Gainesville skateboarders gather for the city’s first skate contest in two years
Hundreds of people gathered at Possum Creek Park in Gainesville on Saturday to watch, support or skate in the first contest the city has hosted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city sponsored the Second Annual Possum Creek Skate Jam. Billy Rohan, owner of the local Samurai Skateshop, hosted the event, and a local fashion market/record label complex, How Bazar & Dion Dia, organized it. Food trucks, vendors and live artists were invited to draw more people and bring more culture to the event. Members of the Gainesville Shrine Club came out to host a raffle that raised $150 for Shriners Hospitals for Children.
The contest saw skateboarders, roller skaters and scooter riders all competing for a shot at the podium. Riders were split into three divisions by age: 12 & under, 13-16 and 17 & older, with another division designated for sponsored skaters.
The prize for the top three skaters in each division was a wooden trophy made from recycled skateboard decks shaped like a samurai sword. Sculpture artist and Gainesville native Tom Phillips, who goes by BrokeDeck Creations, said he was working on making the trophies until the night before the contest.
The contest brought in riders from across central Florida. Dylan Sorrels came from Minneola to skate in the contest. Sorrels, 11, won first place in his age division and even skated in the sponsored division for Yuck Skateshop, his hometown shop. After skating for only two years, Sorrels competed against grown adults and impressed the crowd.
Other divisions saw their podiums controlled by Gainesville skaters. Evan Wilder, Aedyn Martinez and CJ Rener took home the top three prizes in the 13-16 age division. These three all live in Gainesville and skate at the Possum Creek Skatepark together multiple times per week. They were excited about sharing the podium with their friends.
“Possum [Creek] is like a whole family,” said Martinez, 13. “It’s definitely better than being on the podium with a bunch of random people.”
Rener, 15, nailed a flawless run to take home first place in his division. When he finished, a crowd of his buddies surrounded him to pat him on the back.
“My favorite part of the contest was after my run was over. It was a pretty good run and everyone was hyping me up, and it felt like one of the best feelings ever,” said Rener.
Gainesville city representatives were impressed with how successfully the event turned out.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to put it together and we had a very limited budget, but it was really phenomenal,” said Raquel Vallejo, who is a consultant for the city’s Cultural Affairs Department.
When it came to getting the contest up and running, Vallejo gave the credit to the How Bazar team and Samurai Skateshop owner Billy Rohan.
Rohan first pitched the idea of holding a city-sponsored skate competition to Gainesville’s Cultural Affairs Board before the first Possum Creek Skate Jam was held in January 2020. He said the city was so pleased with it they approached him about hosting the second one. He recommended that the city ask the How Bazar and Dion Dia to organize and promote the event, since they specialize in holding events that celebrate different types of street culture and draw in younger audiences.
“I saw what [the How Bazar] was doing with their different events and I said, ‘This is how cultural affairs should look in 2022.’ It’s just futurism. It’s what people will look like in the future. They’re all together, and they all know what’s up,” said Rohan.
Rohan used to be a sponsored skateboarder living in New York City. After hosting contests there that were attended by over 3,000 people, he said that establishing a contest in Gainesville was actually more of a challenge because the city was previously unaware of the depth of skateboarding culture.
“It’s a new thing for the city. It was hard for them to understand that [skateboarding] is a big culture. It’s not just a bunch of kids, it’s all sorts of people that do it,” said Rohan. “After today, now they understand.”
Rohan’s ideas for the Possum Creek Skatepark don’t just stop at hosting contests. He, along with the rest of the Gainesville skateboarding community, has been outspoken about how the skatepark needs lights so the park can be used at night. He said that providing a safe, well-lit public space for teenagers is something the city should do to keep kids out of trouble.
After seeing the city’s approval of the contest, Rohan said he will be attending Thursday’s City Commission meeting to propose that the city use money from the Wild Spaces & Public Places program to fund the construction of lights at the skatepark.