by Andrew Garda
Quarter pipes, launch ramps, ledges, and flat bars filled the front circle of the Montclair High School George Innes Annex on Saturday, Oct. 26, for Free Skate Session Montclair.
The Montclair High School Skate Club and Skate Essex, who ran the event, were hoping for a strong turnout, and were rewarded by more than 200 attendees, including over 150 kids of all skill levels looking to skateboard.
The attendance, according to MHS Skate Club adviser Jamie Siwinski, just proves what those involved in the club and its push for a local skate park, have said all along.
“To show how many numbers there are of kids in the area that want to do this, that are interested in doing this, and [also] that this is really a family event.”
Along with skateboarding, there was food provided by Notorious BBQ, as well as raffle prizes from Underground Skate Shop, music and T-Shirts for sale. Local skateboarding organization Shred.co also helped run lessons for new skaters.
Skaters numbered in all age ranges and skill levels, and there were clearly many first time skaters as well. The MHS Skate Club had collected boards for first timers to use and very quickly realized they wouldn’t have enough.
“We must have had, in total, about 25 or thirty skateboards,” Siwinski said. “And people just showed up and started borrowing them. It’s amazing, I didn’t even think we’d need that many of them, but apparently we do and apparently there are that many people interested in skateboarding.”
Siwinski said that while numbers are down for many traditional sports, kids are still looking to stay active.
“Kids want to do things like this. They want individual sports.”
That’s something MHS junior Antonello Terrana has seen as well over the past year since he helped found the MHS Skate Club and then launched a petition on Change.org to build a local skate park. Numbers of attendees to MHS club gatherings average twenty kids right now, Terrana said, but can reach up to thirty.
“Basically, most of the kids in the club now are brand new, most are freshmen but theyre all really passionate about skateboarding, and getting skate park in Montclair,” he said.
Terrana said that the club has been lucky that the high school continues to be welcoming and open to the club using school property to skate, as there are no real places to do that in town.
They’re making progress since the petition started, though.
“It’s been going great, thanks to everyone’s help,” Terrana said. “Starting with the petition, that really helped show how many skateboarders there were, and now with the club showing these numbers, and this event. It just shows more and more just how many skateboarders there are in Montclair.”
Of course, the question now becomes, what does the town do with all these skaters?
Finding the right place is key, said Montclair Councilman Bob Russo.
“I go on record saying I support it. We just got to get the right spot,” he said. “When I was mayor we were trying to get this done and then the mayor after me tried and nobody could get this done. This time we’re going to get this done.”
Russo said he feels the difference this time is the efforts are more organized.
“There were concerns about noise and safety [at the time], but mostly they weren’t organized like this. You organize something, you get it done. I think we’ve got to do it. We’ve got to have good activities, positive things for kids.”
MHS Skate Club parent David Derrick said one of the hurdles skate park proponents face is the perception that if you build a skate park, someone is losing park space.
That’s not true, though, according to Derrick and Siwinski.
“It’s not a zero sum game,” said Derrick. “I think the perception of skateboarders has changed since the 1970s, but the perception of a skate park hasn’t. And those things really should be running in parallel.”
The other issue, according to Derrick, is what people think of when they picture a skate park.
“The perception is that we need a wooden thing that’s going to rot and be an eye sore and be a blight, but it doesn’t need to be like that,” he said.
As an example of what could be, Siwinski, Terrana and Derrick all point across the Atlantic to skate parks in Europe, which lean heavily on the idea of a multi-use space which is useful to both skaters and non-skaters alike.
Some parks in Europe even have skate-able art, Terrana said, an idea he really loves for his hometown.
“I really like how it looks. I think Montclair would be such a good town for that, mostly because Montclair is very gentrified and that would go in with how the town looks. Just a nice marble bench, somebody can eat lunch on it but also it can be skated.”
Siwinski agrees and feels that the portion of Rand Park next to the Annex is a great example of space which can and should be used in this manner.
“Right now, all the kids have lunch at the same time,” he explained. “They have no place to go, no place to sit, and they wind up sitting on the grass. Some on their backpacks. So, we proposed to Parks & Rec, what if we actually built some stadium seating that’s skate-able. Have art that is skate-able too, which they’re doing all over in Europe right now.”
Whatever the solution, the idea the group is promoting is about finding a way to embrace – and be embraced by – the town.
They are certainly embraced by local politicians, as along with Russo, Councilwoman Renee Baskerville and Mayor Robert Jackson were among the attendees. All three indicated support for the idea of a skate park and enthusiasm for what the skateboarding community is building.
“I need a shirt. How can I get a shirt?” Russo asked.
“Make a donation,” replied Baskerville. “A big donation. Build them a park.”