Flow riders: Hip-hop and skate cultures collide at Tampa Pro

This weekend's competition at Skatepark of Tampa showcases a cross-pollination of scenes.

click to enlarge Chris Reitz rips a line at SPoT. - chip weiner
chip weiner
Chris Reitz rips a line at SPoT.

Skateboarding culture has always been intrinsically linked to underground music. And the soundtrack to the scene has evolved right along with it, from the surf-washed rock of the 1960s and ’70s — when skateboarding was still a breezy landlocked alternative to surfing — to the heavier sonic tenor of punk and hardcore that took hold in the ’80s, as skateboarding became both the counterculture’s chosen pastime and a significant underground sport. During its mainstream ascension in subsequent decades, the rise in urban youths turning to skateboarding for a means of escape and expression in the ’90s heralded the introduction of the beat-bumping hip-hop that’s become so pervasive in the scene over the past 10 years.

Skateboarding videos are the most obvious overlap of extreme sport and sounds. The skater is the focal point, but a great song creates drama, stokes excitement, makes average moves seem extraordinary (and average falls seem devastating), and brings an even greater sense of grandiosity and artistry to already impressive maneuvers. (It also covers the sounds of grunts, shouts, and wimpy-ass whines and screams.)

The harmonic collision materializes tangibly and locally at Skatepark of Tampa, where the swish of wheels against wood, metal and concrete is set against sounds that pound walls and permeate the airy warehouse space. The nucleus of the local skateboarding scene, SPoT was established in a Tampa warehouse in 1993 by a group of 20-something skate punks ring-led by Brian Schaefer, who, along with his miscreant crew, has played a significant part in helping establish a significant skate presence in the Southeast. In fact, SPoT is generally regarded as one of the best places to skate on the East Coast (it’s actually featured in two Tony Hawk games).

Dana Nichols has been immersed in the Bay area skate scene for many years. Its fertile health — which he credits to SPoT — spurred the creation of Nichols’s skateboarding-and-music zine, Misprints. He says the area is a great place for amateurs to get started, and its annual Tampa Am competition an ideal platform for amateurs trying to make a name in the industry before heading to the much more competitive West Coast. “It’s almost a micro-climate of skateboarding, a pocket around Tampa Bay that is rich in skateboard culture.”

SPoT has expanded tremendously over the years. It doubled as a music venue from the beginning, but Schaefer and his team have since enlarged the pro shop space and the main indoor pro course (which is ripped up and rebuilt every year to keep riders on their toes), increased SPoT’s online offerings, and expanded into a second warehouse at the rear of the property housing storage, online sales, and a smaller indoor kiddie course. (A concrete course connecting the two warehouses was co-funded by Nike and Converse for the park’s 20th anniversary party in 2013.) In 2010, Schaefer opened a second pro shop and an adjoining restaurant, The Bricks, in Ybor City.

A recent 10-day restructure at SPoT upped the vert elements for the Concrete Jam at the 22nd annual Tampa Pro Party this weekend. “It kind of brings back the element of what Tampa didn’t have for a few years and what it was known for back in the day,” Schaefer explains, referencing the latest resurgence of vert skating (skating transitions that curve up to include vertical surfaces).

The park’s Tampa Am and Tampa Pro draw competitive talent from around the globe. Each event comes to a big ol’ concert climax featuring acts with ties to the scene, whether it’s via the park's relationships or a sponsor with wads to blow on buzzy skate-friendly performers.

And sometimes, all the right elements come together to create magic, like when Band of Horses played the Tampa Pro in 2008. “There was a light drizzle, it was almost like a light fog coming down and it was a little chilly, and I just remember being on the vert ramp — because you could sit on the deck and see the whole bandshell from there — and watching Ben singing,” Schaefer recalls. “Steam was coming out with each breath, and it just sounded so good. I had one of those moments where you go, ‘Wow, this is incredibly amazing.’”

Party lineups in recent years reflect the co-existence of heavy and hip-hop sounds in the skateboarding scene: Agnostic Front, Superchunk, Avail, Fucked Up, Les Savy Fav, Black Lips, and Dinosaur Jr., yes, but also De La Soul, Trinidad James, Flatbush Zombies, Souls of Mischief, Ghostface Killah with Raekwan, Action Bronson with Riff Raff, Big Boi. “It’s very diverse now, more than it ever was,” Schaefer agrees.

Alabama rapper and Shady Records star Yelawolf, who first played the Pro Party in 2011 warming up for Bad Shit, returns five years later to headline the Saturday Pro Party festivities with his brash, rock-influenced style. He’s an apropos choice; he has a skateboarding background and he’s said that skating and music are one and the same for him, though too many injuries prompted him to give up the former to focus on the latter.

“I bring the same kind of energy, same passion I have for skateboarding, into the booth,” he told Complex.com in 2011. “I think skateboarding definitely instilled the fearlessness — go for broke, just do it. The way I skated was wild, I always went for it. ‘All will, no skill’ — that’s how I used to throw tricks that I couldn’t pull … I fall hard, but when I land and pull it off, I do it with style.”


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