Ghetto it Yourself
Nurturing The Homemade Spot
Text by Chris Jackson.
First published in Manual #30, June 2008.
Over a hill, through a gate and along a tree-lined path, away from prying eyes and disapproving glances is a patch of wasteland where people meet, socialise and wax lyrical on music, fashion and the dramas of the working week. Amidst this alcohol-fuelled banter and blizzard of high fives some skateboarding gets done. The place doesn’t really have a name, but is often known simply as the ghetto spot.
I began to hear rumours of a ramp on a patch of ground, behind somewhere, not far from my house, early in the new year. Like a number of others, I was taken there by friends and told to keep it on the DL. Upon arrival I was greeted by the foundations of a ruined building surrounded by native bush – that served as camouflage for a number of skateboarding structures. The ground was rough but an atmosphere of fun permeated; on future visits I would learn that this atmosphere was not particular to that day.
DIY captures the nature and feel of any ghetto spot perfectly. Each session there is a different set-up. Overgrown areas are trimmed back and swept, furniture appears and gets incorporated (ours included a small green gazebo that served to shield spectating lurkers from the sun).
The beauty of skateboarding is its organic nature; it has grown without the need for bureaucracy. The flipside of this is that when you try to organise skateboarders into a cohesive group they often rally against whatever or whoever is doing the organising. Our ghetto ramp was no different – many skaters turned up and sessioned, but not many can say they actually contributed to it. It’s not only maintenance that contributes to the longevity of something positive like this spot. Sharing the financial load for a new obstacle by chipping in a few bucks, taking rubbish away, being courteous to other skaters, or just being quiet when entering the area are all proverbial grease to the wheel, and serve to subvert the stereotypes that we’re often tarred with. Typically, many skateboarders take advantage of situations with minimum reciprocation.
New Zealand is full of “almost” spots, and more often than not it’s an issue with the ground. If your wheels can’t roll you can’t skate. The thought of a little hard work and ingenuity gets me up in the mornings. It’s too easy to sit back and say flag, or go to the local park and deal with jerk kids on bikes and scooters. This is where a little thing called Easycrete comes in. Ten dollars a bag, a trowel to shape it, a bucket, some water and the nearest tree branch to stir it and you’re brewing! It’s that simple. | Lee Corleison
Finding and skating new spots is something many skateboarders strive to do, but we often lose sight of the bigger picture – skaters often use information about spots and locations to invoke an unwritten social hierarchy, i.e. “I know where it is, thus, I am better and more informed than you are. I’m also not telling you.” To be found at a secret spot can often mean you actually feel awkward for skating it, something that should never happen in our brotherhood. We don’t own anything, except maybe the occasional nollie flip, and if people utilise common sense, there’s enough concrete and steel out there for us all.
I’m not too sure whether it’s due to some recession back in the day, the population of the cities expanding while the rural one shrinks, a bad business decision or just straight up lack of business, but dotted all over the country in the smaller towns are huge abandoned buildings, once the proud life blood of the town, now just a place for the youth to vent their anger and boredom. After years of neglect every inch of the walls are covered in graffiti and all the windows are smashed – a beacon of hope now an eyesore.
Hellensvile, just outside Auckland, is no different. As you drive into the township you can’t miss the skeleton of a once pumping dairy factory. From the outside it looks dangerous, but once inside it’s a skateboarders dream. There are just loads of things to skate – piles of wood, fridges, burnt out cars, pallets, rails – everything you need.
We ventured up there one rainy day, took a heap of tools to tidy it up a bit and got to work making something from nothing. Under all the asbestos tiles, powder paint, bird shit and other garbage in that place there was a bunch of sick stuff to skate – if only the kids of Hellensvile knew what a diamond in the rough they had in their own back yard.
So when you’re travelling around and see a festering old building, stop to check it out. You never know what is lying around waiting to be given a new lease of life; a little tidying up and you might just have a place to keep you dry over the dog shit winter months. Just don’t eat your snot after. | Rhys Campbell
The ramp itself should go into folklore. Originally the property of a group of flatmates that one day decided they wanted to learn to skate, and decided the best way to do this was to construct a mini ramp in their back yard. On vacating the property, the ramp had to be moved or destroyed, so they strapped it on top of a van and re-assembled it at its new home.
The main structure was four feet tall by eight feet wide. Timber was acquired and the ramp was extended in width, and given a tombstone. A flat bar appeared in the back area, which was set up in a number of inventive configurations, and a handrail was also concreted into the floor, to transfer from high to low levels. There was also an angle-ironed block and a whippy quarter pipe, again arriving strapped to a van roof.
As the spot evolved, so did the roles of the individuals involved – although much of the responsibility for the upkeep of the area and the manual labour that was involved fell on the same shoulders. When holes appeared or steel edges fell away, it was the same faces that turned up, patching and repairing enthusiastically, and enabling many more skateboarders to indulge in the fun. It was the same personalities who organised days to build and contribute to the space, sometimes with limited success and participation. To build a ramp, then move it to a spot for others to use is a truly selfless, and admirable gesture. | Chris Jackson
That said, while any skateboarder who can exercise a certain degree of intelligence when skating new or low-key spots, should they have the opportunity to do so, if you lack the common sense or maturity not to understand the delicate nature of a situation at a particular point in time (much like the skateboarding pupil from Wellington High School who shared the location of the ghetto ramp with the entire student population), you don’t deserve to enjoy it.
As I sit here writing this article the ghetto ramp is on the move. The city council became aware of the spot and the aforementioned situation, alongside a number of complaints from neighbours, has meant that by the time you read this the ramp will be in someone’s back yard. To their credit, the council have been very agreeable about the situation, even paying for the removal, but for reasons of public liability can’t be seen to condone a ramshackle set of obstacles on a patch of wasteland.
Councils everywhere need to develop insight and a more progressive attitude when dealing with skateboarding. We are constantly bombarded with information about sustainability and responsibility with regard to the environment; the ghetto spot stands as a shining beacon of a sustainable design project within a subculture at grass roots level. Materials recycled and objects transferred to new environments, endowed with a second life cycle, devised and driven by skateboarders, without external funding or assistance. Skateboarders taking responsibility for their culture, and its evolution. Councils and building contractors constantly use anti-skate strategies within urban environments. Conversely, when skateboarders take ownership of an area that is not used and make it their own, it’s taken away from them. There needs to be a middle ground, space that can be utilised and interpreted by skaters for their own ends, with a certain degree of freedom, and without harassment by the authorities.
Being a Brit, and being relatively new to life in New Zealand, one thing I’ve noticed we do have in common is terrain. Unlike many of our cousins in Europe and the US, we’re not blessed with picture perfect concrete and marble, but we do approach our skateboarding in creative and innovative ways. Building your own obstacles is a way that you can take control of what, and how you skateboard. If you’re lucky, and have a good crew, maybe you’ll enjoy some good times, like those that were experienced at our ghetto ramp.