a job at the Goodwill store in Conway.

He said he’s noticed the popularity of longboarding, which came “out of nowhere.”

Webb, who attends the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton and whose goal is to teach English in China, said skateboarding is an important part of life for him and his friends.

“It can be for fun, or to take our mind off a stressful day. When listening to music just won’t cut it, pick up a board and go skate around the city, which usually doesn’t go too well, since cops like to harass us,” he said.

Winston agreed that one of the problems is that police often stop skateboarders, especially in “certain places in Conway.”

“They’ll state they just wanted to make sure it’s all safe, when skaters are around,” Winston said. “Usually, all we’re doing is going up and down town enjoying the hills.”

The 1996 ordinance, which also prohibits roller skating downtown, describes a skateboard as a “short, narrow board having roller-skate wheels mounted under it.” It says that “no skate or skateboard shall be used upon any sidewalk or street within the business district of the city of Conway, Arkansas.”

The fines range from $5 to $50 for people age 14 or older. Under age 14, the parents are responsible, the ordinance states.

Stan Brown, manager of Crazy J’s, which is connected to the skate shop, said the way skateboarders are treated is unfair.

“It’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard of — we’ve spent no telling how many thousands of dollars on bike lanes,” Brown said of the city.

Holts said skateboarders are hamstrung by not being allowed on the streets or certain sidewalks, especially when the boards are used for transportation.

Winston said he and his friends try to avoid downtown Conway.

“We try to skate around it, like on the fringes of it. As it’s a main part of Conway, if you need to go from one part or another, you’ll eventually need to go through downtown Conway. Worst-case scenario, we’ll try to walk through downtown Conway [and carry our boards],” he said.

Webb said he didn’t know about the ordinance.

“Maybe if they had more than one sign. The only sign I’ve seen is in Simon Park,” he said.

Police Chief A.J. Gary said he doesn’t see skateboarding as a big nuisance.

“I am not aware of a big problem. I don’t even know of our guys stopping folks on skateboards,” he said.

Gary said that between 2008 and 2012, officers wrote eight warnings for skateboarding violations.

“We show during that same time 10 citations, and the last one was in 2011,” Gary said.

Also, in the past six months, Gary said, approximately 12 calls for service came through dispatch regarding skateboarders, and officers noted that four times the person was “gone on arrival” when law enforcement arrived.

“I think the problems come in, not necessarily when they’re skating from point A to point B; it’s when they’re jumping from point A to point B,” Gary said.

The police chief said he remembers that years ago, some downtown business owners complained that skateboarders were doing tricks in front of their buildings or on railings.

“We look into any and every citizen complaint,” Gary said. “They can contact us if they are having any issues. I’ve gotten no calls; nobody has said anything about harassment of skateboarders. If anybody feels they have been treated unfairly, they can call us, and we’ll look into all complaints.”

Holts said he has gotten a warning, but never a ticket.

He said a few bad apples spoil the barrel.

“A lot of people assume skateboarders are punks up to no good, up to tear up people’s stuff. Not everybody is respectful, but there are respectful skaters out there, too, and there are some people who put out a bad name for us,” Holts said.

J.R. Warren, one of the owners of Crazy Wheels Skate Shop and Crazy J’s, agreed.

“My personal opinion is some of the cops look down on kids riding skateboards like they’re troublemakers,” he said. “People are all good and fine with people riding their bikes down the street. I don’t see where it’s any more unsafe for a skateboarder to be going down the street than a bicycle.”

Webb said he thinks it’s because society in general has a negative image of skateboarders.

“I think there’s this whole stereotype about us — they think we’re just mindless. They think we have no respect for society at all. They think we’re disrespectful,” Webb said. “It gets irritating to skate down the sidewalk or something and you see someone coming the other way, and you smile and say hi, and you have good intentions, and they disregard everything just because you’re skating. You can see it in their eyes. I’m not saying disrespectful skaters don’t exist, because the stereotype wouldn’t exist if there weren’t. You just can’t throw us in the same pile. It’s kind of like racism in a way.”

Winston said he’s never run over anyone on a sidewalk because he’s in control of his skateboard.

Although the city has a skate park, some skaters have complained about its lack of quality.

Based on information provided to another media outlet, the Conway Skate Park opened in March 2002 and is adjacent to the city-owned McGee Center. More than half the money for the park was raised privately over a three-year period by a group called the Conway Skate Park Partnership. Youth who were interested in the park at the time did much of the fundraising.

“We have a joke for a skate park over by the McGee Center,” Brown said. He contended that if too many teenagers congregate there, police officers “run them off.”

Holts said the skate park needs improvement.

“It’s way better than nothing, but they keep terrible maintenance on it,” Holts said.

He said when the ramps rust, they are painted over instead of being replaced, and rusty paint chips off.

“I’d hate to fall on that and get a rusty paint chip in my skin,” he said.

Webb agreed. He lives in a mobile-home park near the McGee Center.

“We need another skate park; we are in desperate need. They do not maintain it,” he said.

“They’ll repaint their ramps, which are rusted. … That does not improve anything. If anything, it makes it worse. Paint chips will stab your skin; it hurts you so bad,” Webb said.

“I really don’t think they think about the skaters at all. They treat us like a burden at the McGee Center,” he said.

Also, Holts said, people are asked to leave if they don’t have a helmet, which is required.

“That’s understandable, but not everybody has a helmet,” Holts said. Webb said helmets weigh too much and throw off his balance.

Conway Parks and Recreation Director Steve Ibbotson said the skate park has limitations.

“We haven’t performed maintenance on it this year; it’s scheduled to be performed. We’ve had some issues out there with a car accident that damaged the fence, so we had to work on getting that taken care of,” Ibbotson said.

“I would agree with them that I don’t know that metal is the best solution to a skate park. Most municipal skate parks are going to concrete,” he said.

“We don’t see a whole lot of use out of it,” Ibbotson said. He said he would consider putting the park on a list to be revamped.

“If there’s a need, … you know the old saying: ‘If a city doesn’t have a skate park, your city is a skate park,’” he said.

Ibbotson said the grinding on public surfaces does damage and can be expensive to repair.

Webb said the city once had a good private skate park, but it closed. Ibbotson said that begs the question if a skate park is really needed.

Webb said he’d like to see the city build another skate park with input from skateboarders.

He said he has, however, found support from his neighbors.

“They’ve been nothing but supportive when it comes to skateboarding,” he said.

Webb said children enjoy watching his tricks.

“Some of them have even gotten their own boards; they can be as young as 4 years old to 15. Words can’t describe how you feel accomplishing something like that, knowing you can influence something like that. ‘I’m going to take this board and try to learn a trick,’ instead of ‘I’m going out to try this drug.’”

The police chief said it might be time to review the 18-year-old skateboarding ordinance.

“I think it’s always good to review the city ordinances and state laws from time to time just to see if there need to be any adjustments or anything to it,” Gary said.

The skaters say it’s not an issue that’s going away anytime soon.

“Skateboards have been around for years and will probably be around when I’m gone,” Brown said. “The city needs to come up with a solution.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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