Daily Grind: Skateboarding around Tuscaloosa
Skateboarding was a major staple of the 1990s, with professionals like Tony Hawk bringing the sport to a mainstream level. But with the changing times, skateboards and longboards are now mostly used to travel distance rather than do tricks. For many UA students, like Williams, moving across campus has become as simple as standing on a board and making that first push to gain speed.
Williams, a senior majoring in physics, has been skating ever since he was 10 years old. He spent a portion of his youth teaching himself the ins and outs of skateboarding, but not without a few missteps.
“I just got on one day and kept busting my ass and wanted to stop, but I was like, ‘I can do this,’ ” Williams said. “I started doing it with my friend outside of my church. I would try little street tricks like flipping the board this way and that, just trying to see if I could stay balanced ... It’s a lot more than people give it credit for.”
Williams currently rides on a longboard he ordered online. With no skateboard shop in Tuscaloosa, he turned to MuirSkate, an online business he’s trusted for years. Though the original cost of his current board was around $150, Williams estimated that with repairs, the total price has doubled over the years.
While he would like to support local business, the only options for parts come from major chain stores such as Walmart or Target. Williams said while these places offer parts that would fix his board if it ever needed a repair, he doesn’t know which store to trust when purchasing parts, which caused him to turn toward online alternatives.
“You’re in denial for a while, and you refuse to buy stuff because you’re like, ‘Oh, we can rough it!’ ” Williams said. “Then eventually when you figure out you have to buy something, you just order it, because there’s no shop that I know of that’s anywhere close to here.”
Though not his specialty, Warren Myers, the owner of VeloCity Pro Cycles, has seen skateboarders in on occasion, looking for smaller parts.
“We had a student bring in skates last week; their wheel had come off and they were some inline skates, and we were able to repair it for them,” Myers said. “We very rarely see that. The wheel bearings, we can work on, but the parts aren’t things we can typically get, so they usually have to go through the manufacturer.”
Williams’ first board cost around $100, lasting him several years before finally being retired. One of his old boards currently hangs on the wall of his bedroom, as a reminder of past experiences.
One of his fondest experiences on a board came from a falling out with a friend during a party. Hungover, Williams left early and skated over a mile and a half back to his apartment, exploring the nightlife of Tuscaloosa in the process.
With Williams living in Bryce Lawn Apartments, getting around campus and back home takes only a few minutes. Since he doesn’t have a car, Williams depends on his board to get him to and from work.
Though Williams uses his board to move around campus, he also skates recreationally, searching for spots on campus to relax and ride around.
“There are places on campus that give you that feeling like you’re in your own little world,” Williams said. “Just somewhere that’s smooth, somewhat secluded, like a parking deck or something like that. It’s really fun to skate through a town-like place and have a good time.”
Issac Dismuke, a senior majoring in anthropology and Spanish, also spends time skating around campus, looking for the right place to ride. With recent changes by the University requiring skateboarders to ride on sidewalks, skateboarding on campus has changed.
“When I first started, it was excellent, but now they’re making us ride on the sidewalks, and that’s not nearly as comfortable – it’s harder,” Dismuke said. “It’s more dangerous. I don’t have as much space or freedom, so now it’s really less enjoyable. Originally, we would come up here on the weekends even and skate on campus no problem. Now we have to go to the skate park or something, but riding on campus, if you ride on the road, it’s amazing and really relaxing. But on the sidewalks, it’s really choppy and not that pleasant, honestly.”
Dismuke rides a shorter board, measuring only 27 inches, known as a Penny board. With only his friends to teach him the basics, Dismuke has been skateboarding for three years. When he was younger, he would ski and snowboard, which made his transition to a longboard feel natural.
Despite using his board nearly every day, he said that the surrounding culture of a “skater” wasn’t for him, due to using his board primarily to move distance rather than do tricks.
“I definitely feel like there’s a culture around it, but I wouldn’t consider myself in that culture or part of it,” Dismuke said. “I’m not a ’skater guy.’ I mean, I’m wearing khakis. I don’t dress like that; I don’t really talk like that.”
There is a skate park in Tuscaloosa, known as Palmore Park. Though it is open to all, its distance from campus on Fosters Ferry Road makes it hard to visit for those without a source of transportation, leaving skaters like Williams with only the streets of Tuscaloosa to ride on.
“When I go to the skate park, I’m kinda out of the loop, like those kids are real skaters,” Dismuke said. “They do the tricks and all that kind of stuff. I just cruise and relax and use it for transportation.”
Myers said that there also exists a paved path on the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk, allowing skaters to ride freely. Myers also frequents trails and other roads such as Sanders Ferry Road and Lake Lurleen, though the trails are focused more toward bikes.
Despite the lack of shops and reliable places to ride, Williams remains optimistic, encouraging others to ride.
“It’s just like life,” Williams said. “Yeah, you’re probably gonna fall, and it’s probably gonna hurt a lot, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try anyway. It’s a fun thing to do. You feel free when you step on it. When I tell people how I ride, it’s like, step one: relax. Step two: keep relaxing. That’s all there is to it.”