In collaboration with the city’s Recreation Department, volunteers have organized three different community events, with hopes of getting more people interested in the park. The first program scheduled is called “Save the Skatepark for the Groms,” a weekly skateboard clinic for children ages 4-8 beginning June 25. The program was developed by local skateboard enthusiast and filmmaker Charlie Samuels, whose efforts over the last two years has seen the park go from forgotten and graffiti-tagged to one of the most unique destinations for skateboarders in the Northeast.
While the program aims to teach children the basics of skateboarding, the name itself offers a glimpse into the strange world of skateboard lingo. The term “groms” isn’t meant in a pejorative sense, but rather as a term of endearment for skateboarders under the age of 13. Grom is short for “grommet,” which is borrowed from West Coast surf culture to refer to surfers of similar age.
“It’s called Save The Skatepark for Groms, which has the connection to the Save the Skatepark Facebook group but also the double meaning that we hope to preserve the park for the groms, so in the future they’ll be able to skate and get excited and enthusiastic about it,” said Samuels.
Potential groms can hope to learn some of the real basics of skateboarding, from learning safer ways to fall and proper safety equipment, to how to push and the most basic of street skateboard tricks, the ollie. Volunteer instructors for the program include Benj Gleeksman, Chris Wildy and even Samuels himself.
“We’ll hope to teach some of the more basic things they see on television or the video games that they want to do,” adds Samuels. “Once they’re comfortable on flat ground, we can move them onto the ramps.”
Registration for “Save the Skatepark for the Groms” can be done in person at the Saratoga Springs Recreation Center located at 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. The program is designed for children ages 4-8, and costs $19 for city residents and $24 for everyone else. The first session is scheduled for June 25 and will run from 5-6 p.m. for four weeks.
The program’s development marks a period of cooperation between the skateboarders and the city, cooperation that hasn’t always existed. It wasn’t long ago that the city had the park’s most unique feature, a kidney-shaped concrete bowl, inexplicably filled in with dirt. As a result, Samuels began lobbying city officials to have the bowl unearthed. Despite ruffling a few feathers – particularly Mayor Scott Johnson’s - his persistence paid off, and in late 2011 the bowl was dug up.
While Samuels scored a victory for the city’s skateboarders, the park itself was in varying states of disrepair, with large chunks of the bowl’s concrete coping worn down to nothing and ledges covered in profane graffiti. After various fundraisers, including a wildly successful art show, enough money was raised to fix the park.
“We want to skate and we want to encourage others to skate,” said Samuels. “This is the first skatepark in New York State. It’s one the most unusual and difficult-to-skate bowls I’ve ever seen. The architecture is very interesting and very challenging.”
Now that the springtime repairs and maintenance are taken care of, Samuels hopes these first three events can bring more people to the park. The second event is a non-competitive skate jam for people to come enjoy the park. A second skate jam is scheduled for early October, but Samuels hopes they can organize that date into a full-fledged contest.
“After the park was repaired, the city asked me to organize some community events. I told them that the whole reason I got the park back in shape was I wanted more events and to raise awareness about skateboarding.”