Ask Hank Biering how long he's been fighting for a skatepark in Charleston, and he'll tell you he's been doing it his whole life. With glasses tucked under his helmet and a gray beard, Biering stands apart from his fellow skaters — not because of his appearance, but because of his reputation. For 24 years, Biering has welcomed others into the skatepark in his backyard on Johns Island. Now, as he prepares to drop into the bowl on the opening day of Charleston's first official skatepark, he recognizes that this ride has been a long time coming.
"Now that they finally built us a park, I'm about done," Biering jokes. "Its amazing. Pour It Now and all the skaters who skate the bowl, we're the ones who raised the initial million. Then the city matched it. Of course, Joe Riley is the man. He took it over, got people to donate, put more money in from the city, and made it what it is — a $4.8 million park."
And that's exactly what it is. The new park at 1549 Oceanic St. on the Upper Peninsula features 32,500-square-feet of skateable terrain designed by Team Pain Skate Parks, including two bowls, a more than 200-foot-long snake run that funnels down into a 9-foot-deep pocket, and a 315-foot-long street course. It's a well-needed safe space for Charleston's skaters to ride. And that doesn't mean a place where riders are free from the worry of bumps, bruises, and whatever else comes along. No, while scrapes heal, the threat of legal trouble when skating is always a risk when open access to a skate park isn't an option.
Addressing the crowd at the opening of Charleston's new skatepark last week, Ryan Cockrell of Pour It Now, the organization that led the charge for a local skate park, reminded all those in attendance of the event that brought Charleston's skating community into the public eye.
In 2007, video of local skateboarder Corey Dowds being aggressively shoved by a local police officer at Waterfront Park gained national attention, but the concept of skaters facing major repercussions for grinding in public has barely faded from the public consciousness.
"He ended up on Good Morning America, on Diane Sawyer, making fun of the situation, making light of an assault. He didn't sue the city. He didn't want a bunch of money. He wanted a place to go skateboarding," said Cockrell during the new park's opening. "The situation with skateboarding is kids and adults wanted a place to skate so bad, and they had nowhere to go. So they skated in places they weren't supposed to. They built their own places to skate where they didn't belong. They got kicked out. And then they came back the next day and tried it again. That's what skateboarding is all about."
For Cockrell, the new park comes down to what is called "desire lines." It's a user-created path, in defiance of authority, Cockrell explains, like when a person notices a path worn between two intersecting sidewalks.
"When that happens, there are a couple of choices: What people are doing isn't malicious. It's the shortest path or the desire lines," he says. "When those two choices come up, you either enforce bad rules, or you choose to adopt the wisdom of the crowd or accommodate the desire lines. There was a well-worn path in Charleston with skateboarders' desire lines, and it came to a head 10 years ago."
Now, after the work of Charleston County Parks and Recreation, Team Pain Skate Parks, Pour It Now, Jenny and Michael Messner of the Speedwell Foundation, and the City of Charleston, a skate park in Charleston has become an actuality.
"We've been fighting and working for it a long time. It's epic that we got it. Especially for us old guys, if we had waited much longer, it might have been tough to be riding at this level," says 34-year veteran Jason Wagner, who has spent years riding in Biering's spot on Johns Island. "I mainly ride vertical stuff, so the big bowl is just epic. It's a complement to the bowl we ride out on Johns Island, so it's real nice to have the concrete version."
So, after 10 years, Charleston finally has a skatepark. The new park is open from 2-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on the weekend. Those looking for a place to ride BMX are able to show up on Tuesdays, when the park is closed to skaters. Everyone is required to wear a helmet and the fee to skate is $3 per person or $40 for an annual pass.
"It's pretty great because in Charleston, there's nowhere to really ride except the street. When you ride the streets, you get in trouble, so it's a big achievement to be supplied a place to ride where you can train and practice and do what you need to do," says Case Taylor, a 19-year-old BMX rider with three elbow surgeries under his sleeve.
Taylor has been riding for 10 years, just as long as the local park has been under development, and now he has a place to ride without the worry of legal repercussions. "I like the bowl. The middle bowl is really smooth," he says. "The big one is more skate focused. The snake run is pretty interesting, too, but I haven't had the chance to play on it."