What Are You Doing With Your Life?

30 years later, Cleveland's skateboarders are the city's best hope

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"I really enjoy the culture of the sport," says Sarah Hamila, a Westlake mom whose two boys have participated in lessons through PSG for several years. Her husband Rich is a former skater. "It's an easy way for my kids to do something physical and push themselves. It's a very independent, challenge-yourself kind of sport."

Skateboard parks like Lakewood's contribute to neighborhood redevelopment, says Frantz. He cites examples such as Louisville, Kentucky, which built a downtown park more than a decade ago and saw property values rise in the area.

"I remember going to skateboard in downtown Louisville and seeing the office workers come outside to eat their lunches and watch us skateboard in the park," says Frantz. "That was an amazing experience. It was one of the first times I felt normal."

Lakewood's skate park is a testament to how far Cleveland's skateboarding scene has come since clashes with cops were common over skating in the street. It's also a model for how other cities in Northeast Ohio can embrace skateboarding and use it as a tool to revitalize their neighborhoods.

In addition to the lessons they provide to elementary schoolkids in Lakewood and other cities, PSG is organizing skateboarders in Cleveland neighborhoods. Frantz and Garrison know many of the grassroots, DIY spots where young skaters like to go — like the homemade ramp in the shadow of a boarded-up building at West 110th and Detroit — and they frequent them to talk to kids about the scene.

PSG also tries to ensure that young skaters are at the table when parks are being planned. That's how a skateboarding path came to be incorporated into Zone Recreation Center, part of a $1.5 million makeover at the facility in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.

"There are people with master's degrees trying to engage youth, but we're just doing it," says Garrison. "The punk thing to do now is to turn textbook community organizing on its head and tell young skaters they can prove a point without hurting themselves."

As new skate parks continue to pop up — there are some 32 across Northeast Ohio, based on PSG estimates — Frantz knows that many skaters still scoff at the notion of sanctioning the sport over the raw thrill of street skating. He and Garrison hope to reach some of them without co-opting or corporatizing the creative, punk spirit that's always infused the culture.

As they prepare to celebrate groundbreakings for new parks across Cleveland, they're also working to keep the local scene authentic, building it up one skater at a time.

"The edge of skateboarding is always moving, but it's still a ticket out," says Frantz.

"It's still a rebellious sport, but now it's a more strategic kind of rebellion," adds Garrison. "We're still rebels, but more against people who tell us what we're doing is impossible."

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