ENCINITAS — It was once rare to spot young people at Encinitas City Council meetings. That was until skateboarders showed up.
Take a council meeting in early July. Council members were due to vote on whether to approve a 44-acre community park, along with an attached skatepark. But there were whisperings the skatepark might not be included as part of the community park because of a lack of funding.
In response, 26-year-old Thomas Barker, a spokesman of sorts for the local skateboarding community, helped rally almost two-dozen skateboarders, most ranging from 10 to 25 years old, to the meeting. Two hours into the meeting, Barker took to the podium and addressed the council members.
“There are many schools and towns that are good to skate across America and the world, but what has made this city historic, what has made us special, is our community and the people who live here,” said Barker in a speech that drew the loudest applause of the night.
A few hours later, council members gave the community park, skatepark included, the green light. Barker was thrilled. He’d been pushing for a full-blown public skate park in Encinitas for upwards of 10 years.
“What some people might not realize is that there are very few places in Encinitas to skateboard,” Barker said several weeks later. “There’s a disconnect — we have so many skateboarders but nowhere to go.”
Local skateboarders’ options? There’s a small skatepark in Leucadia, which received a mention in a Thrasher Magazine article looking at the most poorly designed skatepark sections in the world. Barker said he appreciates the Leucadia skatepark, but noted “we’ve skated every inch of it.”
Skateboarders have praised the skatepark at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA; however, there’s a fee to use it and it’s often filled to capacity.
“You wouldn’t only have one baseball or soccer field for all the baseball and soccer players in Encinitas,” said Barker, who grew up in Encinitas and is wrapping up two programs at UC San Diego Extension.
Other than skateparks, skateboarders can try their hand at skating parking lots, schools and businesses. Of course, the cops usually aren’t too far behind.
A decade ago, skateboarders gathered en masse and set up rails at Moonlight Beach, a time Barker called “the golden age.” But due to noise complaints, skateboarding was eventually banned there.
“Hundreds of kids would get together and you would see everyone,” Barker said. “Above all, it showed the power of the skateboard community and kept kids out of trouble.”
Leucadia’s skatepark was supposed to accommodate the skateboarders who had been kicked out of Moonlight Beach. To skateboarders’ chagrin, only a fraction of the original design for the Leucadia skatepark was built, Barker said. And the Encinitas Community Park, with the skatepark attached, kept getting delayed.
On top of everything else, Jeff King, a ramp builder and fixture in the skateboard community, moved away. King was the first to put together rails and round up skateboarders at Moonlight Beach. He also led efforts to build a local skatepark for nearly 10 years. With him gone, the skatepark movement was rudderless.
Barker, who said he used to be “a bit apathetic” and “in the skateboard bubble,” decided to pick up the slack. It helps, he said, that he learned a lot from history and political science classes he took in college.
Barker created a Facebook page that currently has more than 2,300 “likes” as one of his first orders of business. With the Facebook page, he continually updated skateboarders about the status of the proposed park and encouraged them to attend relevant council meetings and design workshops.
“The Facebook page definitely kept me in the loop,” said 23-year-old Anthony Meier. “It was a good reminder to go to the meetings and make our voices heard.”
Offline, Barker passed out flyers with meeting dates at skateboard shops like McGill’s and constantly met with city officials. Skateboarders’ dedication paid off early in the design meetings for the skatepark, Barker said.
“The city was receptive, took our suggestions and changed the park to fit our vision,” Barker said. “With all the young kids, I think it sent a powerful message — that council will work with you if you’re passionate.”
When the city announced it was going out to bid for the community park this spring, there was a real chance the skatepark could have been passed up due to funding shortages, Barker said. He stepped up his involvement, informing everyone council would soon vote on the skatepark.
J.T. Pulford, who used to be a pro skateboarder and just launched a startup business, said people are willing to listen to Barker because his tone is “always polite and respectful.”
“Some are bitter since we’re overdue for a skatepark,” Pulford said. “He’s been positive throughout. We’re very proud of him.”
“We’re skateboarders, we’re going to try something 50 times,” he added. “Even if we keep falling down, we’ll get back up and nail it.”
The skatepark is scheduled to debut to the public at the end of 2013. Barker can’t wait, calling the design “amazing.” Local skateboarders more than earned it, he said.
“We grow up here, we stay here, we love it here, and it was bound to happen that we would start taking account for the community,” Barker said.
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