Twenty years ago in Myrtle Beach, skateboarders shredded across parking lots, grinded car stoppers and curbs, and slid along the city streets. Local businesses were vocal with complaints, and in 1997, Mayor Mark McBride met with a group of local skaters to discuss the state of skateboarding in the city.
Out of discussions between the city and skaters came The City of Myrtle Beach Skateboard Park. The city budgeted $55,000, allocating the money to Cultural & Leisure Services, and construction began that same year on a 100-foot-by-95-foot park, surrounded by a galvanized-steel chain link fence. The ramps and features were highlighted by bright, overhead lights.
The skatepark was built to harbor skaters, to give them a place of their own, a safe place, a place for skaters to go and recreate and create moves and tricks—a place to build a community.
Like cutting a ribbon, Mayor Mark McBride dropped into a quarter pipe ramp to officially open The City of Myrtle Beach Skateboard Park on April 17, 1998.
Tragedy struck the same year when Matt Hughes, a 16-year-old skateboarder, fell while riding a street in Myrtle Beach. The fall resulted in a major head injury and his death. He was memorialized at the park in November, his named etched in front of Skateboard Park.
The park was maintained and supervised by Myrtle Beach’s Recreation Division until the early 2000’s when the city eliminated staffing. The park was tagged with “skate at your own risk.” The park deteriorated ever since.
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A lot has changed in the world of skateboarding since 1997. The X Games have gotten bigger and more popular. Skateboarding was recently made an Olympic sport. Shredding for gold begins at the 2020 Tokyo games. The sport has kick-flipped into video games and television. Dozens of documentaries have been made, chronicling pro skaters’ lives. Some progressive schools have integrated the sport into their physical education curriculum. And let’s not forget stars like Tony Hawk who have become household names with booming clothing lines.
But take a ride between Pepper Geddings Recreation Center and Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in Myrtle Beach. Matt Hughes Skatepark falls to ruin. Aged ramps have been yanked out for safety and all of its 10,000 square feet feels out of place and out of date beside the other shiny sports facilities and new schools being built.
“It’s a bit of an eyesore,” says Chal Lester, owner of Surf City Surf Shop and a member of The Matt Hughes Skatepark Rebuild Project. He stands on top of one of the well-worn ramps, overlooking the park. “Us as local surfers, we’re the Bad News Bears of surfing. We grew up riding crappy and choppy waves, so when we see ordinary West Coast waves, we get pumped. We capitalize on our situations. These skaters are the same way. Imagine what they could do with a new cement park.”
Irving Juarez has been making the most out of nothing since he was a kid. A Mexican immigrant, Juarez started skating at 11 years old. Because he lived on a dirt road, he learned to skate on a concrete slab beside his house.
“When I was growing up, I made my parents take me to towns with skateparks for my birthday,” says Juarez. “We went to Columbia, Wilmington, Charleston, even Florence. My favorite is in Cherokee, North Carolina.”
Juarez put years into skateboarding, working on his skills, hosting local events and teaching younger skaters. Recently he went pro, sponsored by Lost Souls Skateboards. He’s also finishing his degree in graphic design and made time to join the Matt Hughes Skatepark Rebuild Project.
“Irving is our connection to the youth and the local skate scene,” says local musician Joey Skipper. Skipper’s connection to Matt Hughes Skatepark goes back before him teaming up the rebuild project. As an avid surfer and skater, Skipper played a benefit concert in the park with his band Strike-O-Matics to contribute equipment back in the nineties.
“I’ve seen skateparks in town come and go,” says Juarez. “It’s typical to see them bulldozed and replaced them with some other business or putt-putt golf course.”
The city of Myrtle Beach has committed $100,000 to replace the ramps that were taken out, but “The whole park needs work,” says Frobase. “It’s getting to the place where something has to happen before it becomes a hazard.”
“There are three tiers of thinking in terms of this project. The first tier is filled with fed-up skaters saying let’s take the $100,000 and make improvements now,” says Juarez. “The second tier wants to combine the $100,000 with donations and get up to the $350,000 mark. Then, there’s the third tier that says let’s go for a million and build something great.”
Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city, sounds energetic about city involvement.
“We already had some money budgeted for the park,” says Kruea. “I’m optimistic we can partner with this grassroots organization and be able to do more in terms of renovating and rebuilding the park.”
But how much is the question. With a thriving community, the benefits of a new park could be more than beneficial. Planting the right seeds may yield a bountiful harvest in this situation.
From Grom to Pro – The Community
Skateboarding has been weaving its way into American culture since the 1950s, and steeply increasing since the ’70s. In 2011, the sport ranked as the third most popular recreational activity for kids between the ages of 6 to 18 years old. In 2010, there were 13 million skateboarders carving up the United States.
A large portion of Grand Strand youth is at least a casual skateboarder, yet their drive to pursue an active and healthy hobby is vastly underserved in the community.
