Small Wheels Big Dreams


By Kim Riegel

Daniel Cutcliffe at "The Shoe Factory"

Across from Railroad Park, on any given day, people on wheels are at the concrete foundation left from a burned-out shoe factory. With the wind in their hair, skateboarders are rolling along the ramps, jumps, rails, and quarter pipes placed there, practicing tricks with names like Ollies, flips, and grinds. Because Birmingham lacks any formal skate parks, “The Shoe Factory ” is maintained and cleaned by private citizens, and skaters worry that it’s eventual sale will leave them with one less place to pursue their sport.

The skate scene in Birmingham is active and thriving, mirroring the growth of the sport nationwide. Peter Karvonen is the owner of Faith Skate Supply, an independent skate shop downtown.  Faith, appropriately, is the soul of the sport locally.  More than just a shop owner, Karvonen fosters the interest and skills of kids, families and adults, assures parents, and serves as the wiser, older brother to many of the teens. He supports those with professional intentions and promotes the pros from this area.

Peter Karvonen

Karvonen sponsors the Faith Skate team, a group of skaters representing the shop internationally. For skaters with sights set towards professional athletics, the team is the first step. These are the emerging pros that younger skaters admire and respect. If the talent, skill and heart all come together, a team member can move into the amateur circuit, and then on to professional status.

Nevertheless, it takes more than talent to be a skater—it takes confidence, courage and being something of a risk-

Justin Holmes at "The Shoe Factory"

taker. Let’s face it; it takes guts to slide down a rail or drop off a 10-foot wall on a 4-inch wide piece of wood!   Skaters are fearless in their commitment, from mastering a trick to establishing a public skatepark in Birmingham.

So where do skaters go to practice and have fun? Many take to the streets, but street skating is dangerous—Skaters for Public Skateparks (www.skatepark.org) reports most skateboard injuries are from vehicular traffic. As part of their community outreach, Inner Change UMC in McCalla has “Battlegrounds”, an indoor skatepark packed with skaters big and small two nights a week (www.theinnerchange.org). Alabaster’s Veterans’ Park is home to a beautiful concrete skatepark (which includes a 10’ deep pool) and Dennis Hutchison keeps a watchful eye over the bustling activity there.

Chris Upton at Alabasters Skate Park

In May, the park will host the annual Pat Wachter Pro Bowl, an event named in honor of Alabama’s first professional skater. Vestavia has Sanctuary Skatepark on Hwy 31. Smaller than Alabaster and built from wood and “skatelite,” Sanctuary has some cool ramps and quarter pipes, but the wooden construction has started to deteriorate and it’s in need of a facelift. Other than these locations, skaters have to use the street or build their own “park”.  Skaters are very creative in finding areas that are safe for skating, and the names are colorful—The Spot, Booty Deck, Ghetto Banks and The Shoe Factory.  However, the Shoe Factory land is for sale and may soon be lost to skaters.

So why doesn’t Birmingham have a public skatepark? In the past, skaters were outsider heroes, perceived as rebels with bad-boy attitudes. While the typical skater begins as a kid or teen, skating for recreation is popular with all ages and professionally carries prestige, fame, and lucrative awards. The stereotype no longer holds true. Skaters come from all income levels, areas, gender, and age. They are involved in their community.

Andrew Dunlap skates on 2nd Ave. N.

Here in Birmingham, Chrys Worley began the A.skate Foundation (www.askate.org), and many local skaters are volunteers with the organization. Chrys, looking for activates to engage her autistic son, discovered that skating calmed her son and helped him relate to others. Along with the support and help of Peter Karvonen and area skaters, she launched A.skate, a program that in a year and a half has reached across the country. It has been so successful, health professionals are recommending skating as viable therapy for kids with autism spectrum disorder.  In April, A.skate will hold a clinic for the Autism Speaks/Etnies Shoes partnership launch in Lake Forest, California. Chrys and Peter expect their biggest clinic ever, with 80 kids participating. Both local skaters and well-known pros are lining up in droves to volunteer for this event.

Hope (left) and Truly (right) Karvonen at The Shoe Factory

Huntsville, Madison, Montgomery, Florence, and Greensboro (whose park was designed and built by Rural Studios students at Auburn) all have skateparks. Atlanta has twelve skateparks! Tim Spinosi, advocate for public skateparks and consultant for Alabaster’s park, has worked tirelessly to bring about a Birmingham city skatepark. The Maloof Brothers (owners of the NBA Sacramento Kings and Las Vegas Palms Casino Resort) offer the Maloof Money Cup, one of skating’s biggest events. As former residents of Birmingham, the Maloofs have shown interest in having a Money Cup event here. The advantage, besides thousands of attendees boosting the local economy, is that a skatepark is built for the event and then donated to the host city.

Rebecca Simpson in 5 points south

Skaters are resolute in pursuit of an officially sanctioned public skatepark inside the Birmingham city limits. The Community Foundation is searching for the “Next Big Idea.” How about a skatepark? Passionate about skating, the skaters will skate wherever they are—the street, a parking deck, a school, a skatepark.

One other thing—you won’t see an overweight skater! Check out videos of Birmingham skaters on YouTube. There’s one from an A.skate clinic at the Shoe Factory that will melt your heart.Peter says, “You start skating for fun, then it becomes your life.”

3 Responses to “Small Wheels Big Dreams”

  1. Jon says:

    Great article! Let’s get these guys the skatepark they deserve!

  2. judy karvonen says:

    Great article, well written and covers so many good points. Thanks.

  3. seth miller says:

    I’m 24 and I recently moved to Homewood from Gadsden, the skate scene is definitely lacking in Gadsden and when i found out about the skatepark & Faith Skate Shop ran by Peter I was stoked! Peter’s an awesome guy who works hard and does as much as possible to keep the scene alive and progressive – hopefully toward a permanent park. Being in the park after school definitely reduces stress and helping the younger kids (and receiving help) is awesome, its exactly what the city needs. A good attitude – lending a helping hand!

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