|by Eryn Moris / photographs by Peter DiAntoni
Melissa (Mel) Fleming started skateboarding last year, at 28 years old. After being drawn to it for most of her life, she finally put her fears aside and started practicing at 4 Seasons Skatepark in the Menomonee Valley last July. The kids in her neighborhood noticed her coming home with her skateboard and started asking her to bring them to the skatepark. She wanted to, but skateboards, helmets, pads, and admission to the skatepark cost money that neither she nor the parents of the children had.
Skateboarding: Past & Present in Milwaukee
I can hardly begin to tell you how disappointed my mother was when I hung up my softball cleats and picked up a skateboard. She just couldn’t understand why her daughter would want to spend her free time accumulating bumps and bruises, learning how to skateboard. And I was lucky. A friend’s father owned a warehouse in Racine and was kind enough to let us use a vacant bay to skateboard in. It was 1996, and kids who skated then spent their time skating from parking lot to parking lot, trying to avoid police but inevitably being issued multiple citations for skateboarding in public. The last wave of skateboarding had long ago crested, and when the tide went out in Milwaukee around 1993, it took the last legal place to skate, The Turf Skatepark, with it. For those of us who skateboard, it feels as though it has taken forever to start to climb out from underneath the stigma that has smothered the sport for so long. Over the past five years, skateboarding has experienced a new wave of popularity. “Now, since it’s so prevalent in the mainstream, when people see a skateboarder, they don’t get as scared anymore,” says Mike Beer, owner of Beer City Skateboards, a Milwaukee-based company that has been selling skateboard decks and accessories to people all over the world for ten years. “Before, a lot of times, older people or other people that weren’t as familiar with it would think, ‘Oh, those kids are up to no good.'” In the late 1990s, skateboarders, inline skaters, and BMX bikers organized to drum up community support for public facilities designed specifically for those activities, and skateparks began popping up all over the country. Neal Levin opened 4 Seasons Skatepark in the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee in 2000. “There was nothing here,” says Levin. Aaron Polansky has owned the Sky High skateboard shop in Greenfield since 1999. “When 4 Seasons happened, I saw tons more parents, because in their eyes, it legitimized it,” he says. “Before, skateboarding was just sort of done in the driveway, done in the street, done in the alley.” Other skate shops have seen more parents around as well. “Most of the parents that come in here are really interested that their kids have such an interest in something,” says Mark Zitzer, co-owner and manager of the Phase II skateboard shops, with four locations in Milwaukee and the surrounding areas. “It’s good to have parents involved, especially when it comes to skateparks and more organized things where a bunch of 15-year-olds can’t really go to the city and get something done.” Parents, schools, and communities have often joined forces to encourage and support children’s involvement in team sports. You can find a public baseball diamond, soccer field, or basketball court in just about every neighborhood, most of which are quite well maintained. In most areas there are organized after-school sports activities and summer recreation leagues, which benefit greatly from high levels of parental participation. Riverwest is fortunate to have places like COA Youth & Family Centers and the YMCA Holton Youth Center, but there is still very little collaboration and communication between parents on behalf of their children to promote recreational activities within our community…that’s where The Hot Boards comes in.
If you are the parent of a child or if you know of a child who could benefit from the Hot Boards program, please contact Mel Fleming at . The Hot Boards has a Recycle-a-Board program and is accepting donations of used skateboards and protective equipment at all Phase II locations: Sky High, Seasons, and UPROC. If you would like to donate to or become involved with The Hot Boards, please check out thehotboards.org, or email Mel.