By Jake Mooney
On a hot Sunday afternoon in July, while a few people lazed in the shade in some of the grassy parts of McIntire Park, the sun-baked concrete ramps and bowls of the new skate park were alive with action, right beside the humming traffic on the U.S. 250 Bypass.
Funded in part by musician Dave Matthews’ Bama Works fund and legendary skater Tony Hawk’s foundation, the $2 million park was the talk of central Virginia skating circles even before it opened in March—“Rad New Skate Park Comes to Charlottesville,” a headline in Richmond’s RVA magazine proclaimed last October—and both locals and not-so-locals have welcomed it with open arms and clattering wheels.
On this afternoon, the crowd had a distinctly regional flavor: Maryland singer-songwriter George Adamson and his band, passing through for a gig at The Garage downtown, were killing time in the park’s plaza-like upper section, while a loose-knit group from Richmond—they had traveled to town separately but knew each other from the skate scene —were taking turns shooting a long, curvy stretch toward the bigger ramps at the park’s lower level.
“We don’t have a park even one-fourth the size of this,” said 26-year-old Nathaniel Martin.
“All of the parks we have in Richmond, we had to fight to get,” 23-year-old Josh Francis added. “We had to do sit-ins.”
Martin, with high black socks and a curly mop of hair, said he has been coming to Charlottesville to skate whenever he can make it, and he described distinctions among the park’s users. “That’s vert; that’s like the old heads,” he said, pointing down towards the park’s steepest, swimming pool-style bowl.
The upper section, with a series of benches and railings to hop onto, is a big draw for newer, and younger, skaters—which can make sharing space tricky on busier days, Martin said.
Still, there was room enough for 4-year-old Jack Mihalek and his 3-year-old sister Lyla, both on scooters, who rolled through one edge of the park under the supervision of their dad, Andrew. Ever since his first visit to the park, for a friend’s birthday party, Jack has been asking to come back “quite a bit,” Andrew Mihalek said.
So far the big kids had been pretty respectful, he added. “I think for the most part it’s a culture of outcasts, outsiders,” he mused. “So if that’s the case, you’re never going to try to be the cool kids.”
Mihalek grew up in California around skate culture, and said he was heartened to see some “old guys” like him using the park. “You can tell their knees are not what they used to be, but they’re still out here grinding,” he said.
The generally inclusive vibe has produced some odd moments when groups intersect. “It’s interesting to see who’s more appalled—the skaters that the soccer moms are here, or the soccer moms that the skaters have their shirts off,” Mihalek said wryly.
One thing we can all agree on: Charlottesville’s new skate park is the place to be.