Josh McFadden, the manager of Charleston County’s massive new skate park on the upper peninsula, hopped around on crutches Wednesday night as lighting crews worked to make sure the place was as well-lit as a college football stadium.
A week earlier, the lifelong skateboarder broke his leg testing out the aptly named "pro bowl" on the edge of the park. It’s designed like a drained swimming pool – a crater of concrete that plunges to 11½ feet at its deepest point.
McFadden shrugged off the injury, switching the topic to the many top-notch features Sk8 Charleston will offer when it opens March 4. But without realizing it, the bright green cast wrapped from McFadden’s toes to his knee cap sends a clear message to the local skateboard community: this is no amateur skate park.
The state-of-the-art, $4.8 million facility spans 32,500 square feet of skate-able terrain overlooking the Ashley River. Its design was guided by input from local skaters who weighed in at meetings with the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission during the past five years.
It was then custom-built by Team Pain of Winter Springs, Fla., a globally recognized firm whose engineers are skateboarders themselves.
'A huge draw'
With the pro bowl, another 7-foot-deep intermediate bowl, a street course and a snake run (a course with hills and ramps), McFadden thinks Sk8 Charleston will lure skaters from across the region. The nearest park close to its size and variety of pro-level features is in Jacksonville, Fla.
“It’s an area in the Southeast that’s been lacking a skate park,” McFadden said. “It’s going to have a huge draw.”
Perhaps more importantly, it will serve as a hub for local skaters, one that will challenge them and push their limits in a way that no other park in the area can.
“I think we have a really strong skateboard scene and community, but we have lacked a centralized, public facility,” he said. “And I think with this central place, you will have all the different groups and cliques meeting at one spot and you will see an incredible progression of skill levels in the area.”
Skaters in Charleston seem to agree with that point, but many who have been pushing local authorities to make the project a reality for the past decade are disappointed with some of the rules that were made without their input.
Their main complaints are that helmets will be required on the premises at all times, and entry will cost $3 per visit, or $40 for an annual pass.
Common sense or unnecessary rule?
Adrienne Rhodes, 21, who lives downtown, skated at a city-owned park under the Interstate 26 overpass near Huger Street earlier this week with about 20 others. The park was cobbled together with makeshift ramps and rails by local skaters several years ago.
“It makes sense making like, kids wear helmets,” he said. “But none of the people that are here right now are going to wear one. It’s going to limit a lot of people.”
Ryan Cockrell, a founder of the skateboarder advocacy group Pour It Now, was one of the first people to go to local officials more than 10 years ago to point out the need for a major skate park in Charleston. His group was heavily involved in the Sk8 Charleston project up until a few years ago.
He said most successful skate parks around the world are set up like “at your own risk” parks, which have posted rules but are unsupervised, open 24 hours a day and are free to skate.
While local skaters offered input about almost every other aspect of the new park, Cockrell said the rules weren’t made with them in mind.
“If you’re somebody who has never been on a skateboard and you decide everybody has to wear a helmet because it looks dangerous, that’s where there’s a lot of resentment,” he said. “I don’t know why they (the commissioners) wanted to stop involving us. It was like once the builder was selected, they stopped needing us.”
A very expensive project
Some skaters at the park near Huger Street this week said they won’t go to Sk8 Charleston because of the rules.
McFadden, also a board member of Pour It Now, said requiring helmets is just common sense.
“I don’t think there’s a sound argument against wearing helmets,” he said. “You can injure other parts of your body that are not as important, but a shot to the head is going to leave lasting damage.”
The admission fees are also necessary, he said, but the price was set low to make the park as accessible as possible.
“It was a very expensive project, and I think an admission fee allows us to keep it up and maintain it,” he said.
McFadden said local skaters shouldn’t be under-appreciated for their role in making the park a reality, but he also credited the recreation commission with staying committed to the project. The project was delayed for a few years when federal highway officials rejected an earlier site under the new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
“I think you do have a very passionate, involved skateboard community,” he said. “But you also have an organization that was willing to step out on a limb for this and do something different.”
The grand opening of Sk8 Charleston at 1549 Oceanic St. will be held 1-10 p.m. March 4 and again March 11 to handle the volume of crowds expected. There will be live music, professional demonstrations, contests and more. For more information about the event and the park features, visit www.ccprc.com.