A Porirua "Let Them Skate" Project

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When I was a kid, my friends and I used to break into this skatepark in our neighborhood. Sounds funny, breaking into a skatepark, especially in New Zealand where there is seemingly one in every small town and city. It cost $15 to enter and you could skate all day. It was the only skatepark in town, so they made a business of it. It wasn't long though before we started making our own jumps, ramps and rails. We tried, but despite our Etnies and Birdhouse boards we never quite got the quarter pipe going or the half pipe we dreamt of. 

The funny thing looking back, is that our parents actually encouraged us to break into the skatepark. Surely they thought is was as silly as we did. We weren't shattering windows or breaking down doors, nothing like that. Just jumping barbed wire fences with door mats and gardening gloves. Hardly breaking in. Definitely trespassing. It was fun and it was cool for a while. The gatekeepers could not keep us out. 

It is more often the case that the gatekeepers of the status quo are the most powerful and well positioned. Interestingly enough it is usually an outcast who offends them by demanding more.

My friends and I never ended up being that hot at skateboarding. Perhaps the barbed wire fence and the fear of a trespassing notice proved too much in the end or that we actually preferred playing football. Decidedly so, the skatepark had too many barriers to entry, where the football pitch was just out the front door. It didn't cost a thing and we were free to come and go as we pleased. No obstacles. Just play. So that's what we did. Played and played. Barefoot, two goals made out of flip - flops (jandals) and a football. 

My friends and I probably could have been really good skateboarders. Not probably, definitely. We grew up in backyard swimming pools with Blink 182 blasting on stereos. Playstation 2 had just been released. Tony Hawk was at his peak. Bob Burnquist. Bucky Lasek. Chad Muska. We knew these names. It was an epic time to be a skater. But, we lived in Minnesota. There weren't any skateparks, and the only one we knew of was one that you had to "break into." 

I remember one summer, we hosted a group of "Brasilian Boys" for the Schwan's USA Cup in Blaine, Minnesota. The Brasilians introduced us not only to football - real football - for the very first time, they also taught us how to eat sunfish South American style. The whole fish, cooked on a stick over a barbecue on the beach. A pinch of salt. Nothing else. Simplicity at its core. We played football barefoot, swam to our hearts content and ate a sunfish buffet for 10 days straight. Those days seem so very long ago now. No gatekeepers just endless delicious freedom and fun.

I'm not sure where we've gone right or wrong with football development in the 21st century. We could talk about this for hours, days, months. Everyone seems to be. I just hope that the guardians of the game - the gatekeepers - understand how critical their roles really are in this whole big thing. More critical than a paycheck, politics, pride and power, is fulfilling potentials, providing environments, and opening the floodgates to freedom and fun.

I'm sitting in a cafe in New Zealand. Across the street there is a skatepark. The sun is shining. It is a beautiful day. You can bet that the kids are out there. Skating. Playing. Mucking about. Messing things up. Trying over and over again. Nothing is stopping these kids from becoming the best skateboarders in the world. I like that thought. Knowing that they didn't have to "break into" all that freedom and fun is sort of nice. Almost as much as the thought of sunfish, flip - flops and football. 

In every town of this great earth there are excuses. There are a million justifications as to why top-flight footballers cannot be developed in your portion of paradise.

Aside the skate park is a big open field. Gigantic. Green. Not a single soul is out there. Recently someone told me that their dream is to see children playing pick - up football in New Zealand parks. Maybe he's absolutely crazy. I'd like to think not. I see so much potential in New Zealand football it hurts. I've heard that "the obstacle is the way" and can understand the rationale. Pain makes us stronger. Dams force us to discover new channels. Yes, the obstacle may be the way. But someone had to check a box to build those skate parks in every little town in New Zealand. And someone had to scream from the top of their lungs "let the kids skate!" And someone had to open up the floodgates.

Someone had to...

Above quotations taken from Todd Beane's No Excuses in Paradise.

Read More: Surfing, Soccer & Prototypes – The Way Players Learn by Todd Beane 

Ben SippolaComment