By Matt Wiley
A warehouse lies in the industrial district of East Tampa, off Columbus Dr., not far from Ybor City. From the outside, it looks like just another building where some product is being mass-produced by machines. However, history is going down inside those walls, and young people were writing another chapter of that history on pieces of painted wood with four wheels during the 19th annual Tampa Am skateboarding contest at Skatepark of Tampa (SPoT) Dec. 6-9.
For 20 years, SPoT has been the center of the Tampa skateboarding scene, holding contests and giving kids, as well as seemingly grown (on the outside) men a spot to roll around and witness some incredible skating, especially during the annual Tampa Am and Tampa Pro contests, which draw some of the industry’s biggest names.
Before SPoT, the only place to skateboard — besides the streets, of course — was the “Bro Bowl,” a downhill, cement “gravity-bowl” located off Orange Ave. in downtown Tampa. Until recently, the “Bro Bowl” was surrounded by some of the most poverty-stricken housing projects in the city, and was a dangerous place to skate after dark. All of this changed, however, thanks to the work of Brian Schaefer, SPoT’s founder and owner.
“It was 1993 when we got the lease,” says Schaefer. “It’s been a crazy ride that’s created a ‘rad’ life for more than 20 people.”
Schaefer, 41, leased the park from a skeptical landlord when he was only 21. Now, he owns the property.
During the past 20 years, skateboarding has steadily increased in popularity. There now are more than ten skate parks in the Tampa Bay area, including a nice one right here in New Tampa — at the New Tampa Recreation Center on Commerce Park Blvd. in Tampa Palms. Team Pain, the same company that has rebuilt SPoT’s 18,000-sq.-ft. course each year for its annual contests, constructed the New Tampa skatepark.
The Winter Springs, FL-based-company has more than 30 years of experience building skateparks across the globe. While SPoT is an indoor park with a combination of wooden ramps and concrete ledges, the 14,200-sq.-ft. New Tampa skatepark is completely outdoors and made of smooth cement. Pads and a helmet also are required at the City-run New Tampa skatepark.
SPoT’s annual contests have made Tampa a sort of “mecca” for skateboarding and, each December, hundreds of skaters converge on SPoT, which is where I found myself during the finals of this year’s Tampa Am, working on a photo project for graduate school.
The contest began on Friday, but I wasn’t able to get down to the park until Sunday. Luckily, the contest was broadcast worldwide via webcast, so I was still able to catch a glimpse of the top skaters before I arrived. As the world watched, more than 140 skaters were narrowed down to 12 during the three-day contest.
But, I finally got to sweat it out, literally, with the hundreds in attendance during the finals and “Moat Race,” a SPoT tradition in which several spectators trudge through the muck that is the ditch in front of the park, as eggs, flour and even marinara sauce are hurled at them, each hoping to be the first to cross the finish line and win a box of free gear.
“The ‘Moat Race’ is one of the best parts about the contest, besides the open bar for the adults,” says Nic Cuniff, a skateboarder who drove nearly two hours from Cape Coral, FL, to watch the contest. “You’re actually allowed to throw eggs at people. But, it’s all in good fun. Kids sign up for it. They get really stoked for it.”
Congratulations to this year’s Tampa Am winner, 17-year-old Alec Majerus of Rochester, MN, and to SPoT (4215 E. Columbus Dr.), for 20 years of amazing skating and contests! Cheers to 20 more. For more information about SPoT and full results from the contest, please visit SkateparkofTampa.com.