Art / Environment / Parks

Skaters link art, environment and thrills

Photo by Matthew J. Perlman

Concept painting for a new Hunts Point Skatepark done by students from The Point CDC's Skatepark Design Workshop.

Teens seek to create a park for skateboarding

Tired of being kicked out of their favorite spots near the Hunts Point Avenue subway station and in Park 52 on Kelly Street, Hunts Point skateboarders and inline skaters are looking for a home of their own.

So they’ve decided to design and build one.

This slideshow is also on Flickr.

Calling themselves the Eco Ryders, the young skaters also want their park to be friendly to the environment, using castoffs and recycled materials.

The Hunts Point skateboard scene cropped up in the Spring of 2009, when Douglas Miles, the founder of Apache Skateboards, spent a short residency at The Point. A graphic artist from Arizona, Miles focuses his work on the culture of his Native American community and its social justice issues.

While at The Point, Miles taught a workshop on stenciling, helping kids to design graphics for their skateboard decks, while talking to them about Native American culture.

From those sessions, the Eco Ryders was born. A group of young skaters who worked with Miles, they are committed to increasing awareness about the many environmental issues that affect their community, along with spreading the sport of skateboarding.

With a grant, they purchased boards for local kid and passed on their knowledge of design to them, while taking them on group trips to Barretto Point Park to discuss environmental issues in Hunts Point, and to the Bryant Avenue community garden, to perform volunteer work.

“Our goal is to inform these kids, so they can go out and do something, and inform others,” said Victor Davila, 17, a founding member of the Eco Ryders.

“We’re mixing learning with skating,” said Kendrick Martinez, another founding member. “We talk about all the burdens of the area,” and what can be done.

Then of course, there is the skating.

Martinez estimates that there are about 20 kids in the area who skate regularly. Right now they are often kicked out of places where they try to skate, because their activities can interfere with pedestrians and traffic, and can damage the street furniture they use for tricks, such as handrails, benches and planters.

Park 52 steward seeks
to help Eco Ryders

By Matthew J. Perlman

When Al Quiñones first found the damage skaters caused to the benches and cement stage at Park 52 on Kelly Street in Longwood, he was angry. The benches were chewed up, and the corners of the cement stage were covered with a black sticky residue. But he chose not to respond with confrontation.

Instead, he reached out to the skaters, and posted flyers for The Point Community Development Corp.’s skatepark design workshop.

Quiñones helped salvage Park 52 from ruin in 1980, when he lived across the street, and has been supervising it ever since. He serves as steward of his beloved park, providing security, lending equipment and keeping the basketball and handball courts, the picnic area and the playground clean.

Now, Quinones wants to replace some of the basketball courts with a skatepark, in a 5,136 square foot corner to add to the park’s attractions.

He contends that the change would be a good investment for the city. The park needs to be updated. There are sink holes and cracked cement throughout. So Quiñones is asking the city for a $5.5 million rehabilitation.

In the process, he would give the skaters the place they need.

“We want to do something for them,” said Quiñones. “We want to give them a spot to take some kind of ownership of,” just as he did 30 years ago.

“That’s what these guys like to do. Give them a place to do it,” Quiñones said.

The Parks Department currently has plans to renovate the park with $500,000 that is mainly targeted for the surface of the basketball courts. A proposal has yet to be made for a more extensive redevelopment.

But the Eco Ryders are excited about Quiñones’s offer. This space could be the place they need – now all they lack is funding.

Skateparks provide a place for skaters to practice their sport, taking them off the street and putting them on ramps and obstacle courses designed specifically for skating.

The city Parks Department lists 12 official skateparks on its website, but the closest one to Hunts Point is near Yankees Stadium on 157th Street and River Avenue.

The Eco Ryders are looking to build a neighborhood skatepark for themselves and the generations that will follow. Merging art, social justice and skating, they are working with Yatika Fields, a teaching artist at The Point who is a friend of Douglas Miles, to brainstorm ideas and come up with a design.

“We are trying to get the kids involved in the whole process–location, funding and design,” says Fields, who began skating in 1983 when he was 8. “The focus is on making it their own.”

The Point’s skateboarders say that the connection between skating and art is strong.

“I see skaters as visionaries,” says Carlos Iñamagua, a participant in Miles’s workshop. In finding places to skate, they see “new uses for architectural creations,” says Iñamagua. An embankment becomes a wall-ride to roll across. Stairs become a gap to jump over. A planter becomes a ledge to grind. For the skaters, it’s an alternative way of seeing their surroundings.

“I’m excited and want to see what happens,” said Adrian Guzman, a 20-year-old who used to live in Longwood and has come back to help with the new skatepark plans.

To help shape the project, The Point and Casita Maria are holding an art exhibition. Called “Mapping Skate Parks,” it opened at Casita Maria’s Simpson Street gallery on May 18, where it will be until June 24. It will reopen at The Point’s river campus for The Arts and Environment on Lafayette Avenue on July 8 and remain there until September 12.

The curators asked artists to incorporate themes of crossing cultures, environmental justice and nonviolence in conceptual skatepark designs, as well as other works either inspired by skating or created by skater-artists. Plans are also afoot to bring Douglas Miles back to Hunts Point, to see the impact he’s had on his students and the push for a skatepark they’ve created.

The Eco Ryders propose to use repurposed materials–things like wrecked cars, discarded appliances and even confiscated firearms– to create interesting obstacles to skate over and around.

They also plan to create green walls, growing plants from fences and the sides of ramps. And mindful of the environmentally harmful impact of stormwater runoff from cement surfaces, they hope to keep it from the sewers by capturing it to water the plants.

“Our whole idea is to give back,” said Iñamagua. “To leave something for the next generation. Something they can skate, and also teach them about their environment.”

A version of this story appeared in the June 2011 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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