“Plus if you get caught skating anywhere else, it could cost you a citation,” says Skipper.
A few years ago, Myrtle Beach put a “protected zone” in place, virtually pushing skateboarding out of the city. The zone runs from 13th Avenue South, along Kings Highway to Seventh Avenue North and along Broadway Street from Seventh Avenue North to Ninth Avenue North, coming back to Kings Highway from Ninth Avenue North up to 21st Avenue North. It’s also a no-no to grind it up on most private property.
The ordinance also restricted skateboarding at The Market Common, outlawing “wheeled devices” like rollerblades and skateboards within all the areas bound south and west to Farrow Parkway, north to Phillis Boulevard and east to Shine Avenue (excluding pathways along the parks). A maximum punishment for violation of the ordinance is a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.
“Skateboarding is a lifestyle, and police in this town have been very fair and balanced. They seem to understand the situation with skaters,” says Frobase. “But during the skateboarding competitions at Salt Games this year, it was amazing to see skateboarding right down the middle of Ocean Boulevard, right out there in the open street.”
Skateboarding isn’t a fringe sport anymore. While participation in team sports steadily decline, millions more climb on the wood. Sports fields and courts across the Grand Strand are built, funds are budgeted to maintain them, but skateparks remain in the closet underneath unused polo equipment.
“My whole life, skaters were called losers and given citations for doing it in public,” says Juarez. “Then Nike gets a hold of it, and it’s an Olympic sport. Now we’re marketable. We’re respectable.”
The big draw with skateboarding can be the ability to buy individual equipment without breaking the bank. It makes it accessible for everyone. A novice skateboard can be bought for under a hundred bucks and handed down as the skater moves up.
Myrtle Beach doesn’t need to build patronage, the crowds already gather. “This park can have 50 or 60 people skating per day,” says Juarez.
Every skatepark has its core community, but these parks also invite new members into the fold. Across America, skateboarders make a park their home away from home. Students will leave school, toss their backpacks on the concrete and drop in. People make time before or after work. Parents bring their kids to skateparks. New skaters learn both tricks and history from the older skaters. It becomes a social cohesion with its own set of language and rules.
Years ago, William and Vivian Jordan, owners of the Hot Spot convenience stores, brought their kids to Myrtle Beach to surf. Their kids learned to skate at The Matt Hughes Skatepark.
“I saw this immense community of surfers and skaters in this area, and I took it back home to Spartanburg,” says Vivian Jordan “It inspired me to get involved in a skatepark project there.”
The Jordan’s got the city of Spartanburg involved, teamed with local businesses and built the Hot Spot Skate Park, one of only four cement skateparks in South Carolina.
“Skating connects generational gaps. When you skate, all the boundaries go away,” says Lester. Your background, class, age, race, gender...none of that matters, all that matters is the moment.”
“I have so many friends and so many great memories because of skating and because of this park,” says Frobase.
One of those friends is Ed Tkacz. He was one of the first employees of the park. Now, he’s a software engineer, grinding switch crooks in his spare time. He has skated the Grand Strand since the mid-nineties. He was featured in “Thrasher” for skating Saddam Hussein’s palace after the fall of Bagdad. He has seen skaters come and go. Fighting to improve Matt Hughes Skatepark seems to be ingrained in him.
“I’ve been coming to this park since it opened,” says Tkacz. “I like being a part of this community, watching great skaters, seeing the new kids come in. I like to just get out there and skate. I like it all.”
“It’s about having fun. I make instant friends when I skate,” says Juarez. He either skates or gives lessons in Matt Hughes Skatepark every day. “It’s about learning from others and on your own. To get better, you have to keep falling and keep getting up. It’s all about finding a place and learning the lines.”
The Concerns about Rebuilding the Park
Apart from the degradation of the park’s equipment, another big concern involves the graffiti inside the park. “But it’s only inside the park,” says Frobase. “The skaters take ownership of the park. They make the place their own.”
Vivian Jordan says they have no issues with graffiti inside Hot Spot Skatepark. “We have two walls designed for graffiti,” she says. “One was professionally painted and the other is set up for artists or skaters to paint on.”
Frobase admits the skatepark is rough, and some of the skaters are rough. “But if the park gets better, so will the skaters,” he says. “The park will police itself. A new park provides for the skaters we have now, but it also lets us look toward to the next generations of skaters.”
The Matt Hughes Skatepark is open until 9 p.m. but drop by after sundown and you’ll come face-to-face with dark concrete.
“The last two summers, skateboarders broke into the light boxes so they could skate at night, but the lights stayed on all night,” says Frobase. “Now, they don’t turn on the lights at all for them.”
Some of these kids work late or cannot skate until the late afternoon or into the night. “But they’re not out, getting in trouble. They want to go to a skatepark,” says Frobase. “And if people are worried about these kids, isn’t it better to know they’re caged up in a fence, skating, doing the right thing?”
