Ryan McDonald

Grinding it out: Manhattan Beach skate spot finally set to open

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Local skater Mason Silva airs it out over a pyramid inside the Manhattan Beach Skate Spot, which is set to open this Saturday. Photo by Brad Jacobson

by Ryan McDonald
The Manhattan Beach skate spot is nestled among the basketball rims, racquetball building and baseball fields of Marine Park. Studded with quarter-pipes, fun boxes, flat rails, stairs and more, the soon-to-be-opened park is a blank canvas for the creative skater, its copings unscuffed, its ledges unmarked.

But the neatest trick to be landed may be that the park is opening in the first place.

Years in the making and forged by neighborhood disagreements, Manhattan Beach is finally ready to debut its first-ever skate park. The facility will open in a ceremony this weekend, and comes as cities around the country have embraced skate parks as a way to safely channel youthful enthusiasm for the long-marginalized sport.

Unlike its cousin surfing, in which clean-cut jocks perpetually duel with bleary-eyed dropouts in the battle for the sport’s image, skateboarding has pretty much always rode with the ethos of the outlaw. The sticker-ready refrain “Skateboarding is not a crime” would never have gained the popularity it has were there not some lingering doubt about its truthfulness. (The close cultural affinity between street skating and graffiti makes more sense when one realizes that both were born from rejecting strict limitations on the use of private property.)

This is due in part to the fact that skaters ply their craft in the open, and that they are in direct competition with other city-dwellers. And like almost every other city in the country, Manhattan Beach has responded by limiting the use of public space for skateboarding. Downtown sidewalks are studded with blue tile and pocked with bumps that make skating unstable and loud. Skating inside Metlox is a ticketable offense. Metal fastenings affixed to seating areas discourage grind attempts.

But across the country, an outlook of sullen persecution has given way to organized advocacy, as city managers are lobbied by skateboarders and their parents. Former pros, their bodies betraying them, have become design consultants. And especially in Southern California, ambitious construction programs have rejuvenated parks and recreation areas. The city of Los Angeles now operates more than two dozen skate parks, many of them in high-crime areas. (Not coincidentally, today’s talented up-and-coming skaters are often minorities from economically deprived backgrounds.) Just as street art has made it to the gallery, skating has come to the park.

Manhattan Beach is safe and wealthy, yet the need is still there. Backers have watched with frustration over the years as parks opened in El Segundo, Hermosa and elsewhere. With the imminent opening of Manhattan’s own skate spot, supporters in the community are thrilled that youngsters will finally have a place to spin their wheels.

“I’m really happy for all those kids. I think it looks great,” said resident Mary Sikonia . “I know it’s a sport where kids can easily get hurt. I want them to wear helmets and be safe, but I also want them to have a lot fun. And now they don’t have to be in the streets.”

Sikonia has four grandchildren who love to skateboard. She remembers when their father built them a ramp in the driveway of their home. It made their house a destination for neighborhood children, and seeing skaters flock to the improvised structure made her realize the need for added additional recreational space, and turned her into a longtime promoter for the project.

Advocates began pressing for a skatepark as far back as the late 1990s. After years of getting lost amid other city priorities and pressing needs, the project began to seem like a real possibility in January 2014. A gaggle of skateboard-toting youths appeared before the City Council, successfully advocating for an ad hoc committee to study a skatepark in January 2014.

Those behind these initial efforts have literally left their mark on the project. Tom Allard, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and longtime advocated for the park, died of acute respiratory distress syndrome last year. He will be honored with a memorial bench at the park.

Maintenance worker Bobby Dobson, Recreation Supervisor Andrew Berg, maintenance worker Keith Darling, City Manager Mark Danaj, Public Works Director Stephanie Katsouleas, and Parks and Recreation Director Mark Leyman stand atop the new park. Photo by Kevin Cody

But the push for a skatepark became tangled in the issues of finite space that often vex Manhattan’s outdoors-loving citizens. The committee initially identified some possible 20 locations. But four of those sites were in Polliwog Park, which prompted an outcry from residents worried about yet another attempt to encroach on the city’s largest green space.

“Polliwog Park is not a blank slate. It is a subtle yet essential and effective ecosystem…” resident Cheryl Lynn, who grew up near Polliwog, told the council in July 2014. “Being pro-green space does not make me anti-skate park.”

Backers of a location near Polliwog, as opposed to a Marine Park location, argued that a more centralized location would enjoy wider use, and that proximity to Manhattan Beach Middle School created crossover physical education opportunities. But the council, hesitant to disturb Polliwog, ultimately settled on a Marine Park location.

The selected location also has the benefit of not being surrounded by homes. Its northern boundary is the Manhattan Beach Studios Media Campus. Mark Leyman, Manhattan Beach’s parks and recreation director, said that there were preliminary talks with the campus to paint a mural on the studio wall facing the skate spot.

With a location selected, the next question became exactly what kind of skate park would be erected. Initial estimates ranged as high as 12,000 square feet, but gradually shrank to the more intimate 5,000-square-foot “skate spot.” Kanten Russell, a former professional skateboarder and skatepark design consultant, hosted a series of community meetings at which a dedicated crew of skaters gave their input on features they wanted to see.

Those comments helped guided the welders and concrete pourers who put the project together. Many of the spot’s features are relatively low to the ground to make maneuver attempts more inviting to the less-experienced.

“It’s targeted at beginner to intermediate skaters. Based on the feedback from the community, that’s what we thought was needed,” said Andrew Berg, a recreation supervisor with the city.

Far less diverting than imaging the park’s contours was finding a source of funding. The cost of a skate park was long a worry to the council. But in March of last year, the city received a $300,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District.

Under initial projections, this grant was enough to cover the entire cost of building the skate spot. But by last fall, it was apparent that cost overruns — owing in part to the high regional demand for specialized skate-park construction firms — would make that impossible. The city ultimately appropriated an additional $170,000 to complete the project, prompting complaints from Councilmember Mark Burton and Mayor Tony D’Errico.

“We had numerous discussions about this not costing taxpayers a penny,” D’Errico said. (Other councilmembers dismissed as specious the distinction between city funds and county funds, because both derive from resident tax dollars.)

The city had hoped to finish the project to coincide with retirement of termed-out L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe in December who, along with recently elected City Councilmember Steve Napolitano, helped obtain the open-space grant. But delays owing to the winter’s record-setting rain pushed back the project’s planned December completion date.

All this tangled history likely means little to those eager for another place to practice tricks. It’s not clear how heavy demand for the project will be, but with the skate spot finally completed, local skaters are eager for some variety.

Kolbee Hale and McKenna Hawkes were taking on the ramps and rails at the Hermosa Beach Skate Park Monday afternoon. The Mira Costa students, both Manhattan Beach residents, said they planned to add Manhattan’s skate spot to their rotation of parks.

“Yeah we’ll definitely go,” Hale said. “It’s something new, and it’s closer to where we live.”

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