Photo by Zach Baker
It is no secret that we spend an inordinate amount of time in caged in, flat spaces. And it is no secret — as much as we may try to glamorize it — that it gets old after a while. With open road season in the northeast coming to a close, we hit I-95 one last time this fall. Except rather than going to surefire crutches like Eggs or Pulaski, we aimed for something a little different, and a little less…flat. We loaded up the three or five people in the crew adequately versed in skating transition for an atypical QS journey. We went to concrete skateparks, and ended up leaving something permanent behind us in the end (more on that later.)
The concrete skatepark is a relatively new phenomenon in New York. Sure, Owl’s Head has been there for a decade-and-a-half, but the recent surge in parks popping up everywhere is only ~five years old. It also came after we spent much of the 2000s languishing in pre-fab purgatory. Even then, if you heard some of the stories from people tasked with negotiating the skaters’ side in building a park, you’d want to strangle yourself with the red tape. We have one of the three largest city economies in the world; the level of bureaucracy that comes with each one we’re fortunate enough to have is unparalleled. Hopefully, the stadium-lit volleyball courts out on Tribeca piers have an easier time getting built…
Filmed by Johnny Wilson & Max Palmer. Alternate YouTube link.
New England embraced outdoor and public concrete parks long before we did. That’s mostly due to two people: Sloppy Sam, who founded Breaking Ground Skateparks, and Jeff Paprocki, who now owns Paprocki Concrete & Masonry. Both of them navigated the laws and public works departments that vary between every New England town to create much of the vast network of parks that exists up there today. Once you stop by Frank Pepe’s in New Haven and make it into the eastern half of Connecticut, it’s possible to spend the day hitting three or four unique parks, all thanks to these dudes. They aren’t “D.I.Y.” creations in the grey understanding that we have of that phrase, but it’s obvious they wouldn’t exist without the saintly proactive efforts of a few individuals. “It’s all about knowing the right person to talk to.” And also having the right crew around you.
Breaking Ground was born after Sam helped Airspeed Skateparks build the park in Newburyport, Massachusetts, which was one of the first of its breed. His first park was in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and after gaining some goodwill throughout New England, many others followed suit. One of Breaking Ground’s crown jewels was Providence Park (the last stop on our journey), which almost bankrupted the company as he couldn’t stand the idea of having anything less than great in his own backyard. It ended up becoming one of the most high-use public spaces in all of Providence, yielding an increasing reality that many cities are only now beginning to address: we need more space for skateboarding that you’re going to leave us alone in. A lot more.
Photo by Zach Baker
When Breaking Ground was sold in 2011, the terms of the sale required a $10,000 donation to the skatepark in Groton, Connecticut (where Brian Anderson and Donny Barley are originally from.) Groton happens to be the closest of these parks to New York. For risk-potential reasons (it’s very very far from “mellow”), everyone advised that we visit it last on our trip. For geographic reasons, it was our first stop.
Through word-of-mouth and a familial knowledge of concrete work, Jeff Paprocki got hired by the city of Groton to build a skatepark on a wasteland of an asphalt slab in 1999. It became a jumping off point for cities to hire him as a town employee and build parks. His work is why we have places like Willimantic and Plainfield in the New England concrete circuit today. He has also taken up the reigns on adding to existing Breaking Ground creations like White Rock in Westerly, Rhode Island, where local fundraisers yield enough funds to add to the original framework of the park, modifying it and freshening up the park’s flow.
Young Will, our tour guide on this journey, told us that Paprocki had a life goal that involved a dozen parks within an hour from his house. He fulfilled it.
Part two tomorrow. Thanks to Levi’s Skateboarding for the support.