In a rare event, several local kids had the run of the skatepark behind the Athens Community Center last Thursday.
All last week, the children – some as young as 8 – were practicing zipping up and down the concrete inclines and dropping into the half-pipes, although the latter maneuver was largely only done with the help of instructor Leif Wakefield.
Wakefield, 26, said the Summer Skate Camp that took place last week is his attempt at getting Athens’ youngsters interested in skating again. He said the skateboard scene – at least among non-Ohio University residents and local youth – has died down since he graduated from Athens High School roughly eight years ago.
“When the (Athens Skate Park) was built in 2005 we had a solid group of kids that would come her every single day,” Wakefield said. “It really was like my home away from home; it was my passion, and then when my group of friends graduated from high school and moved away… the skating scene in Athens took a serious dive.”
When this reporter arrived on Thursday, Wakefield’s students were practicing dropping into the shorter half-pipe on the skatepark’s south side. Despite that half-pipe being on the shorter side for the Athens Skate Park, that’s an intimidating task for kids who are a little over 4 feet tall, so Wakefield was helping them by holding their arms.
Camp-goer Violet Blick, 9, encouraged a fellow camper who was apprehensive about the process.
“You did it yesterday; I think you can do it today!” Blick declared.
While the camp only had five kids, Wakefield said he wants to spread the word about the positive impact skating can have on a young person, and hopes to expand the camp – which started out as a spring-break camp earlier this year – into an after-school program, though nothing’s set in stone yet.
“We’re not trying to make the next Tony Hawk,” Wakefield said. “Skateboarding is an individualistic sport – but it’s also a lot more fun when you’re doing it with your friends, and I think the skateboarding scene in Athens has developed a negative reputation for not being a necessarily healthy environment.
“What I’m trying to do with this program is break down that barrier,” Wakefield added, “and let parents know that skating is a healthy community where kids can really develop certain skills like perseverance, and how to encourage their friends and be a positive influence.”
Plus, it’s good exercise, Wakefield said.
Moss Miller, owner of the Flipside Skateboard Shop on 14 W. Stimson Ave. in Athens, provided a discount for all of the skate-camp kids to help them buy their boards and protective gear.
Miller, who said he’s been skating in Athens since 1991, noted that Wakefield is doing a great thing by encouraging local youths and other community residents to skate more, which is what he saw happening in the ’90s. Now, the skate scene almost entirely consists of OU students, which isn’t a bad thing, Miller said, but it’s something that he and Wakefield want to change.
Miller said he has considered plenty of theories on why the demographic has shifted, but one thing he and Wakefield have realized is that the skatepark at the Community Center is rather intimidating for youngsters new to skateboards. While professional skating legend Tony Hawk made pulling off tricks look easy when he stopped by the Athens Skate Park in 2014, some of the half-pipes have huge drop-in heights, and some of the other features are only accessible to skaters who know what they’re doing. Wakefield added that the skate park needs some updates and fixes as well.
Still, the skate-camp students were having a blast when this reporter visited the camp last Thursday.
Violet, the 9-year-old mentioned above, said while she and her brother have been skating for just a short time now, she “loved learning new things” at the camp.
She and another camper showed this reporter how to perform an “ollie” in the safety of the grass outside the half-pipes. Violet had a board sporting the image of Muttley, Dick Dastardly’s snickering compatriot from the 1968 Hanna-Barbera cartoon “Wacky Races” (Violet didn’t know who he was, however).
Violet added that she already had suffered a few wipe-outs during the skate camp, but she didn’t let that stop her.
In closing, Wakefield said he’s not sure what his next step will be, but did say for certain that he’d like to bring the camp back next spring and summer. Anyone interested in learning more – or collaborating with him on a potential after-school program – can email him at email@example.com