My first exposure to skateboarding was when I was 8, riding down a hill while hanging on to the back of my uncle. tobogganing down a hill on a Nash skateboard with big wheels and a fish tail. I had to hang on to the back of him because his board was faster and gave us more speed.
Skateboarding, BMX, and extreme sports has always been pretty cool. I watched the X-Games in scramble-vision on a TV sitting in our game room and watched Tony Hawk and Andy MacDonald back in the day. Dave Mirra was pretty big too. This was in 1996.
In 1999, in 7th grade. I'm watching the summer X-Games on a warm summer day in the middle of July. Tony Hawk lands the 900. My life was changed instantly.
I wanted to start skating immediately. My family got me a board from Walmart that Christmas, a Hobie board which my grandmother knew about from Hawaii. It was cheap, and it worked. The next 6 months I learned how to ollie, shuvit, and eventually kickflip. This was before YouTube and free skateparks.
Lots of us hung out after school and skated at my middle school. We were always trying to ollie stacks of boards.
My favorite skater at the time was Tony Hawk. He was my hero. I went out and got Hawk shoes for Christmas the following year, along with a better board. All the "cooler" skaters at my school made fun of me because I was wearing Hawks and called me a "poser" and so on. But I liked them and thought they were pretty cool.
Christmas, 2000 (yes there was totally a year 2000 and it was awesome) - me and my uncle went to a skatepark for the very first time, a place called Axis Skatepark. While riding over the pyramid, he hooked his pegs into a rail post, and went over the handlebars face first, smacking his head on the ground. This was only the first time I would watch him do this, as years later we both decided to bomb a hill and I watched him do the same thing at about 30-40 mph. He was kind of prone to error.
The rest of Christmas day, he spent asking us if it was "actually Christmas". We didn't realize he was concussed until about 10 years later. Grandmom actually sent him to his room for this.
Axis was a home away from home. I watched a lot of skaters from my middle school, ones that called me "poser", stop skating, and eventually I was one of the few that kept going. I loved it. People at Axis started calling me the "Dirty Vert Skater", because my face got completely dirty from all the ramp dust. The name eventually got shortened to "Dirty Vert" after a Taco Bell run with the crew, followed by a trip to the mall where we sang karaoke to a large group of onlookers in the food court.
Axis grew massively. Friday night All-Night Skates got *huge*. High schoolers and skaters would swarm the skatepark every weekend. We hosted Best Trick contests every Friday, TP'ed the park, and rode 70 miles an hour down the freeway shooting roman candles at each other. We slept in bunks and blankets under halfpipes with girls we didn't even know and it was about as kickass a life as a 13 year old could ask for.
The park owner announced months later that Axis would be relocating to accomodate a bigger crowd. The place was going to be called "City Streets". The blueprints were like something fallen from heaven - a dance club in the cooler, a plaza-style skatepark, restaurants, lounges, along with lots of awesome ramps in a giant abandoned grocery store.
It was going to be awesome. But it wasn't the same. Business slowed, everything slowed, and one summer, the original owner got fired by his investors.
In summer of 2003, City Streets officially closed. Axis was no more.
My hometown, Knoxville, went with out a skatepark for 5 years. In 2008, after lots of fundraising, a $500,000 cement park was built in Tyson Park, and it's one of the best parks in Tennessee.
Since 2008, I've skated parks all over the U.S, somewhere between 200-300 of them. I've skated
FDR, Kona, Louisville, Etnies, Washington Street, Venice, Woodward, and tons of others.
One of the things I've realized is that it is really difficult to find skateparks while traveling, especially if you're wanting to make a pit stop. There has never been a "good method" for finding them. Concrete Disciples is a good database, but takes a lot of effort to use. Google Maps does an okay job, but definitely misses tons of parks. And all the skatepark apps out there are incomplete.
I want there to be a good way to find skateparks, so I started making my own map. It's a Google Map that loads into your phone, shows the different kinds of skateparks, and makes it easy to see the difference between a crap park and an amazing park while driving down the freeway.
And thus, the Skate Map was born.
The Skate Map is a passion project that's come from 20 years of skating, and it's something I want to pass on to the next generation. Completing the map has taken lots of time to do properly. But what I want most is to give back to this community, and to make something that will inspire people to be wild, have fun, and take skatepark tours with their buddies and get into lots of trouble.
So this is for you guys.
Safe Travels, and keep skating.
Shaun Kahler, The Skate Map