Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 30, 2010

Skateboard Paradise

Note: See end of post for an update on the status of the Skatepark, which is closed as of May 2017.

The Harbor Freeway makes nearly a straight line south from downtown Los Angeles to San Pedro and the Port of Los Angeles. If you’re from some other state, you might call it Interstate 110, or if you’re from some other part of California, The One-Ten, but in L.A., where freeways have names, it’s The Harbor Freeway.

Los Angeles, like other coastal towns, is a place where freeways actually end, because they run out of continent to cross; oceans have a way of stopping even interstate highways. As you drive over the last few miles of the Harbor Freeway before it ends at Gaffey Street in San Pedro, you look eastward into the massive world of the Port of Los Angeles, spiny with huge gantries that hold the cranes for unloading ships. The land is entirely paved for vast truck assembly points and dozens of acres of land stacked with shipping containers. On weekends, you see the big white cruise ships moored just under the soaring arch of California’s third-largest suspension bridge, the Vincent-Thomas. Less than a mile from the end of the freeway, you pass without noticing it over little Channel Street.

Unless you’re a devotee of skateboarding or a reader of Thrasher or other skate-world pubs, you would never know what’s immediately under the elevated freeway you’re driving on. Channel Street funnels workaday traffic to and from the port and the nearby freeway ramp. It’s a busy little corridor and the nearby businesses are bare-bones: gas stations, donut shop, smog certification stations, auto repair, hamburger grills, a DMV, lumber yard, and so on. The San Pedro Public Gardens I wrote about recently are just a few hundred yards away (CLICK HERE for that post).

Beneath the overpass is a big paved area: a familiar kind of waste area in most urban settings. There, in 2002, local skateboard enthusiasts built a homemade quarter-pipe. The place caught on, they kept building (without any approvals or official permits), and with lots of dedication and volunteer labor, the Channel Street Skatepark now boasts three bodacious “wells”: curvilinear, swooping shapes that make even a non-boarder like me harbor thoughts of soaring up the side and grinding along the edge.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3328 (640x516)

After years of driving past the place, I finally stopped to see this alternate universe. I didn’t see guys swooping up into the air spinning 540s or 360s, but some of them were pretty good. I can’t even stand upright on a board and am no judge of ability, but they were doing okay by me. I know that were I to try it, I’d be an instant master of the reverse 90, which consists of flipping backwards from vertical to horizontal, first contact with the ground probably provided by my head. The next photo gives you a good sense of the skatepark’s location, directly beneath the freeway.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3322 (640x480)

Any day, especially weekends or any school holiday weekday, the place is hopping with boarders of every age and, get this, every skill level.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3320 (640x502)

That’s impressive, because one might assume that a challenging place like this might be monopolized by big, bullying tough-guy boarders. That’s not what I found on the Saturday afternoon I walked around. Everybody took a turn. Order prevailed. Skaters lined up at various spots on the wall, took their turn in the big well, then skated out to let the next one go. That’s not to say that there might not be times when it’s understood that only the main dudes get the run of the place, but I didn’t see any evidence of it. Everything was cool. How cool? Check out this next photo.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3314 (640x404)

That five year-old’s dad had brought him down. I talked to that guy and another dad, whose 8 year-old was getting his turn, too. I watched as the 8 year-old inadvertently skated across the path of a big nearly grown teen-ager and apologized. The big guy said something like, “You go ahead, I’ll get out of your way.” I’ll guarantee you won’t find behavior like among the ocean surfers out at The Wedge or The Cove in P.V. That’s especially interesting, given skateboarding’s reputation and self-proclaimed status as an anti-social activity of outcasts. Granted, there’s plenty that’s anti-social about boarders who skate across the steps and rails and paving in public places, or through someone’s landscaping, but here, among the misfits, there’s mutual respect. Not uncommon, really; it’s a variety of the “honor among thieves” truism.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3336 (640x479)

That might be a somewhat idealized view of the place, but it’s what I saw there on a sunny Saturday.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3324 (640x480)

The outside of the structure is decorated with wild mosaics of glass and tile and mirrors and found objects. It’s quite a scene.

Just another day in L.A. Surf or die.

Channel St skatepark Brad Nixon 3326 (640x480)

The Site

Channel Street Skatepark is at the intersection of Channel Street and John S. Gibson Blvd. (N. Pacific Ave.), San Pedro, California 90731.

Update, May 2017: After being closed-off since late 2015 due to construction on the I-110 Freeway overhead, the skatepark has encountered delays in securing permits required to reopen. It’s not surprising, given that however sophisticated the park is, it wasn’t built according to any codes, and the City of Los Angeles is being asked to retroactively approve an ad hoc structure. No date is set for reopening.

Acknowledgment to San Pedro Today Magazine for the current status update.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017

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Responses

  1. Good article, Brad. Good to see what can be done with some effort and cooperation.

    Like


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