The Great Stadium devours Regina’s scruffy, loveable Indoor Skatepark

by Patricia Elliott

Skate Park

The house where my son grew up barely had heat. The sinks were cracked and emitted whiffs of sewer gas. Furnishings included a ragged couch in the back room and a sign at the entrance that said, No Bikes! The words were a minor strident note amid a nightly clatter of laughter and 7-ply maple skidding along metal rails.

Shabby and ill lit but never a cleaner floor in all Regina. In this house, pushing a broom made you a patriarch. Thus my son grew up admiring people with names like Chappy and J-Rod.

His admiration was not misplaced. The guy on the broom was usually the smartest one in the room. J-Rod, for example, was engaged in a mighty struggle to scale the walls of higher education, dodging the boiling oil of tuition on a budget that barely included food. A man of the people, his conversation held no artifice. Whether you wore a suit or rags, he addressed everyone just the same, placing an expletive between each word. A conversation my husband overheard:

Nervous suburban mom: “Is it okay if I leave my son here for an hour?”

J-Rod: “Fuck, yeah, he’ll be fuckin’ fine, no fuckin’ worries, ma’am.”

His swearing was so open and friendly that none could take offence. It was equal opportunity language for an equal opportunity place. Anyone with a toonie could enter — three bucks if you didn’t own a helmet and needed to rent one of the “lice lids” hanging behind the counter (which didn’t really have lice).

The boom of skateboard wheels hitting plywood ramps drew in all kinds of kids, those with toonies in their pockets, those without. As near as I could see, no one with a reasonable disposition and a desire to skate was ever turned away from the Regina Indoor Skatepark.

My vantage point was a metal chair under the coat hooks, because I didn’t expect J-Rod and company to take full responsibility for the bruised shins and hungry tummy of a kid then in grade one. So there I sat, Mom to one and Hey Lady to many, as in, “Hey Lady, what time is it? Hey Lady, is my ankle broken? Hey Lady, did you see that front-side feeble I landed?”

I kept sitting there as years passed, usually with my schoolwork balanced on one knee. Every now and then I would look up to see a little kid with a t-shirt to his knees fly off the end of a ramp, lighter than air. When the Tapaquon brothers ollied right over his head, his grin was a mile wide. I wasn’t worried — the Taps were that good.

Turned ankles were about the worst injuries I saw, although getting nutted by your own skateboard looked more painful. I never saw a fight of any kind. People got mad at themselves instead, the way golfers do, launching their skateboards into the air or hammering them against walls. But even that was rare.

Once I walked across the parking lot for a cup of coffee from the neighbour, the indoor soccer facility. It was culture shock: heated air, functioning bathrooms, even a Tim Horton’s.

I used to think skateboarders suffered from benign societal neglect. Only when plans for an outdoor skate plaza got underway did I learn the neglect was not benign at all — it was directed and hostile. When a kid steps onto a skateboard instead of bicycle, he or she becomes a statement of non-conformity and counter-culture, a menace to wider society.

The good thing about neglect is you can create your own world.

The Indoor has always been a world of fun, where the air smells sweeter as day progresses into evening. No referees, no angry knots of adults bitching about league politics, no children crying because they lost the big game, no coaches, clinics or drills.

No one teaches kids to tre-flip and nose grind. They learn by osmosis and experimentation, then go on to invent their own marvels. But there are plenty of lessons in the ethos of non-aggression, non-interference and how to build a community. Thus I watched my boy grow into the quiet, unassuming demeanor of his mentors.

The only time I ever felt endangered at the skatepark was during this November’s annual skate jam. My kid didn’t need (or want) watching anymore so it had been a long while since I’d stepped through the doors. A spate of furious ramp construction — perhaps touched off by a sense that doom was nigh — had left so much sawdust in the air that I seriously worried the place would explode if anyone decided to light a match.

The Indoor’s ending will be less spectacular, as turns out.

The skaters’ mistake was to build their happy world in a place called The Heritage Building — a name that, in this town, pretty much sealed its date with a wrecking ball. To make way for the stadium, it will join the ghostly rubble of the Jubilee Building and stately Grain Show Building, as Regina Exhibition Park completes its mutation into Evraz Place. On May 4, its young citizens became as homeless as the colourful, grizzled punters of Queensbury Downs, now the Queensbury Convention Centre.

In this age of synergies and efficiencies, the skaters have been encouraged to find someone to share space with. But the skatepark’s magic was its autonomy. The skaters built their own ramps, dragged in old bits of furniture and ran their own security. Adults seldom entered. Neither did the police. It was in neutral territory — no one was crossing into anyone’s neighbourhood. The old walls held a mixed population together against a fragmented world.

These intangibles will prove harder to duplicate than the physical needs of a skatepark, which are hard enough to find.

North Central has some abandoned churches that need adopting, if you could find one without columns. The City recently re-appropriated the spacious former Optimists Gymnastics Club, but has vowed to protect the current tenant, a microbrewery. Moneymaking beer vats versus toonie-less kids is a poor contest. At this point, any alternative would be one less reason to curse the coming of the Great Stadium. Meanwhile young hearts skate the ledge of uncertainty.

This we know from folks who commit sociology: bricks and mortar do shape communities. Their essence leaks into the collective state of mind. The sense of belonging, ownership, history and social cohesion contained in a physical space takes years to build and mere hours to rip apart with the shovel of a track hoe.

The more frequently things rip apart, the more fragile the toeholds of social cohesion become. It’s how friendly cities turn mean.

Thankfully the skaters have optics on their side. Turning children and youth into the cold streets doesn’t look good on a city government, even in this jaded town.