Wandering Billy

The Boys Of Summer

Meet the chairmen of the boards of Greensboro’s skate parks and beyond

By Billy Eye

Photograph by Bry Seyez

“A smile is the shortest distance between people.”
— Victor Borge

Every time I run into Chris Roberts — and it’s quite frequently — besides an engaging grin, he almost always sports a different hairstyle. Not too long ago, his head was shaved. Today he’s coiffed in a green bowl cut pointing skyward. That’s not all that unusual when you consider he’s studying to be a barber.

Chris is a 25-year old Greensboro native, working full-time while attending school in Winston-Salem. He’s an impressive young man possessing unmistakable leadership skills with a passion for sidewalk surfing. Good thing, a skateboard is his main means of conveyance. Many times I’ve witnessed him whizzing by, neatly dressed, passing cars while perched on his board, left foot forward, riding to work. He’s one of perhaps hundreds of similarly inclined city dwellers gravitating from place to place primarily via wheels of urethane.

I wondered when Chris received his first skateboard. “It was a hand-me-down from my dad,” he replies. “I was probably about 3 or 4. At that point I would just scoot around on it on my knee. I couldn’t really stand up on it.”

He received his first “sick board” at 10 or 11. (The slang word “sick,” in the same way that “bad” really means “good,” indicates the board is anything but feeble.) “A World Industries [model], I got it at Board Paradise,” he recalls. “My dad took me there, it was one of the only times I’d ever been to a skate shop.” What impressed him was the art on the World Industries’ boards: “As I’m older, I realize that there are different shapes and sizes and different reasons for riding different boards. But for me, World Industries had the coolest art on the bottom, with this cartoon-style water droplet and fire droplet battling each other.”

Chris felt an affinity for the lifestyle right away. “About that same time I went to my first skatepark, 915. It was run by Cricket Hooks at the time. I met life-long friends there.” Established in 1999 on West Lee Street, 915 Skate Park and Skate Shop’s retail store were located in a former Guilford Dairy Bar. (They even preserved Guilford Dairy’s signage along the top of the building.)

“It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from,” Chris says. “If you see someone with a skateboard, you just automatically have this connection.” For the longest time, he says, skateboarding was looked on as something juvenile or criminal even. Not at 915. “So kids have a sense of community because we know we have each other to look out for. A lot of people walking down the street, they don’t see it, it’s kind of secret and kind of cool.”

Skateboard culture has evolved dramatically since the board’s invention in the late 1940s, originally marketed to bored California surfers when flat conditions forced them to seek thrills elsewhere, onto sidewalks lining the beaches, even if it meant wiping out on considerably harder surfaces.   

Eye received a primitive skateboard as a youngster in the 1960s, a lacquered wood plank on clay wheels that would catch in a crack in the sidewalk, lock up, then send the rider flying. It served the neighborhood well; however, getting nailed to the bottom of orange crates and refrigerator boxes, or whatever we wanted to transform into some makeshift, Little Rascals–type vehicle. That was when we were living two blocks north of what would become Greensboro’s new skate park on Hill Street.

“That skate park has brought a lot of outside revenue to Greensboro,” Chris says. “So many people are traveling here because it’s such a great layout.” Centrally located, “That gives an opportunity for young kids who only have a skateboard, not even a nice one necessarily, they can come to this place and focus on something that’s positive with positive people around them.”

Chris’ thoughts are echoed by his friend John Pearce. Originally from Fuquay-Varina, John is a 21-year-old vocal performance major at UNCG who grew up skating around downtown Raleigh and the skate park in Apex.

“I was about 8 years old,” John tells me about his first rig. “It was brand-new, my dad got it for me for Christmas. He was big into skating when he was younger. He got me a whole complete deck, it was awesome. Spitfire [wheels] with Royal [trucks] and a Birdhouse board.” John turns his board around to show us the underside. “It’s kinda funny, I still have the same trucks from when I was 8 years old.” (Trucks are the front and rear axle assemblies.)

With the rigors of full-time studies and part-time employment, skating is more than mere recreation. “Music used to be my outlet in high school,” John says. “Music and skating. Now that I’m in school, music kinda stresses me out so I skate to get rid of the stress. I never get sick of skating, you can always go to the skate park and learn new stuff.”

For 21-year-old Josh Acosta, who hails from Palm Springs, California, but relocated five years ago to Greensboro after his parents retired here, “Skateboarding is so much bigger in Southern California so I’ve been skating since I don’t even remember, on one of my older brothers’ boards probably.”

Skaters often talk about entering a state of bliss, not unlike an actor immersing himself in a role. That’s true for Josh, “It’s the sense of freedom of being on your board,” he explains. “It’s such an overwhelmingly calming thing. It’s weird to say ‘overwhelmingly calm,’ being overwhelmed is one thing but being overwhelmed by calmness is bliss, very relaxing.”

Not that this sport is without hazards, automotive collisions for one are being somewhat inevitable. “It hurts,” Josh replies nonchalantly. “You just get up and walk away, not much you can do.”

Chris Roberts has experienced more than a few scrapes and bruises over the years. “From top to bottom,” is how he characterizes his past injuries. “Both collar bones, both wrists, my left elbow four or five times, my right patella, my right ankle, and few toes here and there. I think that’s it.”

Regardless, or perhaps due to those occasional mishaps, skateboarding provides an excellent vehicle for teaching youngsters critical life skills. “It’s hard,” Chris notes. “You keep trying over and over again. It teaches you perseverance and also courage because it’s scary. It’s healthy, you’re outside, you’re not staring at a screen.” That’s why he’ll continue skating: “Until I can’t stand up on it anymore.”

***

As I was preparing to submit this article, I received devastating news that Taylor Bays had passed away. He was 34. Taylor was a towering presence in our underground music scene, a gifted collaborator, solo performer and lead singer for a number of bands including his own, Taylor Bays and The Laser Rays. He was consistently present in the audience whenever and wherever other local bands were gigging or when cult faves like Green Jellÿ came to town.

Could anyone ever get over losing a friend like Taylor Bays? Not grief whoring, just a simple statement of fact. One of the smartest, wittiest, most talented individuals I’ve ever met, whose death blows a gaping hole in our arts community and in our hearts; a mercurial singer/songwriter whose coat of many colors was woven from the thousands of people he inspired, supported, influenced, and loved. Whenever I spent time with Taylor, we were like kids catching minnows in a creek. Now I’m gasping for air. OH

Billy Eye will be summering this year in a large icebox.

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