Among the differing age groups and interests roaming around our metropolitan city, there is a subculture in our midst that you probably know nothing about, or at least I didn’t. I was enlightened on this massive and alternative lifestyle when I became the newest employee of Chatt Town Skate Park, nestled right by our very own Finley Stadium. While tiny in comparison to its neighboring Tennessee Pavilion, it has a larger presence in the community than most realize. I’ve seen people skating my whole life, but this new employment opportunity has revealed a deeper meaning to the sport: woven within each skateboard, and even skate parks like the one I’m employed at, is a story, one that is mixed with dedication, art, and sometimes a lot of blood.
Chatt Town Skate Park is home to bright blue ramps, rickety chairs and bleachers, and numerous skaters of all ages. Children come in with their loving, and probably terrified, parents, and even Chattanooga’s one and only Comfort Skate Shop’s owner comes in from time to time. The younger skaters stare in awe at the older kid’s tricks, dreaming of the day when they will be capable of the same things on these ramps, and they probably will. Current employees and regulars have been coming to the park for years, and they have left their marks with stickers covering the vending machines and signs, and their names and illustrations painting the bathroom walls. After watching these boys, and a few girls, for hours every day, I have come to the conclusion that skating goes beyond just something to do for fun. These people eat, breath, and sleep skating, and the way they go about it is simply amazing.
One of the most popular defining features of skating is the lo-fi skate footage that can be found by the boatload on youtube, and even purchasable online and through skate shops. Before working at Chatt Town, I had the privilege of attending a skate movie premier with my friend and coworker, Herbert Brown. The premiere was held in the basement of Comfort Skate Shop, and the feature was projected onto the wall with tired but happy skaters surrounding in anticipation on pull out chairs. The feature was titled Threads, and was directed by a Chattanooga local and long time skater, Alex Rose. His other films, including Ghost Town and Videophile, can be found on tennskate.com. I had no idea what to expect before viewing the film, but I sat awestruck for the next 37 minutes in the dark room. The film was evidence of the teamwork and dedication that comes along with the sport, and was put together in such an artistic and professional manner that I began to see skating as a form of art. Alex thanked the audience following the film, and embraces and smiles were shared. These people coming from differing backgrounds and interests became one on that night, much like they do every day at the park.
While many directors take a similar approach to Alex Rose’s, most of the videos found on skating have a different meaning. I’ve seen videos where skaters tear apart abandoned houses, ask strangers the most random of questions, often resulting in comical clips, and even segments of skaters puking or running from the cops. These differing approaches, including a multitude of music and a few cat clips, all lead to the same conclusion: whether these videos are serious, comical, outrageous, or straight up funny, no one can argue that these kids do not have skill.
Another defining element of this community that I have picked up on is skating crews. Most, but not all, skaters affiliate with a specific crew that they ride, film, and bond with. After talking to a few of the regulars at the park, it is clear that within these crews, there isn’t a single leader. In fact, in skating, they see each other as equals. I’ve never heard of a skater refer to another person as a “bad skater,” only offering that they may need improvements in some areas. Crew names can be seen scratched on chairs at the park, spray painted on walls, and even on t shirts. The most popular local ones include skaterdie, FUCrue, and WPM. These can be seen not as a way to separate a specific skater, but as just another example of how skating is a very communal activity.
Skating and all of the activities affiliated with it are unfortunately putting these skaters at risk every day. Street skating is illegal in most cities, including our nation’s capital, and even in normally permissive Chattanooga. The sport is seen as an “unreasonable risk of harm to pedestrians and property,” according to Chattanooga’s law makers. If seen skating throughout the city, the police will confiscate the board, and give the rider a hefty ticket. However, this hardly seems to stop these headstrong and determined men. On top of the risk of receiving a ticket is the even greater risk of injury. While this vigorous lifestyle is a dangerous one, the skaters are persistent. Some injuries lead to the skaters to be out of the game for months on end, and can not only be crippling towards their physical state, but also their mental one. Skaters are encouraged by doctors to stay off the break or sprain for a certain amount of time, but these skaters are relentless, often taking off their boot and picking up their board early, further proving their love for the sport.
While the secrets of the skate world are slowly revealed to me at work, I become more fascinated by the way this subculture lives. Like generations before them, the skaters of Chattanooga continue to keep the tradition alive, as well as adding in their own artistic twist. It is perplexing to see these boys form bonds and form a community within the walls of the long forgotten Chatt Town Skate Park, but something tells me that these talented men and women will soon be a force to be reckoned with.