Unique terrain, laid-back vibe distinguish local skateboarding scene
Summer in Western New York is a time when many leave their cars behind and instead choose to walk, rollerblade, and ride their bikes and skateboards. The local skateboarding scene has carved out a niche that distinguishes itself from other parts of the country.
The sound of wheels rolling down the sidewalk gets skateboarders of all ages excited to break out their boards. Some people use skateboards for warmer weather transportation or for recreation, but skateboarding is more of a lifestyle.
In recent years, four skate parks have popped up in the region, with a fifth currently underway. The Alix Rice Memorial Peace Park should be finished by late summer, according to advocate Bob Knab.
“It’s going to be a little more what you would see typically if you went out west to California where there is a lot more bowls, more of a flowing park. It’s going to be some street features. What will really make this park different is that it’s going to be one of the only parks in Buffalo that has these rounded bowls and kidney-shaped bowls that you can skate in and skate around. A lot of fun," said Knab, who has owned Phatman Boardshop in Tonawanda for eight years.
Buffalo's skate culture has a street-oriented feel, where people are often cruising streets, parking lots, and hopping up on curbs and rails.
“The park is there for the community and to give a lot of children and a lot of grownups, kids of all ages, a place to go safely skate without obstructing traffic, giving them a place to go and have a sport that they enjoy to do other than maybe team sports. Not all kids are into team sports and showing up at practice every week,” said Knab.
J.P. Gillespie, who owns Sunday Board Shop in Buffalo, agrees that skate culture is geared towards the street, but he says the city has a lot to be proud of besides providing safe places to skate. Filmmakers and popular skate publications have made their way to Buffalo.
“They would come to Buffalo to to try to find unique skate spots that are yet to be seen in videos nationally or worldwide and to see pros come to Buffalo made me realize that there is a value here,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie says unlike other places he has visited, Buffalo is unique because skate spots are discovered, then built. Find an interesting spot to skate? Grab a friend and build it yourself out of cement and concrete boards.
Even local resident Joshua Fritz, who has been skating for 11 years, says you can get around the city anywhere on a skateboard, but with some bumps along the way.
“The skate culture in Buffalo is a little bit more challenging, partly due to the age of our city. A lot of the design features are very complex and complicated to get around in order to get to the rail or stair set we are actually trying to go over,” said Fritz.
Gillespie, who as a child was raised with an older brother by a single mom, says skateboarding was a "loner" activity he could do without feeling like the weakest kid picked last for organized sport teams.
“Because skateboarding casts such a strange net, there are so many artists, storytellers and people who have overcome things like birth defects. There’s this one guy, Og De, and he’s from Brazil, he has legs that don’t function. He has to skateboard sitting down and he’ll enter pro contests with no legs, and when you see it, it’s like, phew,” he added.
Skateboarding is also now an Olympic sport, having been added to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo
Fritz says skate culture in Buffalo is laid back and for a diverse crowd. Out west, people aim to launch a skate group, a brand, or become a professional. But that's not the case here.
“We take what the world is doing and turn it into something unique for us. Skating in Buffalo is competitive, yes, but it’s not about being the best, it’s about having fun, and that’s what I think is the coolest about Buffalo skating right now.”