Oakland Skateboarders DIY

MLK Skatepark Embodies an Idea

By Jakob Longcob

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Skaters use Quikrete and found materials to construct obstacles and features for the park. Photo Credit: Jakob Longcob

The Bay Area is a hot spot for skateboarding; it holds a deep and rich skate history and boasts enough skate spots and parks to keep any skater satisfied. Or does it? Although there are at least five government funded parks in Berkeley and Oakland alone, there are still skate parks being built illegally by skaters in abandoned areas. An illegal, skater-made park is referred to as a DIY park. The acronym “DIY” means to “do it yourself,” which is an attitude that skateboarders worldwide embrace. Skateboarding by nature is a self-sufficient activity. From its inception, skateboarders have had to get creative. Driveways suddenly turned into slopes to carve, parking curbs became surfaces to grind, and stairs became something to jump down. Over 60 years after the birth of skateboarding, its DIY attitude still remains, especially in the East Bay.

One DIY park in particular stands out because of how public and unembarrassed it is. It is located within Grove Shafter Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, directly across from Eli’s Mile High Club, and even has its own Google Maps location, titled “MLK Skatepark.” Originally designed as a basketball court, its roughed-up concrete now serves as a home to wood-rotted quarter pipes and Quikrete cement ledges. On a windy afternoon, Adrian Nieto skates the park with a friend, egging each other on to land a trick on the quarter pipe. When asked about his thoughts on the skatepark, Nieto said, “It’s a great spot because it really is DIY. It’s not that pretty for the average person walking by, but for a skater, it’s so fun.” The humble skatepark has even been the location for a skate/BBQ event held on Go Skateboarding Day this past June, hosted by Berkeley’s own 510 Skateshop. Grove Shafter Park was filled with kids from throughout the area skateboarding and having a good time on a summer day. Despite the attention and love the park receives from skaters, it also gets use from those not skating.

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A wooden quarter pipe built and further personalized by local skaters. Photo Credit: Jakob Longcob

In late January of this year, the grass area surrounding the skatepark was filled with makeshift shelters serving as a community for homeless people called The Promise Land. Day by day, new plywood shelters were popping up, all constructed by volunteers. Unlike other encampments, The Promise Land was different because of its sober environment. Speaking with SFGate, Ahmed, a methamphetamine addict, said the 10 days he spent at The Promise Land were the longest he had been sober. Although the community of DIY houses served a completely different purpose than the skatepark, they shared the same ethos. Both were built with labors of love by ordinary people who wanted something in their community.

The Promise Land was torn down after only 12 days and the skatepark was destroyed by Oakland officials as well. The concrete ledges were crushed, the “borrowed” parking blocks were confiscated, and the wooden ramps were torn down. But not for long. Within a week, more skater-built obstacles were popping up mysteriously over night. Every day as you passed the park, a new obstacle occupied the lot, making it appear less and less barren each time. Currently, the park boasts over 15 handmade or repurposed obstacles. Concrete and wood may go, but the passion that compels people to make changes in their community lives on.

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