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Mumbles skatepark, a triumph against the odds

What started to be a most wanted but affordable seafront concrete skatepark in Mumbles, Swansea, Wales, became a legal battle between the skateboarding community and some minor (but financial empowered) group of objectors, including Bonie Tylers’ husband, who did not want to have a skatepark close do their mansions. Five years later, though, the dream came true. Skateboarding won.

Mumbles skatepark in Swansea, Wales, was projected in 2018 with a 199.000-pound budget ($240.000/€224.000), but due to legal costs the final investment went up to double. Throughout this process a large and loudly community stepped up, putting in place many initiatives. But what called the attention of the mass media was the moment when a multimillionaire harassed some kids: the video went viral and helped the cause. We talked to Jason Williams, chairman of Mumbles Skatepark Association, who explained what went wrong, what people did to stand out and how hard was to go against those who have the money to stop, or at least postpone, a dream of so many. «The whole thing became a political hot potato and I’m glad to say we managed to use all this to the advantage of the project», he says. Built by Maverick Skateparks, it was opened last Friday, the 17th of February 2023.

What was the trigger that made you stepping forward against those people who wanted to stop building the skatepark?

It was all about getting a concrete park. Swansea’s got a rich surf and skate history, and a concrete park was long overdue. We get that not everyone wants a skatepark or feels an area need a skatepark, but there was a massive support for the park, and we had to co-ordinate to ensure the very vocal minority didn’t overshadow what a skatepark brings to a community.

Tell us about the process of making your association.

Tomsk, Will and Jono were all involved from the beginning, advising the local council, but once initial planning permission for the project was granted, it was clear a more formal group/association was needed. Ironically, I didn’t attend the first meeting, but got voted in as chair and told afterwards!

What kind of initiatives did you put in place?

We held some meeting etc, but really relied on social media to engage with the communities (skate, bmx etc). We also worked closely with the local council driving the project and lobbied the larger County Council as well.

“There was also an incident where the individuals had threatened some kids using the mini ramp on site, which was filmed and went viral. Following that, the amount of support for the project skyrocketed and it all went pretty viral.”

Then, it came local opposition…

Yes, it got complicated when some local opposition with significant financial backing issued a judicial review in an attempt to stop the project, which really seemed to galvanise those in favour. There was also an incident where the individuals had threatened some kids using the mini ramp on site, which was filmed and went viral. Following that, the amount of support for the project sky rocketed and it all went pretty viral. Hitting local, national and international press and web sites. The whole thing became a political hot potato and I’m glad to say we managed to use all this to the advantage of the project.

How did non skater people react to your advocacy? Where they just ignoring or did they join the ‘battle’? Was this more than just a skatepark?

Overall, pretty good. Throughout, we’ve focussed on the positives a skatepark brings and the importance of an open, visible, accessible site. Covid and lockdown really shone a light on the need for free, accessible facilities and the whole start of this came from school kids saying they wanted a skate park, so the parents were all in favour. With the issues mentioned above, that support just went off the scale (our online petition went from 4500 signatures to 24000 signatures in a week!).

Could you name special episodes that took place that you will remember for ever?

So many moments: the ‘incident’ and being contacted by local and national press, including TV interviews with the BBC. Our story appearing in pretty much all the UK press. Being asked to participate in a debate on live national radio (cancelled at the last minute as no-one was prepared to participate from the group that issued the judicial review). A local brewery creating a delicious beer and soda called Damn the Man, to help fundraise. Finally getting everything signed off, the building of the park started.

What kind of support did you have across this prolonged period? Legal, mostly?

None, really. We did have some well-wishers giving us informal advice, but we pretty much worked it out ourselves. The core of the Association are older, so experience from work, friends etc helped. When it came to the formal legal issues, the Council led and we fed in as much as we could, to ensure the right messaging was coming across. We did have to get involved in formal council stuff, but again, we just worked it out.

“Bonnie Tyler’s husband was one of the group who signed the judicial review”

How those people who wanted to stop building the skatepark changed their behaviour as your voice got bigger? Is it true that singer Bonnie Tyler was one of those at the frontline?

Bonnie Tyler’s husband was one of the group who signed the judicial review.

They were all in the background really and thought they could throw money and big-time lawyers at it and get it shut down. We were lucky that the local councils really saw what the skatepark could provide and bought into the project. That meant they worked through the legal challenge, rather than rolling over. It helped that there was so much press about ‘the incident’ and a huge amount of focus and support on the project.

Because of this legal battle the skatepark will cost much more. How and who do you think should pay the difference?

