Spot Check – Pioneer Skatepark, St.Albans

Words and pics by Zac
Skate shots by Claire Wilson

Growing up in the UK in the early 80’s on a skateboard was an exciting time. The explosion brought a sense of belonging and eventually became a catalyst for personal freedom never before experienced for most kids. This freedom, fuelled by the discovery of skate shops and magazines like R.A.D and Thrasher made people aware that kids in other towns and cities had the same train of thought, which led to a new discovery on a different level.

During school hours, myself and friends used to plan weekend trips so we could venture into new worlds, find new spots, meet new skaters and it did not take long until we were old enough to get on trains and really explore what was out there for ourselves.

We came to the conclusion that if an area was dry, we could turn it into a good day out with one piece of plywood and some cans of Cherry Pepsi. Indoor skateparks in the South East were non existent but we were lucky to meet a friend who had a mini ramp but it got soaked when it rained. To sustain our needs we helped build mini ramps under disused railway bridges, we skated car parks, derelict buildings and garages, until we discovered Wednesday night sessions at Southbank, which led to scary visits to the treacherous Meanwhile 2, the Latimer Rd vert ramp and any other area that was covered from the rain.

Kids were street skating all hours and the perception from parents and governing bodies were that skaters were just punks and outcasts from society. But this changed somewhat when indoor skateparks were unleashed.

Parents made the difference as they realised that their kids were not the scumbags the media published and that skateboarding was actually an alternative and a lifestyle, some were even jealous. A youth club 30 mins drive from us in Chessington opened and on week nights we used to skate until the lights went out.

This started to happen in various parts of the country and then Northampton’s Radlands opened proving that much more was possible. It was a saviour for the entire country and hundreds of kids from all over the UK would meet there for sessions. Some of those kids went on to change skateboarding forever, the catalyst was unstoppable and skateboarding was unleashed indoors inspiring youth centres and privately owned skateparks such as Playstation, Guildford, London Bridge and many more to provide a meeting place undercover.

20 years ago, the town of St.Albans in Hertfordshire became another name on the skate map you could not ignore. It was one of the first youth centres to address the demand of local skateboarders thanks to the input from Creme Skateboards rider Rodney Clarke who helped convince the people with the budgets to build a mini ramp outside of the main building.

This mini ramp was one of the best ever at the time and it’s safe to say that countless pairs of trucks left their mark on the coping from people who had traveled a long way just for the privilege. Winter sessions on this ramp were becoming a sore subject though, so jump ramps and quarters were built inside which eventually led to a full scale takeover of the building. Eventually the youth centre became a skatepark.

This weekend, we caught up with Rodney at Pioneer’s latest comp held on Saturday 15th March and got caught up in the great atmosphere once again. Explain what’s going in here for people today Rod…

“Well, today is all about trying to raise funds for the park as we we want change the layout and keep it fresh. As you know, the British indoor skatepark scene is under threat and struggles every year to keep itself alive and this fundraiser is a great way of pulling people together to raise awareness of what we are doing down here. The park has been open now for about 20 years now. you could say it’s the longest running indoor skatepark in the South East and opened about 5 years before Radlands, so the heritage needs to be looked after too.”

Looking back a few years, how did this operation start?

I have lived in St.Albans all my life and myself and friends would build mini ramps and jump ramps around town and in woods, but we would always get kicked out and were told we couldn’t do what we were doing. So we approached the youth club to see if they would want skateboarding there and they let us share the hall with different user groups, like fireman playing 5 a side football and old people playing badminton so we had to move ramps about a lot but we got used to it. Then it closed. Unfortunately someone got hurt and tried to sue the park, but fortunately nothing came of it but the atmosphere changed due to the new fire regulations so we could not get quite as many people in. Since then, I have been involved with the design of the park and also run the skate school for kids and i guess because live nearby it has become the number one place for me.

If this park was to close, would it leave a hole in the local skate scene?

“Yeah for sure, if you look at London’s skate scene, it’s huge but there aren’t many indoor facilities to tackle the British winters that we have here. Fair enough there are many new outdoor parks that have been built and some of them are amazing to skate but we need somewhere indoors to ride. We also have Bay 66 in Ladbroke Grove but that’s a miniscule amount of parks for the amount of skaters that are based in the London area. Eventually, this building here will have to move to a new venue. This plot of land is earmarked for development as it is so close to town and city developers see this spot for more housing so they are looking to move us on in the next few years. On the pretense of that, we will only be allocated the same amount of land to redevelop, so the idea is to expand the park, incorperate the outdoor area and increase our footprint so when the time comes, they don’t allocate a shed in a field for us instead.”

How can skaters help you in this cause?

Keep coming to the park. Pay to get in knowing the money is being well used and tell friends about what we are doing here so they can come and support the cause. Thankfully we have local support from the skate scene. Companies like Death Skateboards always support the park. Their riders skate here regularly and a lot of their team are here again today. This generates interest from the kids as they have something to aspire to and that is really important too. So big thanks to them and all the people that have skated and continue to skate here at Pioneer. Also, big thanks to Crossfire as for continued support to the skate scene in the UK and for bringing people together. Look out for the Girls Jam here soon and keep skating…”

The jam itself was great fun with healthy turnout to raise money for the parks’ future. Everyone paid to get in whether they were helping at the event or just there to skate. Blind Skateboards rider Chris Oliver won on the day with big tricks such as varial heelflip 5-0’s down the ledge followed by runner up Amir Williams riding for Listen Skateboards’ whose murder flips and consistent flow edged Rodney Clarke who came third with alley oop tech steez and huge wallrides. This comp though had bugger all to do with competing, it was all about fun.

You can visit Pioneer on MySpace and find the park at Heathlands Drive, St Albans, Hertfordshire here on google maps.

1st – Chris Oliver (Blind)
2nd – Amir Williams (Listen)
3rd – Rodney Clarke (Creme)

over 15
1st – Kyron McGrath
2nd – Duncan Phil
3rd – Dom Pusey

under 14
1st – Ben Rafferty
2nd – Shawn
3rd – Adam Day

under 11
1st – Louis Tambola
2nd – Oliver Nash
3rd – Joe Pike