Russ Conte stands with his fingers clawed into the fence surrounding Forest Park’s new skate park. He might look like a father casually watching his son attempt a 360 kickflip, but the truth of the matter is that none of the participating kids are his. Rather it is Conte’s first time at the park and he is eyeing it as a possible place where he can practice his snowboarding techniques during the summer months.
Skateboard fans run the gamut in age. The craze triggered in small part by skateboard hero Marty McFly in 1985’s Back to the Future influenced teens of that era. Those ’80s teens are now nearing forty years of age. So it is very possible that fathers and sons could be side by side on Forest Park’s quarter pipes. (If you don’t know the lingo, a quarter pipe is your basic ramp.)
Of course, current teens would be more influenced by 2001’s Dogtown and Z Boys than by Michael J. Fox. “Get it. Rent it. Borrow it. Steal it. Whatever you have to do,” said Conte of that apparently must-see DVD.
But with either movie the effect is the same”rampant ramp enthusiasm, which means that basketball courts are being torn down so that dogs can play in dog parks and Dogtown fan skateboarders can skate in skate parks.
The basketball players of Forest Park are saying, “How about me?” But in the meantime the skateboarders are in a state of ecstasy.
One of those pleased skateboarders is Julian Izaguirre, the skater Conte says is the best of all of the eight or nine skaters he saw at the park. Seventeen-year-old Izaguirre, dressed in camouflage shorts and a T-shirt, has been skating for three-and-a-half years and would like to go professional in the future.
But the reality, he says, is that it takes about a decade of dedication to the sport in order to be good enough to go pro. After all Tony Hawk, arguably the best skateboarder in the world, started skating when he was ten. So Izaguirre has awhile to go. But for now Conte sees him as the best of those at the park that day.
Izaguirre, though, says that the best local skater he has seen is Dan Brchota, a skater Izaguirre says has a good style, is consistent, and is “always on point with his tricks.”
The rest of the skaters that day are not as consistent. Most are much younger than Izaguirre, looking more elementary school age than Izaguirre’s high school age.
And they try everything. One kid eyes up a ramp called “the spine,” probably the most dangerous looking of all of the ramps at the park; it looks like an upside-down V. The youth studies it, rubs his skateboard against it with his hand, crouches down and touches the spine’s edge, almost as if he’s doing a basic physics lesson in his head. But he doesn’t try it.
Another kid the same age does challenge “the spine.” He fails. He tries again. Fails. Again. Fails. This is what skateboarding is about”attempt and failure, until the holy of holies happens and the trick is mastered. For now, though, the skaters were falling on elbows, knees, sides. And falling hard. The sheer resiliency was staggering. Falls that would have sent some to the health care center were boyishly ignored, bounced back from as if they were non-events.
Despite this seeming inability to feel pain, Conte is still concerned, saying of the kids, “They’re kind of dumb not having protective equipment on.” A sign behind Conte reads, “CAUTION”Skateboarding and Inline Skating are high risk recreational activities with inherent risks of serious injury.” Conte says he himself wears full protective gear when he inline skates.
But this is not to say that Conte is against the park. He points out how important it is to give the kids alternatives, to keep them off of drugs, and to help them see the world from different perspectives.
There is a truth there. The kids are at all different angles”high up at the top of ramps, standing on the ground, and even decked out from falls. There is also a smooth multiculturalism to the group of boys in their Jordan and Chicago and plain white T-shirts.
Father Brian Sullivan is adamant about the benefits of the skate park, saying that his son Danny loves it. “He goes from when it opens ’til it closes,” says Sullivan, “He skates over there, just loves it.” Sullivan also agrees though that safety is an issue, stating, “Two kids got hurt over there pretty bad though.”
Forest Park Police Department Officer Scott McClintock, however, said “I couldn’t tell you of any injuries over there.”
McClintock has an interesting connection to the skate park, being a former skateboarder himself. He talks of how his parents had to drive him to Milwaukee so that he could skate when he was a kid. “To have communities build skate parks, it’s awesome,” says McClintock. He adds, “They’re centralized and [the skaters are] not going to damage any property.”
Amateur boarder and Berwyn resident Andrew Ortiz agrees. Prior to the opening of the skate park, he frequented locations that the police patrolled, locations where they would confiscate your skateboard and even hand out tickets. Two favorite local spots were a hospital and Garfield School at 543 Hannah Ave. Garfield in particular was popular as “the stairs are awesome,” said Ortiz.
But the police would inevitably kick them out causing rifts between the youth and the officers. The skate park helps to alleviate that rift. That fact alone may make the money the park district spent on the park worthwhile in the eyes of Forest Parkers.