Yeah, that sucks. Not just legal costs but build costs increased, all because a bunch of millionaires tried to stop it. Luckily, we did get support from lottery funding and the Mumbles Community Council made up the difference.

“I’d recommend every project gets a panto villain to bring the community together!”

This episode had impact at the media, like you said. Do you think your cause could be an example for other organizations around the world?

Absolutely, I’d recommend every project gets a panto villain to bring the community together! In all seriousness, I don’t know if we did the best job, or if we were just lucky. Also, each project has a different context and different challenges. In a nutshell, we tried to remain positive, repeat key messages about community (not just skate, bmx community) and the wider benefits of skateparks, tie in politicians and councillors wherever possible, and just kept pushing.

If you had to ‘baptize’ this skatepark on a consequence of this social movement, what would be its name?

Loads of people have come up with ideas already, mainly as a big FU to those who were against it. Me, I don’t really care, I’m just over the moon it’s there. Let’s call it ‘one’, as we’re already talking to the local council about a possible 2 or 3 more parks.

Visit Mumbles skatepark Find out more about Maverick skateparks

By Manu Silva

How Troubl3 Keeps Making Trouble with Skateboards

June 29 2022 - Interview with Troubl3  “I always have been a troublemaker”. If Andrew, 41, had to pitch his idea, this could be a good punchline. It’s one of those cases where a business’s name is not just marketing, but a character’s extension. "So, Troubl3 is giving the middle finger to a lot of skate shops that do not support local people." Andrew (Owner Troubl3)   VISIT WEBSITE TROUBL3 is a Canadian skateboard shop based in Otawa. It was born in 2018 from the desire to go against the flow. “Skateboarding industry has become a mass production machine. Everything comes from China or Mexico, where people are not paid right. I buy something for one hundred dollars that really costs ten dollars”, he claims. “Then I thought: if I’m going to be a troublemaker, I might do something different. If I’m making a board it’s got to be unique like any skater is. I’m going to make one by one; it’s going to be tougher, it’s going to last more, every single board is going to be different. When you buy, it’s not just a board, it’s a piece of art and an experience”, he adds. This is something “one hundred percent customized”, from size, shape, wheels base, and a “seven veneer deck”. He proudly details: “Each veneer that goes into each deck is hand picked.” He buys local (wood from Quebec, for instance) in small batches, presses, shapes and hand paints the decks himself also, when he can, he promotes local artists to draw on the skateboards. “So, Troubl3 is giving the middle finger to a lot of skate shops that do not support local people who make stuff. They say they are local, but do not buy local”, Andrew reenforces, protesting against the rules of the game. “I always compare skateboards with pizza. I love pizza: a large one costs 50 bucks, the same you pay for a skateboard sometimes. Those skateboards are made overseas, they cost nothing to make, the price of pizza is gone to double, but the price of skateboards stayed the same for 30 years." “I evoke Paul Schmitt’s case all the time: a big name in this industry who shifted his business from California to Tijuana because people want to keep the price of a skateboard at 50 of 60 dollars for eternity. So, to keep his business going and pay his people, he had to move”, Andrew says.   He likes to be different. “Being marginalized is something good in skateboarding”. Although he admits the way he runs business is not sustainable: “The breakeven would be making 250 skateboards a month. Right now, I have had a month when I made four or five, others one or two.” It doesn’t matter. He believes this is the way. And he gives a discount if people really ride them and not just hang his skateboards on the wall. Authenticity is his brand, like the style he prefers for riders: “I like to see the most unorthodox skater. Do you do treflips? Fantastic, so can any other kid. I don’t care, throw your board against the wall, flip it on your head, do a back flip, do something I want to see. It’s different, do skateboarding and not do what others do.” “There’s a kid in Indonesia I started to follow who's skateboarding reminds me of a young Christian Hosoi. When I see the kid skate I can recognize Christian Hosoi’s influence. Can you recognize the inventors of other tricks you see people do at the park?”, he asks. Andrew sponsors five “troublemakers”: Eric Martin (Ontario), Dustin Lawrence (Ontario), Connor Callan aka Meat Feet (Arizona), Luis Uribe (Texas), Shinichi Nichiyama (Japan). He enjoys watching them and supports them the way he can. About his local skateparks, Andrew recommends: Bob MacQuarrie skatepark in Otawa Joel Gauthier skatepark in Rockland Local bus stop where where it's super smooth and is perfect for slappies, now that people stopped using busses, due to Covid, it's always empty and available.

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