Last Friday I trekked the 2 hrs north to Newport right on the Canadian border with Vermont to attend the first annual “ShredFest” event put on by the parks and recreation department in this small, isolated Vermont town. I’d been contacted by the organizers a few weeks prior to the event asking if I wanted to have a booth at it for Half Dead Skateboards (my skateboard company for older skaters). I was glad to support them and so I packed a car full of boards, Tee shirts, booth materials and skate equipment and arrived two hours prior to the event start.
No one knew really what to expect. It’s difficult to relate how far this town is from anywhere else, and the skatepark is small – but concrete and has had rave reviews. It was worth it to me just to get the chance to skate it again, having made the trip twice already this summer. The skater population in and around Newport isn’t that big, so this ambitious event, planned with contests, prizes, vendors selling all manner of things including food and live bands was very much under the heading of “if you build it they will come”.
Setting up the Half Dead booth within easy eyesight of the park, I noticed a good number of skaters already having a great time skating, clearly stoked and riding hard. I knew a few of them so occasionally went over to take a few runs. Such a fantastic positive attitude, supportive and vocal, they had none of the sneers and jeers that can come with sessions like this. All manner of styles were represented as well. Some even clearly in the “I don’t have a specific style” bucket as they ripped on Welcome boards and longboard trucks and wheels showing up more conventionally kitted contemporaries. It was just a wonderful mish mash of all that is good about skateboarding, in one micro environment on one day.
As the afternoon progressed, the sessions on the park became even more heated, but never bad tempered. It became normal for there to be three or four skaters in the park at once, doing high speed lines and missing each other only by good luck and loose trucks. The stoke level grew higher though, and it was then I noticed something happening that I’d seen before, but always strikes me as unique whenever I see it. The age range of skaters that day was probably 6 to 50, and all were having a brilliant time, mutually supporting and appreciating each others skating. That is a wonderful thing to behold. How many other activities / sports can you think of that have mutual participation at all age ranges together, with all the cultural unspoken rules and norms fully in effect with no policing? I can’t think of even one other, and it is this I know to be true. Skateboarding can bring together people of all ages, sexes and creeds in an incredibly positive way.
As I was packing up the booth to return home later in the evening, one of the organizers came over to thank me for participating. I brought up the subject of the hugely positive vibe at the event and she relayed something I thought I’d share. (With apologies for accuracy – I am openly paraphrasing here)
“This town has a lot of problems with kids on drugs and alcohol, in bad family situations and few positive role models. When we (parks and rec) built the skatepark, parents and local officials were skeptical, and it was not long before the typical stereotypes were being voiced openly such as
- It will be a breeding ground for drugs and alcohol use
- There’ll be violence all the time
- The kids will get hurt – it’s concrete!
What we’ve found is that the park serves as a focal and meeting point where kids and their parents and older skaters can mix and focus on something that takes their attention away from bad influences. It’s really easy for a kid to rapidly go down a very dark road in this town, so anything that shows a different path, where they’re getting exercise and respect for their work is incredibly valuable. The fact that older skaters are here also helps them understand the respect across generations, and helps them in their behavioral decisions. I can’t stress enough how valuable that is, and people like you are a big part of it. You’re 50 and mixing it up with the young guns and you’re both appreciating each other’s talent and style. It’s a huge thing. Huge.”
I thanked her for her kind words and we finished the conversation. Driving home, I had a chance to lull over that days events and conversations, and I couldn’t help smiling. We didn’t sell a damned thing, but the day was so valuable in so many other ways. I couldn’t help but feel a lovely warm glow inside. It’s one of the reasons why I’ll be a skater for life.
Well played Newport Parks and Rec. Well played. You just put the Burlington area (biggest metro area in the state) to shame.