Celebrating Lakeland’s Skateboarding Community
Story by Adam Justice • Photography by Penny & Finn
The history of modern American skateboarding can be traced in a similar pattern as some of its twentieth century counterculture cousins. Like the beatniks, punk rock, and street art, skateboarding filled a social void during the mid-1970s for ambitious young outcasts who were energized by the thrill of something different.
During a time of diverse cultural flux, modern skateboarding snuck in somewhere among introverted competitive camaraderie, communal adrenalized revolution, and freedom from cultural norms. Because of this, skateboarding long held the stigma of being an activity for social truants. As time passed, that hardened reputation gradually cracked, opening skateboarding to a broader range of participants and fans. It has, however, retained a sense of identity true to its history as an alternative sport for the wanderers, and remains that street game embraced by those who dare to be different.
Although the act of skateboarding was originally an international pastime, its modern American iteration began in California during the 1950s as an offshoot of surfing. Surfers waking to particularly calm seas would frequently turn to skateboarding as an alternative. This early association with surfing, however, gradually evaporated and created two separate groups: those who surfed and those who skate.
During perhaps its first golden age in the 1970s, skateboarding amassed hoards of fans and skaters throughout the country who began transforming the activity into a performance art form and a commercial success. Although first published in 1964, Skateboarder Magazine became a huge resource in the mid-1970s, not only for celebrating the sport, but also for promoting the artistry and lifestyle that defined it. Later publications in the 1980s, like Thrasher and Transworld, also contributed to skateboarding’s identity, especially in terms of its association with the rebellious spirit.
The sport’s identity continued to expand with the founding of Powell-Peralta in 1978, a manufacturing company that pushed the sport into new frontiers of commercial and social success. One of the company’s cofounders, Stacy Peralta, was a talented skater who originally belonged to the Zephyr team (or Z-Boys), a group that assisted in separating skateboarding from surfing. Later, Peralta’s unique approach of promoting the modern skateboarding lifestyle as an art form gave the sport an increased cultural depth. This eventually led him to form the Bones Brigade, which included such legendary skaters as Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, and Floridians Rodney Mullen, Alan Gelfand, and Mike McGill, who fanned the flames of skating’s competitive and commercial appeal
beyond southern California. Thus began the modern era of skateboarding that, despite suffering several fluctuations in popularity, has evolved to be a professional sport while maintaining its original and distinctive rejection of the status quo.
Although skateboarding’s roots were set deep within California culture, Florida proved to be attractive territory for skaters as a near equivalent to California in terms of weather and coastline. But the Sunshine State fostered its own unique cultural rift that Florida skaters had to overcome. Ryan Clements, a longtime skater in Tampa and an authority in the field, recalls,
Floridian skateboarders really needed to innovate on their own because they simply had no choice and were basically cut off. The guys here in Florida were experimenting, pushing boundaries, and simply doing it their own ways.
Florida skaters were relentless in their attempts to make skateboarding a coast-to-coast phenomenon. Without a lot
of corporate backing or, in most cases, community support, they communally kept the sport alive by nurturing a new
skate culture. Florida skaters focused on constructing new skateparks, organizing competitions, and maintaining the unique skating lifestyle. Clements attests that, “…Florida has maintained a strong scene throughout the years, and that’s because of those dedicated lifers who have been committed to keeping the scene alive and advancing it forward through relentless commitment, fun events, and simply passing the lifestyle and culture along to new generations. Without that, the lifestyle aspect of skateboarding, which is vitally important, would die off.”
The world’s first modern concrete public skatepark was constructed in Florida, not California. In March 1976, it opened in Port Orange as a testament to the efforts of early Florida skaters. There are currently about 115 skateparks throughout Florida, from Key West to Fort Walton Beach in the western panhandle.
In May 2013, Lakeland joined this contingent by opening its very own state-of-the-art skatepark at Lake Bonny Park, located at 800 Bartow Road. The City of Lakeland contracted with Winter Springs– based Team Pain, one of the country’s leading designers of public skateparks, to build the state’s most contemporary hotspot for skaters. According to Pam Page, the deputy director of Lakeland’s Parks and Recreation Department, the skatepark was constructed “to provide free skate opportunities for Lakeland skaters to hone their skills.” Covering 22,500 square feet and encompassing a variety of skating obstacles, from rails, to bowls, to ramps, Lakeland SkatePark attracts skaters from every nook and cranny of the state. But you’ll find no one prouder and more possessive of our city’s new addition than the now-empowered Polk County skate community.
Jason Penick, local skater and co-founder of Pi Skateboards in Bartow, equates the local skating community with the overall diversity of the sport and believes the new Lakeland SkatePark will be a powerful common denominator. Penick says, “The Polk County skateboard scene is diverse, from little to no experience on one end, to over four decades of skateboarding memories. The preferred terrain of skateboarders is just as diverse, from street obstacles to deep bowls. The new Lakeland SkatePark blends these diversities well, showcasing almost every aspect of skateboarding, and attracting every discipline and age group in the area, in a family-friendly environment.”
