Skateboarders Jeremy Fox (left), Michelle Kitchens, and Joey Specht at the Cottonwood Shores Skatepark at the corner of Maple Lane and Brookwood Drive. For these three enthusiasts, skateboarding is a means of expression. Staff photo by David Bean
Skateboarding is an art for 26-year-old Jeremy Fox of Marble Falls. He believes each new ride offers skaters a blank canvas to color with their own jumps and tricks. Skaters have the freedom to add flair to maneuvers, embellishing them with arm, leg, and body position as they fly through the air.
“There are no rules in skateboarding,” said Fox, who climbed onto his first board when he was 13. “You can take it as far as your imagination will take you. It’s individual expression.”
Skateboarding became popular in the 1950s as a way for surfers to practice during bad weather. It went mainstream in the 1970s and ’80s when polyurethane wheels were developed, improving traction and resiliency. The sport gained even more mainstream credibility when professional skaters such as Tony Hawk were regularly featured in the highly televised X Games.
Skateboarding became its own counterculture, embracing individualism and laissez faire attitudes as well as a clothing style, including shoes, tube socks, and branded T-shirts, hats, and backpacks. Skate shops opened in shopping malls across the country, and skaters were able to build their own unique boards.
This year, skateboarding will be an official sport for the first time in the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, a move that has elicited mixed feelings from some local skaters.
“I’ve always been told the best skateboarder is the one having the most fun, so making it a regimented, judged sport seems a little wrong,” shrugged 29-year-old skater Joey Specht of Marble Falls “But it’s patriotic, right? So people who want the U.S. to win will be cheering for skateboarding, even if they usually wouldn’t.”
The popularity of skateboarding has fluctuated over the years. In fact, in the 1990s, skateboarding was thought of as a hobby for social rejects, according to Specht. Cities passed laws restricting where skaters could ride without providing alternatives. He recalls being chased off sidewalks because skateboarding there was illegal.
Despite having few places to ride, the sport meant enough to skateboarders to pursue it where and when they could, like in abandoned swimming pools, which eventually led to the development of bowl-style skating.
In Marble Falls, a group of adults concerned about the lack of creative outlets for teens got together in 2004 to form what eventually became the Highland Lakes Skatepark Association.
Donylle Green Seals, Christine Hawkins, Lori and Randy Rudman, Jon Weems, and others rallied behind a group of young skateboarders who wanted the city of Marble Falls to build a skatepark. Seals believed a skatepark was necessary after seeing her friend’s children resort to skating in dangerous areas to avoid being hassled by authorities.
“There is a quote that says, ‘If your city doesn’t have a skatepark, it will become one,’ meaning that if you dedicate a place to skateboarders, it preserves elements of the city and is ultimately safer for them because they will go there,” Seals said.
The group began meeting with the Marble Falls City Council to advocate for a park, fundraising when they could, and pursuing grant funding. After six years of work, the Falls Creek Skatepark, a 12,000-square-foot concrete and granite park at 900 Yett St., was built in 2010.
The city provided the land for the park while the association took care of funding. It received grants through the Lower Colorado River Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to supplement the funds members raised on their own. Seals said the biggest win for her was how involved the kids got, taking true ownership of the park.
“(The skatepark) is a space where, on their own terms, young people can put their mind toward something,” Seals said. “There’s a lot of personal development and confidence that comes from that.”
Fox was one of the skateboarders who advocated for the park. Although he was only involved in the last two years of the project, he feels proud of the group’s success.
“The city used to think very low of the skaters around town, but with (Seals’) help and the kids getting more involved in the city meetings, we bridged that gap a little,” he said.
The association has since dissolved, but its impact lives on as Highland Lakes skateboarders continue to advocate for the sport.
Recently, skateboarders like Specht and his girlfriend, Michelle Kitchens, 28, helped organize a community cleanup at the bowl-shaped skatepark in Cottonwood Shores after instances of vandalism and underage drinking led city officials to turn off the night lights.
Members of the local skateboarding community met with Cottonwood Shores officials in an attempt to make it known that skateboarding offers people a sense of belonging and community.
“You’re always making new friends wherever you go,” Kitchens said. “You go to a new bowl, a new park, and you’ve got new people to skate with.”
After seeing the skateboarding community’s dedication, Cottonwood Shores officials agreed to keep the lights on for longer periods of time to ensure positive skating conditions.
The impact of skateboarding is evident in the Highland Lakes and continues to better the lives of people young and old. Fox credits the sport with helping him overcome his battles with substance abuse.
“Skateboarding changed my life, or saved my life really,” he said. “I’ve struggled with addiction for years, and after my dad passed away, I started to get bad. I had to stop and look around and realize it’s not what my dad would’ve wanted, so I focused on skateboarding every day. I’ve been clean for years now.”
Like many skateboarders, Fox, Specht, and Kitchens can’t imagine retiring their boards anytime soon, speculating they’ll remain part of the skateboarding community until they’re no longer able to ride.
“Skateboarding is more than just a sport,” Specht said. “It’s self-expression, it’s creativity, and it’s the ultimate freedom.”