Ramping Up 

Richmond skateboarders search for balance between rebellion and acceptance.

click to enlarge Deon Hawkins, an 18-year-old from Varina, enjoys Treasure Island Community Skatepark near Texas Beach, which the city has allowed skateboarders to use while it works on permanent plans for the property.

Scott Elmquist

Deon Hawkins, an 18-year-old from Varina, enjoys Treasure Island Community Skatepark near Texas Beach, which the city has allowed skateboarders to use while it works on permanent plans for the property.

At the east end of New York Avenue, just past the alley on your right, you'll find Treasure Island Community Skatepark. Tazewell Kiser sits next to a ramp labeled Freaky Dudes, his chest tattoos baking in the late-afternoon sun.

"Not everybody can fit in," Tazewell says. "This is for the misfits. You're accepted here, as long as you're positive."

The 37-year-old has been skating for about 30 years. Enough to see a pattern play out in Richmond time and again: Skateboarders find some disused spot, make it home, and sooner or later watch it shut down by authorities who consider them a nuisance.

But Treasure Island, which began as just another abandoned concrete slab turned makeshift skate park, has enjoyed a unique reprieve. The city owns this once-trash-laden empty lot and has allowed the skateboarders to continue using it, makeshift ramps and all, while it figures out permanent plans. Those include a city-sanctioned skate park and community garden.

It would be the city's second such park, following the installation of a skateboarding area at Carter Jones Park last year — an effort that initially clashed with the makers of an improvised spot. Tazewell says that after decades of conflict, it seems that skateboarders and the authorities are moving toward mutual acceptance.

"People want to see kids doing things instead of drugs and alcohol," Tazewell says. "It's a rebel sport, but it's positive. You're using your mind."

The six-month-old Richmond Area Skateboard Alliance, led by Kenny Shafer, was formed to push the city for more skateboarding initiatives. After Shafer's group raised $1,000 for a cleanup at Treasure Island earlier this year, he's started working with the city to transition it into an official park.

"You've got a mix of different folks who want different things," Shafer says of the group. "What we all want are things that are built right."

To local skateboarders, that means recycling and reusing found objects, such as an old water-park slide dragged to Treasure Island, to keep things interesting. The city's definition of built right is more safety oriented, such as at Carter Jones, which is dominated by concrete ramps and immovable rails.

The skateboard alliance aims to keep more of the improvised feel at Treasure Island that what the city allowed with Carter Jones. While Shafer is quick to praise the city's parks and recreation department for building the skate park, he says reviews are mixed. Treasure Island fans say Carter Jones Park, with its lack of graffiti and makeshift equipment, just isn't as fun.

But fun brings its own challenges. Jamal Jones, a grad student and father, says Treasure Island is a little too rugged. He doesn't have time for kicking up rusty nails in his board when he finds a few spare hours to skate, which means he prefers Carter Jones' predictability.

"It's a blessing and a curse," Jones says of the city-outfitted park. "It's so planted, you lose a little creativity. This skate park looks like any other. Treasure Island — that's Richmond."

Shafer says the goal of his alliance is to keep the park as authentic as possible, even as it transitions from an off-the-map adventure into the city's official park roster.

The city is working with the alliance on a proposal for the property, a parks and recreation department spokeswoman says, but exact plans aren't ready and there's no timeline for implementation.

And while some worry that the city's involvement could ruin a great spot, Shafer says community participation will prevent that even if the ramp made out of an old water-park slide can't stay.

"There's an element of skateboarders that are always going to be about the streets and have an anti-authoritarian bent, and I totally get it," Shafer says. "It never leaves me, no matter how old I get. But for the longest time there hasn't been that relationship, and there's tons of skateboarding going on in this city." S

An earlier version of this story misspelled some of the graffiti at Treasure Island.

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