Although this diverse skateboard community extends beyond city limits, Lakeland has its own organization, the Lakeland Skaters’ Alliance (LSA), whose mission is to advocate and educate in the name of skating.
According to its president Bruce “Rudy” Phillips, the LSA was first formed in 2011. It is a nonprofit, grassroots group of citizen skaters who focus on the importance of skateboarding as a cross-generational activity. Their original mission was to promote and support the construction of a new and well-designed skatepark in Lakeland. And, following that mission, the
LSA worked closely with the City of Lakeland’s Parks and Recreation Department to see the new skatepark at Lake Bonny Park into fruition.
The LSA was instrumental and crucial to the process as a representative voice for the needs and wants of the local skate
community. Following the opening of the skatepark in 2013, the LSA shifted the focus of their mission to “encourage the
development of a community of skaters of all ages and abilities who can use the Lakeland SkatePark as a place to practice their sport.” Their long-term mission also includes a dedication to the vitality of the Lakeland SkatePark and to ensure that it remains a quality aspect of Lakeland’s landscape for years to come.
The Lakeland Skaters’ Alliance is currently participating in a new and exciting event aimed at opening skateboard culture to a wider audience. On June 21, Innoskate 2014 will take place at the Lakeland SkatePark and Polk Museum of Art. Innoskate is being organized by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the Polk Museum of Art, the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), the City of Lakeland, and the Lakeland Skaters’ Alliance. The public festival will explore the artistry, innovation,
and culture behind skateboarding. This local iteration of the event is modeled after last year’s original Innoskate organized by the Smithsonian on the national mall at Washington D.C. That public festival
engaged the skating community by exploring the history and evolution of skating while discussing the contributions skating has on contemporary society. Demonstrations, interactive workshops, and Q&A panels with such skating legends as Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen created a holistic look at the legacy and future of skateboard culture. According to Dr. Jeff Brodie, deputy director at the Lemelson Center, “The Innoskate festival was created in 2013 as a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and the International Association of Skateboard Companies to share skateboard culture’s widespread innovative and creative spirit with public audiences. The success of the initial program in Washington, D.C. led us to consider how we might extend the Innoskate experience across the country. ”
The Lakeland SkatePark was constructed “to provide free skate opportunities for Lakeland skaters to hone their skills.
Innoskate 2014 will simulate Smithsonian’s original event but will incorporate aspects from our local skate community. The mission of celebrating the artistry and innovation of skateboarding inspired Polk Museum of Art’s Executive Director Claire Orologas to pursue this project with the Smithsonian and remains
crucial to Polk County’s Innoskate 2014. According to Orologas, “We want our citizens — all of our citizens — to see the museum as a welcoming and dynamic gathering place where ideas about the human experience can be explored through works of art. We want to broaden our reach and, through programs like this, bring seemingly unlikely partners together in celebration of the creative spirit.”
Dr. Jeff Brodie reciprocates Orologas’ sentiment: “Together, and with the additional support of many other government and community partners, we have crafted a dynamic and informative program for the Lakeland community that will explore the intersection of skateboarding, invention and innovation, history, creativity, and artistic expression in new and unexpected ways.”
The weekend-long event will kick off at the Polk Museum of Art on the evening of Friday, June 20, when attendees will enjoy a night of camaraderie, skating, and music as they gear up for Saturday’s main events. Saturday morning, June 21 (which is International Go Skateboarding Day and coincidentally marks Polk Museum of Art’s 48th anniversary), will include instructional sessions for young and emerging skaters, skate competitions, interview sessions, and board tagging at the Lakeland SkatePark. Around midday, major roads will be temporarily closed for “The Big Skate,” a group skate from the Lakeland SkatePark to
the Polk Museum of Art. That afternoon will include skate-related workshops and panel sessions with professional skaters, artists, and scholars in the museum’s auditorium. Additionally, the museum’s skateboard inspired exhibition, co-organized by Chad and Suzie Cardoza from the Tampa skate community, will also be on view to introduce attendees to contemporary artworks made entirely of skate decks. Outside, live bands, food, and portable skate spots will keep wheels rolling on into the evening.
Innoskate 2014 will celebrate the history and artistry of skateboarding, shed light on the current status of Lakeland’s skate community, and provide glimpses into the future of skateboarding as an art form. The event’s primary objective will be to underscore the sport’s existence as much more than a physical activity; the creativity and lifestyles of skaters have defined a subculture for decades and now permeate aspects of local and popular culture. To perceive it as merely being a pastime for adolescent rebels or those without regard for the law is to not realize its essence. Skateboarding was created not as a means of protest, but as a segue into the creative and independent spirit. As a community, we must embrace skateboarding for these reasons and hope that its existence reminds
us all to preserve a communal ambition for energy, progress, and openness, chasing that which at first seems “alternative.”
*Editor’s note: The author especially thanks Betsy Gordon, project manager at the Smithsonian Institution and curator of the Smithsonian exhibition “Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America,” which debuted at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2009. Gordon’s in-depth knowledge and appreciation for skateboarding’s culture and history contributed greatly to this article.