“We want to raise awareness because this city is scared and misinformed about skateboarders,” says Lester. “There’s a negative view that skateparks bring in drugs and graffiti. It’s just not true. I’ve spent time at other skateparks in other towns, and they’re full of families and kids just having fun. If you put a nice park out there, dress it up, people will treat it differently.”
“When we were putting together the park in Spartanburg, we wanted everybody to be included. It should be the same way here.” says Jordan. “Some of these kids might grow up to be ingrates, but most of them are going to grow up and be software engineers or graphic designers or maybe even pro skaters. We just want to give these kids a place to make memories.”
The Benefits of a Rebuilt Park
“The other day, a guy rolled in from out of town. He dropped in and did a trick or two. Then, he shook his head and left,” says Juarez. “Me and my friends just looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, this is all we got.’”
Let’s look from another perspective—skateboarding is a billion-dollar industry. The marketing sparks adrenaline. Geared toward the youth, the product lines feel fresh and enthusiastic.
“A better skatepark will contribute to the whole county,” says Skipper. “It creates more opportunities for retailers with skate supplies. It brings more people to the hotels and other attractions.”
All around the United States and the world, skateparks act as tourist destinations. Skateboarding enthusiasts are drawn to well-designed parks with functionality and aesthetic appeal.
“I don’t really understand why recreation and investing in our community’s future needs to make money, but I’d like to see a one-of-a-kind object that you’ve never seen on the east coast,” says Frobase. “People would travel to see it. Myrtle Beach is a small town with big attractions. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have this.”
Millions of skating videos get millions of views on YouTube. It’s an entertaining spectator sport. Skaters love to watch and root for other skaters, and in this community, skaters and surfers overlap.
“If Myrtle Beach is a sports destination, we should embrace all sports,” says Lester.
Lester makes a fair point. Coastal Carolina University has been a powerhouse. CCU’s baseball team just won a NCAA World Series. The CCU football team consistently adds to NFL rosters and even created a few pro standouts. Dustin Johnson, a CCU golf Hall of Famer, won the U.S. Open this year.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are always a big draw, and the city brought back arena football with the Myrtle Beach Freedom. It only seems right to embrace a sport with the firepower to blow up like snowboarding did after Shaun White destroyed the icy half-pipes to win multiple gold medals at the Olympics.
“Plus, Skaters are way more inviting than any other athlete, even surfers,” says Lester. “I’ve been a surfer my whole life, but I have kids who skate, and they deserve something better, something more inviting than what we have.”
If Myrtle Beach really has problems finding the money, maybe they should look at our old friends in China. The largest skatepark in the world, SMP Skatepark, is located in Shanghai.
The Movement to Rebuild the Park
If a cement skatepark is planned and designed with precision, it can be fiscally conservative and very little maintenance will be needed. But to design and rebuild a park takes time and planning and money.
There are only four skateparks in South Carolina constructed of cement and Skatelite materials. The Matt Hughes Rebuild Project aims to make a fifth. They also intend to build something that honors the skaters who are no longer with them, not only Matt Hughes, but for Derrick Rasado, who died in a car accident in 2009.
“Derrick was the best,” Juarez says. “He was the most important part of this community, but we live on.”
“Derrick was the most creative skater I’ve seen in this town,” says Tkacz.
Every Halloween, the skaters of the park put on a contest, equipped with costumes. “Derrick always wore the weirdest costumes for Halloween,” says Juarez.
The rebuild project has not only teamed with the Jordan’s. They’ve researched and reached out to experts who specialize in the remodeling and building of skateparks in order to build a flexible park, fitting in the space they have.
“Some people want a bigger park, but I think with the usage it has right now, it’s big enough. It just needs to be improved,” says Frobase. “To move it, we run into problems with property and zoning,”
“We have a two to three year plan. We’d like to build the biggest and best skatepark we can,” says Lester. “Why can’t we have it all? The city can give $100,000 to get us started, and we can raise money from donations and fundraising, then Myrtle Beach can build in a yearly budget to keep it maintained.”
“There has to be 100 businesses that’ll give $1,000, and some will give more,” says Frobase.
At a recent meeting for the rebuild project, skaters and surfers filled the table. They talked about sponsorship programs, contests and fundraisers, being respectful of street styles and bringing in families. Jordan pushed for the young skaters who inhabit the park to both give their input and be willing to donate their time in the rebuilding. They discussed logos and brochures. They made a strategy for bulking up community support and working with the city. They got excited about design ideas, pumping up the park with verts, hills, roll-ins, half-pipes and a possible peanut bowl. The feeling of a grassroots movement and the sense of community activism was electric.
“If we’re able to build an amazing park, it’ll open up the sport to younger generations,” says Juarez. “That’s so important now with the Olympics, reaching out to young skaters.”