Ian Schaefer, co-creator of “The Spot” DIY skatepark
I had the misfortune of witnessing the end(?) of the spot a few weeks back. Out of the rubble though, I witnessed a resiliency that I had not seen from this generation. The same skaters that watched their labor of love fall to a piece of heavy equipment went back to the drawing board and were back at the E’ville city council meeting presenting ideas for a city-approved and built park that they seemed determined to realize. One of those skaters was Ian Schaefer, whom graciously agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
First off, where do you live and how long have you been skating?
I live in Oakland on San Pablo Ave and started riding a skateboard when I was 8 years old. I am 22 now, and have been not been able to skate for the greater part of the last two years due to a series of ankle injuries.
Describe what the area looked like prior to your crew transforming it into the Spot.
Where the spot is located is pretty much right on the Oakland/Emeryville border, with West Oakland right down the street. It lies beneath “the maze” where 6 freeways cross over one another, on the other side of the train tracks is EB Mud where sewage is being processed every hour, and a block down Wood St. is Waste Management. Needless to say it did not smell very good, and for most people it might not have been the most desirable place to spend time at. Before we started skating and building underneath the 580 freeway next to the train tracks the area was pretty much an abandoned slab of asphalt with some jersey barriers lined up along one side. Initially when we started going down there, the area mainly was functioning as a spot for junkies to shoot up, or crack-heads to smoke crack. Besides that the area seemed to be a sort of prostitution ring and there were also various tents set up where some homeless people had made a place to live. There was trash and rocks and broken glass covering the greater area of the paved flat ground that we would have to sweep a pathway just to roll on the ground. Besides this there were a lot of needles and other detritus that covered the ground most everywhere you looked. When we first started pouring concrete there, we had to spend entire days sweeping the ground and using shovels and our bare hands to collect trash that had accumulated around the area and fill countless trash bags just so that it was possible to roll on the ground and be more of a safe place for skaters young and old alike to come and have fun for free.
How much money and man-hours do you think went into building the park?
Its hard to say how much money was spent on the spot in it’s entirity, but a rough estimate would be around $3,000, most of which came out of the builders pockets, some of which was left over from a generous donation Vans Shoes had given for the continuation of Bordertown Skatepark which is less than half a mile down from the spot underneath of the same 580 freeway. This money was mostly spent on concrete and besides that we used as much trash from around the area to use as foundation material for the obstacles. Things like tires, chunks of concrete, and rocks and pebbles. We wanted to try to make use of these otherwise discarded materials as much as possible in the creation process. As far as man hours spent on constructing the skatepark, that is also a hard thing to estimate, but I can say i spent the greater part of the past 2 years of my life underneath of that bridge, whether it was filming, building or just hanging out with my friends. If i had to make a rough estimate I would say anywhere from 300 to 400 hours of mixing concrete, and forming each obstacle by hand.
Has the spot attracted skaters from other parts of the Bay, State, Country, even outside of the country?
Most definitely. I have met people that came from all across the Bay Area as well as the greater state of California to come and skate the spot. Not to mention people from all across our country that made it a point to come to the spot to skate during various cross-country road trips, and people that traveled over-seas from other parts of the world. Since the spot’s creation two years ago it has become a landmark for the East Bay at large, and a somewhat legendary one at that considering the fact that it was done by the skateboarding community for the skateboarding community, and anyone else that wanted to experience it for themselves. It’s pretty amazing because with skateboarding there are not really any rules, except for the rules of gravity, and even those are broken. In actuality anything that you can dream up you can pretty much make into a reality. That applies to any kind of maneuver or trick you want to try on your skateboard, and also carries over into creating obstacles to skate on. You can take something that was just an idea, pure thought and make it into concrete and then ride your skateboard on it with your friends. All of the obstacles that we built at the spot I had never really seen anywhere else in the world. While some were inspired by pre-existing spots or parks we had seen before, I can safely say that the obstacles we built were entirely unique and weird. We wanted to keep everything creative so that nothing was really normal or commonplace.
Describe the frustration with dealing with the bureaucracy of city politics in trying to “legitimize” the park. Did you have any advocates that were helpful?
We built this place ourselves because we wanted something new and exciting to skate. You can’t really wait around because no one is going to do it for you, that’s why you have to do it yourself. Trying to come to some kind of happy medium with the city and Caltrans is frustrating beyond belief. When dealing with Bureaucratic entities it gets really hard because all they really care about is money and privatization. It’s funny because this space where we built was sitting completely vacant for the last 10 years leading up to when we started building. Caltrans built the lot to store machinery while they were constructing the freeways, and once they were done, it just sat there completely unused. Then all the sudden we poured some concrete and made something positive out of a previously negative situation and then they want to claim back the land because it is private property. Really this is about reclaiming underutilized public space by the people for the people. We made dreams come true, and then they used tax payers money in order to destroy these dreams piece by piece.
So have you given up on DIY skateparks?
No, I have not given up on DIY parks. Considering the current state of things in America and the rest of our planet earth I believe that the DIY mentality is the most powerful way of thinking and creating that exists right now. We don’t care about money or privatization, we care about our dreams, and having fun. We are passionate about these dreams and will not let anything stop us from making them into a reality because if we don’t do it, no one will.
Describe your dream scenario of a city-built park in this area and give me an example of a city that “got it right”.
My dream scenario of a “city-built” park would be one built by the people who made the spot into a reality. City built skateparks are great but the biggest problem with them is that they aren’t built by people that actually skateboard. This results in very poorly designed skateparks that do not allow for pure imagination to interact with them in a way that a real skateboarders mind works. If dreams could come true oakland would have a concrete wonderland with snakeruns, bowls, and transitions galore. Something that is more like an old school skatepark, like Landsdowne in Maryland, or the old Benecia park in California, mixed together. Something with an infinite amount of possible lines where you never have to push and can just pump transitions and get speed off of anything. A good example of something like this would be Burnside skatepark in Portland, Oregon, or Lincon City in Oregon. Also the DIY stuff that is happening in Copenhegen is also on that level of creativity and pure imagination.
A chronicle of the spots existence was documented on this blog.
Video produced by Ian with skate footage of the spot and its demise can be seen here: