Saving Channel Street Skatepark

Saving Channel St. interviews with Andy Harris, Robbie O’Connell, Yamo and Bill Sargeant by April Jones

Channel Street Skatepark successfully existed for over a decade under Interstate 110 in San Pedro, California, until 2014 when overpass construction led to an ongoing shutdown. Today, Channel Street founders and advocates continue to push for a reopening, but the legal matter proves to be a more complex task than anyone ever imagined. The San Pedro Skatepark Association, a non-profit created by its founders to build, manage and fund Channel Street Skatepark, has been working relentlessly to accomplish the goal. No one has ever had to work backwards to get a DIY skatepark permitted, up to code and reopened after a shut down, yet the S.P.S.A. is determined to get the job done. The focus of my documentary ‘Concrete Law’ and these interviews is to shine light on Channel Street and its battle to reopen this vital DIY skatepark for San Pedro and skateboarders all over the world.

ANDY HARRIS

What’s the current status at Channel Street and why the recent hold up?

The current status of Channel Street is closed, for a variety of reasons, mainly having to do with the Port of Los Angeles having jurisdiction over what happens on the land, and that agency not really being open to being landlords of a skatepark. There has been a bit of a tug of war between the Port of Los Angeles and the City of Los Angeles, mainly in District 15, Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office. 

What are the next steps for reopening?

Well, COVID-19 slowed the process down big time, which has also led to a whole lot more homeless encampments down at the park. It made a tough situation even tougher. One thing that did get worked out is the land transfer from the Port of Los Angeles to the Dept of General Services in the City of Los Angeles. That’s going to help us because now we will be away from the Port, which didn’t want to have any liability or any involvement. We will be able to get back in there and get new locks and keys on the gates and start work on all of the parts that were torn out of the skatepark and clean the place up. There are a lot of things that need to be done. The good news is that, if everything goes as planned, we are going to be able to get in there in a few weeks and start doing some work and start taking the place back.

Nice. Once you start rebuilding, what ideas are in the works for the reopening and the expansion of Channel Street?

Well, one thing we are going to do while we are working is keep up the fences that the Harbor Dept put up. I don’t want to see those fences there when the park is reopened but, during all of the maintenance and rebuilding that we have to do, it will be helpful to have the fences up. Once we get started, there are a couple of areas that need to be rebuilt. We have an idea of what we want to do, like an addition to one of the bowl areas that was partially torn out by the contractor working on the freeway addition, so we are going to rebuild some cool stuff in there. It’s hard to explain what it’s going to look like, but I’m pretty excited about it. There are a lot of pieces of coping that got nicked and a lot of guardrail work to do. We worked out a deal with Spohn Ranch where they will do all the fabrication of the new rails at their shop and we’ll do the install. Rebuilding the bowl will be fun, so that shouldn’t be a problem at all. We have to rebuild the torn out sections and get the guardrails up to LA code and do some routine maintenance and then get liability insurance again. All of my contacts for insurance are not available anymore, so I need to start doing research from other parks. The insurance policy is important because we are going to need a liability insurance policy in place when we are back there and open. 

Once the permitting process is complete, will the park be owned by Parks and Rec?

No. The plan is to place the park under the jurisdiction of the General Services Dept. It seems to be a kind of catch-basin for properties that don’t quite fit anywhere else in LA city departments.  From the standpoint of Joe Buscaino’s office, everybody seems to think this is a really positive thing, and a good spot for the skatepark to wind up because we might be a bit more autonomous than we would be with Recs and Park. I was a little concerned about Recs and Park, because I thought it might open up some situation that I’m not used to dealing with. At this point, I think that anything is better than the Port of Los Angeles, when it comes to skateboard parks under overpasses. 

ANDY HARRIS. PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

How will that be different from the park’s previous status? 

We run the San Pedro Skatepark Association and have been stewards of the park before. I can’t say that we are stewards of it now, since we are not in there, but I don’t foresee a lot of interference or intervention from the City. I could be wrong. I hope I’m right. I feel like they want to let us in there to do what we’d done before with community empowerment and policing ourselves and keeping down the partying aspects that can be associated with a skatepark or a DIY. I think we should be all right. One thing that I’m unclear about still is the rebuilding and if we can just go back to doing what we do and build stuff and not have to answer to anybody. Whether or not that is going to happen, that’s another story. 

The first mission is just saving it, right?

Yeah. We’re just taking it one day at a time. I’m  excited about the prospects for public art down there. There are lots of things that I want to do down there that could really promote that site and the tight-knit community near the waterfront and all of the history in Pedro. I think there is a lot of potential to do some really rad stuff there. First, I want to get the park repaired and opened.

What has been the biggest battle throughout the permitting process?

Dealing with the Port; they’re shysters. They say one thing and then do another thing. They have one guy that says it’s okay and we start doing stuff and then we start talking to somebody else in the Port who says, “No. This was never allowed.” It’s those kinds of problems, so I wasn’t getting a real clear sense of who is in charge and what they want us to do. That was one of the biggest challenges. Early on, when we were first building, it was before they had ever done any kind of accurate surveys. All of the different agencies were just passing the buck on who was going to regulate Channel Street Skatepark and San Pedro Skatepark Association. The Port passed the buck to the city and the city passed the buck to CalTrans. Nobody knew who was going to be dealing with it until the freeway project started and they actually did a survey and really looked at the land and saw that the Harbor Dept does own the land. The biggest challenge has been the uncertainty of who owns it and dealing with people that were there that did own it that were just kinda wishy washy with shady tactics. 

You’d think that the law would be concrete and not an opinion.

You have to realize that it is kind of a gray area under the freeway there, so it was a process. At first, our greatest asset was the confusion of who actually owns the land, but it’s now turned into a little bit of a nightmare for us. That’s why I’m really happy about the idea of getting away from the Port. Hopefully, they will give us autonomy. Apparently, we are going to be dealing with a new police agency too because next to the Port’s land and CalTrans land, is the parking lot, where we were dealing with a mix of Los Angeles Port Police and California Highway Patrol. Now that we have been moved to a General Services Department project, we may be dealing directly with the LAPD. Anything is better than the Port Police. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the LAPD and having a get to know you meeting and just explaining what our focus and mission is down there and seeing what the reaction is from them. I think, especially in light of all of the things that are going on right now in the world with the racism tensions and the microscope on the police, it’s a great opportunity to show community effort with the police too. 

What effect did the city’s advocacy have on getting the park reopened and do you think it’s important to build relationships with the city? 

Well, it definitely hasn’t been perfect. It started when Councilwoman Janice Hahn was there. She is now on the County Board of Supervisors and she was in  Congress for a little while as well. She’s the one that was kinda rubber-stamping Channel Street Skatepark. She basically said, “Yeah. This is cool and I think that we should support these guys.” Then, when Councilman Joe Buscaino came in, he inherited us. I knew him and his family and that relationship helped. It definitely helps to have the backing of the City. When Janice Hahn was in there, we had other cities calling her office to see how they were reacting to skateparks like ours. Marginal Way, up in Seattle, got a lot of help from Janice Hahn’s office, because Janice Hahn was talking to them about our situation and saying, “Yeah. We support these guys and we think this is a good thing.” A good positive thing came out of it for Marginal Way as well. I’m not sure the extent of it, but I know they came looking for support and contacted Janice’s office and got support. 

“The good news is that, if everything goes as planned, we are going to be able to get in there in a few weeks and start doing some work and start taking the place back.”

Amazing. Do you think that the permitting process you’re doing now may become the future process to saving DIYs?

It can’t hurt. You can forge a relationship with your city councilman and mayor’s office and it can’t hurt. I think that every spot is different and every circumstance is different. San Pedro, even though 150,000 people live here, is a tight-knit community, especially when you consider how many people work in the longshore industry and know each other and how many people in public life have families that live in town. It’s only three degrees of separation here. Everybody knows everybody and that helps. 

Families of skateboarders have grown up at Channel Street. Talk about the hometown vibe at Channel Street.

That is what helped the thing along in the first place. When me and Robbie and the guys were down there early on, people would stop in and say, “What are you guys doing?” That led to a guy saying, “I have a bunch of concrete tools. I’ll bring them down for you guys.” Or a guy would say, “I’m a concrete pumper. I’ll bring the pump down for the next pour.” Avenues opened up from it being a small town where everybody knows everybody. I was a teacher when Channel Street started and I knew a lot of the middle school kids that were skaters and that was a nice bridge that we created, where these kids were seeing me in an academic environment and then they were seeing me down there helping them learn to do basic but important things like how to take care of your own stuff and take out the trash and keep the place clean and protect the spot that you’re creating. In the early days of Channel Street, there was a lot of positivity because of the small town vibe there. 

Talk about some of the skateboarders that have come up at Channel Street.

There are so many kids that have come out of there. Not all of them turned pro, like Robbie Russo or Ronnie Sandoval, but there are a lot of guys that learned to skate there and they got to experience a very rare thing down there with that community. I would love to say that we are going to recreate something similar to that community again when we get the place open. It was a very rare scene to see these young guys learning to take care of this place. There are a handful of skateboarders that came up from Channel Street that have gone way beyond in skateboarding. They learned to skate there and went on to become all terrain animals because of that place. 

It probably saved some kids from going down the wrong path too. 

Yeah. Some of them were going to go down the wrong path no matter what you did, but there were some cases where it was a really good experience for those guys. A lot of them took it really hard when the park closed because it was their safe place. It’s a bummer that it kinda broke apart the crew, most of whom are in their late 20’s/early 30’s now. It was sad to see because it was such a tight knit crew. A lot of them gave up skateboarding just because the park wasn’t there. It’s not the same to go to a regular city-sanctioned park. There is that cool authentic element of being down under a freeway and skating and hanging out at a place that was built by skateboarders and by the locals. 

Absolutely. Why do you think that the city skateboard parks in the surrounding area can’t fill the needs of skateboarders like Channel Street does?

Well, a lot of times, it’s not about the quality of a skatepark. It’s more about the vibe. There was good stuff to skate at Channel Street and it was challenging, but there is also something to be said for the general environment, under the freeway. For kids, teenagers and adults, it’s just a cool place to be. The place is trippy and people wanted to be associated with it. When you go to a manicured skateboard park like Peck Park, half the time the contractors get it wrong and don’t build it to the specs and it’s not as challenging and some of it’s not very functional. Channel Street had plenty of problems too, but because of the Do It Yourself ethos and because you built it yourself, you figure out how to skate it. You figured out how to build it so then you figured out how to skate it. 

What were some of the different ways that the community has stepped up to support Channel Street over the years?

The community stepped up in a lot of ways. We did a lot of fundraising and people would buy shirts and hats from our website and businesses kicked down money. I’m a longshoreman and I work on the waterfront down here and our Credit Union kicked down some money towards the skatepark. When you can drive by and see kids skateboarding at a place in your local community, it behooves the public to do something to help maintain that. That little pizza joint that’s right there close to the park, Big Nick’s Pizza, has always been super cool to the kids, and they always kick down pizzas when we are there working. Of course, the kids go in there and spend money too when the park is open. It’s beyond this community too. There was the big Vans donation that we got. Some years ago one of the owners of DVS, whose family owned a concrete company, ended up getting us a bunch of free concrete, with the assistance of Daewon Song. People want to help something like this because it’s a feel good thing. 

When I talked to John at Big Nick’s Pizza, he said, “Skateboarders are the reason that we started selling pizza by the slice.” 

I remember seeing that in the first part of your movie. I didn’t even know that, but it makes sense. All of those businesses – the doughnut shop, the Mexican place, the cafe across the street, the pizza joint and the liquor store – have benefitted from having a skatepark there. It’s the best of all worlds. You’ve got a park in an industrial setting and it’s far enough away from the businesses that it’s not causing noise issues. It’s not in a neighborhood so there’s none of that ‘not in my backyard’ mentality that a lot of skateparks get from residents. Having a location where you’re close to businesses that can benefit from it, is a win-win too, because they are motivated to make sure that you stay there. 

How can people help Channel Street even if they don’t have money to donate?

Vocal support for the skatepark and what we’re trying to accomplish helps for sure. Donations help too because I’m sure we are going to need more money down the line. Right now it’s about showing support and staying in touch with what’s happening at the park. Hopefully, we can get it reopened soon.

ANDY HARRIS. PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

Should people go and help clean the park now or stay clear while you are working to get the park reopened?

Right now, considering some of the problems we have had with the Port Police recently, I don’t want anybody down there. We’re not even down there right now. Once we do get those keys and we get access to the site, I will announce it on my social media platforms and people will know that the park is being worked on and we are back in action. Once we get it going, we are going to put together some clean up and fundraising activities. Hopefully, we can start getting people back into the park, after this pandemic nightmare clears, and start doing some fundraisers and have some bands play and do all of the things that make it more than just a skatepark. Once we can get back in there again, I’m definitely welcoming people to come and try to put in whatever effort they can. There are things we can do around the community too. It’s not just keeping the skatepark clean. We look good as an organization when we keep that whole area solid and clean, so there will be opportunities for all of that. It’s good news right now. This coronavirus has slowed down the operation though. Hopefully, within a few weeks, we should have some access back to the skatepark.

What advice can you give skateboarders that have built a DIY spot that has been discovered by the city and shut down?

Well, you can’t just be a gnarly DIY builder dude. You have to be able to deal with the powers that be. That has been my experience, from Washington Street and Channel Street and a couple of other spots. There has to be that component of being able to sit down and speak in a way that you can get along with the police and elected officials. If you don’t, they are just going to squash you. If you think you’re going to be a dick and get anything done because you think you have some leverage, you’re wrong. There has got to be some diplomacy. You need to have a diplomatic component to every DIY. I think it’s really necessary. 

It’s about the ultimate goal and everyone working for the same cause. It doesn’t matter if they are a cop or a councilman.

Yeah. Another piece of advice is that you have to keep your people under control too. I’ve had to bring the hammer down on some young guys or girls over the years when they start to think that they are immune to laws. Remember that you’re providing an example for the community. It goes way beyond skateboarding. It’s a community effort and a community project. If you’re going to go act like a jackass and be openly partying in the park, it definitely goes against your cause. Make sure that everyone involved with the park is on the same page. You have to think about the consequences of what you’re doing. I know that I can drink a beer on the sly at the skatepark and I’ve been doing it for years. You just have to be sly about it. It’s all on us. It’s things like cleaning up after yourself and having respect for something that you collectively own with everybody else. It was really hard for a lot of these kids to get that into their heads at first. They’d say, “Mr. Harris, you own the skatepark.” I was always adamant about saying, “I don’t own the skatepark. The skatepark is yours and mine. The skatepark belongs to everybody that uses the park in a positive way.” It was a new concept for a lot of those guys. It was the first time they’d ever heard anything like that. It’s a true democracy. 

What keeps everyone motivated to keep fighting to save Channel Street after all these years?

I don’t know. [Laughs] I’ve almost given up a few times. I think it’s part of the small town vibe. It’s a world port, but it’s kind of a surf town as well. A lot of people work on the docks and a lot of people know each other and a lot of people have seen the positive aspects of Channel Street. It’s become part of the fabric of Pedro and a lot of people don’t want to see it closed. People don’t want to accept that because they see what happens when the park is closed and what happens with the homelessness underneath the freeway and what happens to that area that was being beautified up until the point when we got kicked out of there. It’s fallen into a state of disrepair and become a giant eyesore in the community. That’s part of the rationale. They’re like, “These guys were doing something positive.” Now we have even bigger ideas to turn this into something positive and a beautiful spot and really make it into a landmark that people will want to come and visit. That’s huge. I can’t tell you how many people have come through that park over the years from out of state and out of the country. We have built something that people want to travel from Sweden to come and skate. That’s amazing. We had people that came here to get on cruise ships here because it’s a cruise ship hub. Maybe not now after this virus, but over the years, when people came here to get on cruise ships to Alaska or Mexico or wherever, a lot of the kids would make it a point to come to Channel Street and skate. They were coming from all over the Midwest and Canada and bringing their skateboards because they found out that San Pedro is where Channel Street is. I can’t tell you how many people have come through that are like that. It’s amazing! 

When I travelled from Portland to skate Channel Street, I met someone from out of the country that was skating there. 

Good! I remember meeting David Gonzalez from Colombia when he was 12! He’s such an incredible, mind-blowing skateboarder and I met him when he was a kid because of that park. 

I can’t wait until you guys open back up. 

I’m looking forward to it. 

Is there anything else you want to add?

Big thanks to Transitions Skate Shop, Buddy and Keisha.They’ve been with us since day one. Thanks to Miki Vuckovich and the Tony Hawk Foundation for believing in us early on. Thanks to the Los Angeles Harbor community. And, of course, thanks to my wife, Cara, for all those days of dealing with me running off to play with wet concrete! That’s about it. Thank you. 

ROBBIE O’CONNELL

ROBBIE O’CONNELL. PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

Hey Robbie, Andy hit me up with the good news about Channel Street. Considering the state of the world right now, I was surprised there was progress happening. 

Yes. It sounds good. I’m just taking it as it comes. With this, you really have to roll with the punches. 

Well, one thing you said in the Concrete Law documentary is that you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Yep. I plagiarized those words from somebody. All kidding aside, that’s the way this game works. From what I know, this isn’t a situation that can be micromanaged. I know that people like to believe that somebody has an answer, but we just work with a lot of the city people and bounce ideas off them. Sometimes we have to say, “It looks like this guy is really pissed. We’ve got to back off.” Then we go back in there and take another swing at it. We’re making it up as we go along really. No one can really take too much credit for it. Channel Street is a semi-miraculous thing that came together. Thankfully, Joe Buscaino and Janice Hahn really want the best for the next generations too. Hopefully, we all don’t crash and burn like a bunch of dip-shits. There’s a good possibility that could happen. I’d say it’s 60/40 that we will be the 60% and the dip-shits will be the 40%.

Well, speaking of Janice Hahn and Joe Buscaino, it’s cool that they stepped up. Normally, you don’t see city advocacy in DIY skateboard parks. What kind of effect do you think they had on the process?

A significant one! Getting back to our humble roots, it’s like I’ve heard Red or Sage say about Burnside. Channel Street wasn’t winning any beauty contests to begin with. The place was a spot where people dumped old mattresses, hot water heaters and all kinds of weird shit. We cleaned it up, not CalTrans. It was me, Andy, Hal, Danny and the originals. We got it all swept up and started taking pride in the place. We used to set up jump ramps and wall ride ramps down there and we just went with what the universe gave us. The first concrete we built was this infinity pump bump. That was a heavy concept right there. Then this friend of mine had a mini ramp and he had all this wood, so we slapped in this quarter pipe and that stuck around. 

When I say DIY, you always say DIWe. It is a collaborative effort. 

It is. It’s a good way to look at things. Maybe there is some one man army out there. Brewce Martin might be one. He went and bought land and built a barn and put a camper in and started building. That might be a Do It Yourself, but he always has a few allies in there too.

Most DIYs are collaborative efforts, so if someone doesn’t know how to work with concrete, what other ways can they help?

There’s so much. Anybody can help. That is why these things work. When people see others doing something good or selfless, it’s human nature to recognize it. We definitely did something that was super needed and it was put to good use. Now it’s gathering moss and collecting dust and you have troubled souls sitting around. It’s a bummer. Hopefully, we can get back in there again soon and start cleaning it up.

Once you do start building, what design ideas do you have in mind?

There is no shortage of ideas and we just gotta keep it loose and roll with it. One part will be a big wall ride type thing that you can get a lot of speed off of. That’s one thing that everybody is all yes on.

The faster the better. That’s the unique thing about this type of skateboarding. It’s always adapting and morphing. You might not have a specific design plan, but that design will come from something that’s already built that makes sense to your particular flow. 

Exactly. You put it perfectly. There are other things that come into it too, like you can’t make some ridiculously expensive thing. The good people at Vans gave us a chunk of money, and other people did too throughout. You always have to keep it within these parameters, so you can’t go off and say that we’re going to build all of this stuff or you’d end up spending $10,000. You gotta form the concrete with wood and rent Bobcats and tractors and concrete pumps and it adds up. You keep it modest and humble and that’s always the best.

“I think the grittiness and imperfections of DIY skateparks make them a little more special.”

For sure. Channel Street is very unique. Why do you think that the other city skateparks in the area can’t fill the needs of skateboarders like Channel Street did?

I don’t know what everyone’s needs are, but there is some stuff being built that’s just terrible. As far as I’m concerned, cities should hire skateboarders to build skateparks. There are the big three companies – Team Pain Skateparks, Dreamland, and Grindline – and there is Geth Noble and other people out there that are able to do it, but the cities still hire this garbage. Some of the parks are okay, but the landscape of skateboarding can be changed by it. Look what happened in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Those dudes are pounding out great skateparks and they are so good at it. I don’t know why California has what they have. In San Diego, they’ve hired Grindline a few times, and Colorado has all those killer Team Pain parks. You’ve got my homie, Kyle Gallagher, and he’s got a company going. Ben Schroeder made some good shit too and he rips and that dude loves concrete. Get those guys in the game. What are the cities waiting for? They say, “You gotta go with this list that we have. It has to go out to public bid.” Who is on that list? I don’t know why that’s the way it is, but it is. I know it sounds defeatist, but I’ve got a lot going on and I can’t always get in there and argue my point to a city council. A long time ago, pre-Channel Street, Andy and I were at a meeting about a Boys and Girls Club in San Pedro getting a skatepark. John and Sally Homeowner showed up to listen to people talk about the skatepark that was going to be built and people were excited and really happy about it. At that point, Andy and I had been to  Burnside and Lincoln City and we were all fired up. We were talking to them about getting Red down here to build a good park. Andy and I were being as polite as we possibly could and then this dude looked at us and said, “This ain’t about you and your surfer friends coming down here from Oregon and getting jobs.” I said, “I surf, but I’m not from Oregon. I’m from San Pedro.” We were taking the high road and thinking this could be great for everybody, but this guy was just about moving up his political stature.

Well, at least you guys went and tried to get a skatepark before Channel Street.

We exhausted all avenues and tried everything and then we had to take matters into our own hands.

ROBBIE & ANDY PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

San Pedro has a hometown vibe. Talk about the community at Channel Street.

Everybody knows everybody, by and large. There are parts of San Pedro that are thugged out pretty hard, but we’ve got a beach, tidepools and all this natural beauty. There is one way in and one way out, so it’s almost like you live on an island here. I’ve been all over LA skating pools and San Pedro is very cool. One other thing is that the six degrees of separation is only like three degrees here.

A lot of skateboarders grew up at Channel Street. Can you talk about some of them?

Some of them are monsters that can just destroy anything. It’s cool. It’s a natural byproduct of these skater-built do it yourself deals. You can look at Brent Atchley or Mike Chin at Burnside or guys at FDR like Bam and all kinds of other dudes, and Washington Street has Chris Cope. When someone skates in those parameters, they get good quick. I watched Rob Russo learn to skateboard at Channel Street. It also makes me feel old as shit because yesterday he was nine. I watched Ronnie Sandoval learn to skate too and now he has a beard. I’m sure Carlos at FDR on the East Coast has the same type of deal like, “I remember that kid when he was a kid.” It’s trippy. 

You probably instilled a good work ethic into these kids and now they are adults and they could pass down that work ethic from generation to generation. 

Well, there are a few of them that could kick up the work ethic and apply it to their life a little bit more. Overall, they’re great guys. I love them all. If they bulldozed Channel Street tomorrow, it was worth every memory I have. It was unbelievable. 

What are the ways that the community has supported Channel Street? 

There has been so much. We would have a benefit and Toys That Kill and JFA would play. Vans is a big company and they are all about it and support it. This type of situation promotes community. One thing that I can tell you about work ethic is that you show up and bulldoze some stuff, do some grading, put some stuff in there and there’s your skatepark and people are going to be really happy and glad there is something there. The kids helped unload three palettes of concrete bags and there are 35 bags on a palette. Then it’s like, “Okay, now we’re taking out all of this rebar.” In the early days, we didn’t have any power or water, so it’s crazy that it went as far as it did. After helping unload concrete bags from those trucks, those kids had a vested  interest in keeping this place cool. They were like, “Don’t show up here and leave a bunch of trash.” They had a reason to take care of their zone. The best thing was when you’d see them have ownership of their behavior. I might even have a little bit more character now too.

What advice would you give to other skateboarders that have an underground spot that is discovered by the city?

I don’t know if that’s a place where you really want advice. You might just want to sit back and enjoy the ride. Just be in the moment. Be present. That’s the best thing I can say. If you start looking into the future, in my experience, that’s when you have problems. There was not much planning at Channel Street. We just showed up with positive attitudes, shovels and our tools and we were there to help. I guess we were at the right place at the right time.

Did you have any experience working with concrete before Channel Street?

I had a lot of construction experience, but I had no experience with shotcrete and a concrete pump. My friend, Scott Smith, who was a concrete pumper, really got it fired up. He was like, “I’ll order a truck and we’ll get this pump in here.” He brought in modernization and mechanization. Scott was a badass. It was amazing. He was my friend’s older brother and he’d been out of skateboarding for a while and he was living life and paying bills and a mortgage. He stepped up and said, “We’ll use my concrete pump.” It was very cool. His wife Janette got into it too and she did the S.P.S.A. mosaic above the doorway. His son and daughter were there too. It was a family affair and it was super cool. It just fell into place and unfolded that way. The story was writing itself. It’s just like this article. You’re a journalist. You’re in there and you just lob out the questions.

“The place was a spot where people dumped old mattresses, hot water heaters and all kinds of weird shit. We cleaned it up, not CalTrans. It was me, Andy, Hal, Danny and the originals.” 

Sharing this story may give other DIY builders hope and other cities could take a lesson from what you guys have been doing too. For you, what has been the biggest roadblock during this process?

If there’s a roadblock, just wall ride around it. There have been so many and you have to unlearn a lot of things. That would be the biggest roadblock – unlearning. 

With this permitting process that you guys have been going through, it’s almost like you guys are creating your own law because no one has ever permitted a park backwards. It’s a unique situation. 

Yeah. So they say. I don’t know. Channel Street is a good thing and they should reopen it. They shouldn’t go take down Watts Tower either. I’m not comparing us to that, but you can drive from one end of the city to the other and see permitted builds. Channel Street is a great thing and everybody knows it. 

How important is it to build relationships with the city to protect your DIY?

I think it’s beneficial to both sides – the skateboard community and the city. If you’re in a job that does public service and here is the public doing something for the public, I’d think everybody would want to be involved. It could be a win win. These DIY parks are popular wherever you go. They’re popular in Portland, Philadelphia, San Diego and Seattle. They are all over the place now. There is one by Grant Taylor, in the South, too. 

They’re everywhere and they’re still underground. Some cities don’t even know about the majority of them. 

For us, it was beneficial to be open and up front with the city. We weren’t hiding anything and it was all above table. Again, I think that’s a good thing about San Pedro. There were a lot of people that were on board, so we had character references like, “That dude is cool and that dude is cool.” Boom, boom, boom. That helped.

Is there anything else that you want to mention or shout outs you want to give?

There are too many to name. There has been so much stuff and it’s all good. It’s been really good chopping it up with you. Thank you. 

YAMO

YAMO. PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

Hey, Yamo, what is the current status of Channel Street?

Well, the current status is that the place is still filled with trash and motorhomes and homeless. We are hoping to get back in there soon because they just transferred the land from the Port of Los Angeles to the City of Los Angeles General Services who will now take over the property. That means that we are finally going to be allowed to get back in there to open it back up, which is amazing news.

What are the next steps for reopening? 

Well, we have to meet the requirements that the city wants to make it a safe place, which are new guardrails where we never had any before and some other things like parking spots and bicycle parking, which is not that big of a deal. Spohn Ranch is going to be doing all of the guardrails and helping us out with that. They are doing them at cost, which is unbelievable. That’s going to be a huge cost outlay, (huge thank you to Vans), so for them to do that for us is great. People don’t realize how much it costs to put rails around a skatepark. It’s ridiculous. We also have to make repairs where they’ve taken the concrete down and there’s been damage over time. It will probably be a few months of work before we can actually open it back up to the public.

What design ideas are in the works for the rebuilding?

Well, we’ve got some ideas for the area next to the square bowl. We’re going to make a shallow end pocket that’s going to be insane. Where the ollie up to the quarter pipe used to be, there was a little curb where you could ollie up and hit the quarter pipe, and that’s going to be all redone. We are going to bring it all the way out to almost the edge of the parking lot. It’s going to be amazing and I think everyone will be hyped on what comes out. 

What has been the biggest battle throughout the permitting process?

Well, when you’re battling a bureaucracy like that, it’s hard to know which way to swing and where to put your resources. I don’t know what it is about the Port of Los Angeles, but they made it difficult. I don’t really understand why it had to take so long, but I think somebody had an ax to grind, but we still don’t know who or why. 

It’s interesting because the city didn’t know which way to go with this. This has never happened before where someone has gone backwards to permit a DIY skatepark. You’re creating a new standard for future DIYs.

I sure hope so because I keep hearing about these great DIY spots getting torn down after being up for so many years and it’s really tough. The cities have come up with these standards for building these parks that are so over regulated now. For skateparks, and some of the stuff that we’re doing, it’s overkill on the design features that they want. We want everything to be safe but you don’t need all of these crazy oversights if you’re just putting in little pump bumps, handrails, flat rails and things like that. They should just give skateboarders a parking lot somewhere out of the way and let them build stuff and just leave them alone and let them go. Look at a little spot like Cherry Park in Long Beach. It’s a tiny spot, but you go there most days and there are 20 people skating there. It doesn’t take a lot to make most skateboarders happy. 

Yeah. It’s mostly the community. Speaking of community, families of skateboarders grew up at Channel Street. What’s unique about the hometown vibe at Channel?

Yeah. San Pedro is really an interesting place. It’s like a tucked away little enclave of L.A. that doesn’t really consider itself part of L.A. The people from San Pedro are really tight knit. I grew up in the surf community and it’s super localized around here. People don’t like other people coming around here to go surfing. It’s that kind of old mentality. The skatepark at Channel Street changed that for me and a lot of other people. Now people come from out of town and we’re happy to see them. It’s a beautiful scene and it’s wonderful to see and it completely changed my whole perspective on the world. It sounds kinda dramatic, but it really has. We just took it upon ourselves to make something happen and it’s really amazing the way that we all came together to do it. 

Now you build skateparks professionally all over the country. Did you get your start at Channel Street?

Yes. I worked in construction most of my life but, as far as finishing concrete, I didn’t start to learn about that until Channel Street in 2002. 

Do you have advice for anyone wanting to learn to build with concrete?

Concrete is a tough job. If it’s something you love and want to do, I’d definitely say get into it because building skateparks is a dream job for me. Start by building little spots. Get a few bags of Quikrete and find a little place that nobody is paying attention to and build anything you can think of. Your mind is your only limitation when you mix up concrete. You can sculpt it into anything. If you can envision it, you can probably build it. When we built the door at Channel Street, there were people saying they didn’t think it was going to work, but somehow we pulled it off. 

You didn’t set out to be a professional skatepark builder, but now you are. 

Yeah. From building Channel Street, I met people and we’ve had some of the best skatepark builders in the world come through and help and teach us things. Then I got a shot a few years ago to work with Spohn Ranch. They needed someone to help on a skatepark in northern California, so I went there and got on the crew and just hung onto the bumper and wouldn’t let them kick me off. Now it’s my full time gig. I do work on the docks here in the harbor when I’m around sometimes too, but I’ve been trying to build as many skateparks as I can. 

Nice. For a lot of the kids that grew up at Channel Street, some became pro skaters and some learned to build with concrete. Can you talk about those kids and how Channel Street helped them in life?

It’s funny that you mention that. Towards the end when Channel Street was going strong and we felt invincible like nothing could happen, I thought, “Some of these kids better start thinking about getting a job.” Next thing I know, some of these kids have jobs and they’re having kids or they’re pro skateboarders. I really feel like being down at Channel Street gave them work ethic because we didn’t let them just sit around at the skatepark. We made them clean up and help. We gave them a hard time if they were down there doing nothing. 

There is that story of you guys working and the kids were there and you were like, “Pick up your trash!” They wouldn’t and you took a trashcan full of trash and threw it in the park and said, “Okay, now pick that up if you wanna skate.”

Yeah. We said, “Now you can clean it all up!” You wonder if you’re influencing them the right way and hopefully you are. I guess we did and it makes me proud to see what some of the kids have done with themselves, not just the pro skateboarders. 

Yeah. Skateboarding is a positive activity, even if you’re not pro. It might keep you away from something else.

That’s absolutely true. 

There are a lot of city skateparks in the Pedro area now. Why do you think that those can’t fill the needs of skateboarders like Channel Street did?

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they are so generic and they’re like laboratories or something. I think the grittiness and imperfections of DIY skateparks make them a little more special. 

“We’ve got some ideas for the area next to the square bowl. We’re going to make a shallow end pocket that’s going to be insane. there was a little curb where you could ollie up and hit the quarter pipe, and that’s going to be all redone. We are going to bring it all the way out to almost the edge of the parking lot. It’s going to be amazing and I think everyone will be hyped on what comes out.”

There’s also something about building it yourself instead of having it built for you.

Exactly. I think there’s a little more pride involved than just having a city hand you a skatepark. 

What ways can people support Channel Street even if they don’t have any money?

They can support the DIY scene and help create something wherever they are. If they are nearby, they can come help clean up and make the place a positive place to be. Just by being a positive part of the vibe, you’re helping out. If you can’t make it down there, then just be positive in your scene and make your scene happen. When everybody has a positive scene, it helps all skateboarders. 

Was there ever a thought in your mind that Channel Street wouldn’t make it?

There were a lot of them. For the first couple of years, I didn’t think it was going to last and then, for the last three years, I’ve been really negative unfortunately. I’ve been trying to stay positive, but it’s been really hard. We’d make progress and then they’d pull the rug out from underneath of us again and again. You’d feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football, but we finally got our foot on it. 

Yes. What affect did the city’s advocacy have on the process of getting the park reopened? Do you think it helped?

Well, Joe Buscaino and his office really backed us. If he and his people hadn’t gotten behind us, we would have lost it for sure. It started with Janice Hahn. She got behind us and got the ball rolling and we will always be grateful to Janice and Joe. 

I interviewed both of them for the Concrete Law documentary and Janice was like, “I told the LAPD to stand down.” 

Yeah. I love her. She will always have my vote. 

What advice can you give skateboarders that have a DIY underground spot that is discovered by a city and gets shut down? 

Try to get ahold of a local city council member and get them behind you. That saved us. Showing them the good things that the scene creates, that’s the best thing that you can do. That’s the only hope you have really. You have to have a relationship with the city. You want to be out of the way and you don’t want to have to do it, but if it comes to the point where you get discovered, you’re going to have to have an ally in the big house. Otherwise, you’re just going to get blown out. That’s for sure. 

A lot of kids don’t know how to speak to a city councilman or where to go to talk to them.

Well, we got really lucky that Andy is such a likable good person and he’s so well educated and well spoken. That was a big part of us being saved as well. Having someone like Andy helps an awful lot. If you’ve got someone that has a college degree and can speak like an adult, it helps immensely. 

THE CITY SHUTS CHANNEL STREET SKATEPARK DOWN AND PLACES JERSEY BARRIERS TO STOP THE SKATEBOARDING. PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

The premise of the documentary, Concrete Law,  that I’m making is that there are all of these concrete DIY parks and some of them have been around forever. When I started the documentary, I wanted to document your process at Channel Street because I thought if other cities could see the City of LA working with skateboarders to legally permit this DIY skatepark, it could show other cities that they could work with skaters and save skateparks. Do you think that this may be the new standard to save future DIY parks by going through the permitting process?

Yeah. I hope so. I hope it doesn’t have to come to this for everyone. I don’t think many people are going to be able to get away with building these big skateparks like we got away with anymore. If you have a good place to do it and you can get away with it and you have someone like Andy and a good city council person that’s got your back and the stars align just right, you can pull it off. I think the DIY skate scene is becoming more small spots. I think Europe is having a lot more success with their DIY scene than we are here. I’m not sure why. 

Yeah. Their situation is different. I was talking to one of the guys in Finland about it because Suvilahti is there. He said the land is a different scenario. It all comes down to the land, right?

Yeah. It comes down to the land and, if you get lucky enough to find a 30’ by 280’ foot strip of land and nobody knows who owns it, you might get away with it like we did. I feel like we got incredibly lucky to be able to not be torn down by this point. 

Yeah. I hope other people that have spots can learn from your process. I think, by sharing your story, it could help other DIY builders and cities too. When I hear of a DIY spot being torn down, I’m going to send their councilmen the film. I’ll be like, “Look what LA did. You can do this too.”

I’m older and I’m not that savvy, but social media works. Get on social media and get people behind you and get petitions going. You’ve got to let the powers that be know that the world needs these places, especially right now. I’ve never seen a more diverse scene than at a skateboard park when it comes to different types of people coming together to enjoy the same activity. 

Yeah. You can go around the globe and not even speak the same language but talk to each other through skateboarding. 

Absolutely. If you’re in it because you love it, you’re going to make friends quick in skateboarding. 

That’s why I came from Portland to Pedro, from Burnside to Channel Street.

We’re stoked that you’re here. 

Thank you for all of the support.

Thanks for your support. People like you definitely help immensely. 

Well, I’ve tried working with concrete  and I’m not good at it, but I have a camera and I found a different way to help. That’s why I wanted to ask about the ways that people can support without money. 

Right. Even if you can’t build with concrete, you can come and help remove graffiti or donate artwork for an auction or just come down and be a positive influence there. That’s what we need. 

How have you guys kept up the good fight after all of these years? 

It’s not in us to quit. We’re not going to give up what we’ve built with our hearts. They weren’t going to take it away so easy and we weren’t just going to give up. If it came down to it, I guarantee people would have been down there chaining themselves to bulldozers. I’m glad it didn’t have to come to that. It’s just that we weren’t going to give it up. I promise that. 

Do you think that the city expected the skateboarders and the community to step up the way they did? 

They definitely weren’t prepared for that. If there was some intention of wanting to reopen it after the construction on the freeway, they would have started figuring out how they were going to reopen it as soon as they shut it down. They thought we were just going to go away and not care about Channel Street anymore. After we had a brand new skatepark at Peck Park, they thought we weren’t going to care about Channel Street anymore, but they were wrong. There is too much heart and soul in that place to just walk away from it and let it go. Nobody that grew up there or helped build it was going to let that happen. They definitely underestimated us. If you’re a skateboarder, by definition, you are not a quitter. You do not give up. A little bit of pain is not going to make you quit. 

Yeah. Is there anything else you want to mention or shout outs you want to give?

I want to give a shout out to everyone that has come down and helped out at Channel Street, whether they picked up a shovel or cleaned up or finished concrete or just went there and had a good time and donated a few bucks. I want to give a huge shout out to Andy Harris and Rob O’Connell for lighting this fire. The PNW dudes like Red, Sage, Monk and all of those guys came down and helped. We’ve had guys from Washington Street and all over the world come by and help us. Thanks to all of the incredible locals. Thanks to Mark Bradford and Spohn Ranch skateparks. There are too many people to mention and I don’t want to leave anyone out, so to everyone that has ever come and helped us out, thank you so much.

BILL SARGEANT

BILL SARGEANT. PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

What is the current status of Channel Street and why the recent hold up?

Well, we set down in an amazing place and we’ve had a bunch of years unmonitored and then the forces that be got a look at us when they went to expand the bridge. Now, through Andy working with the City Council and San Pedro, they’ve been able to get past everyone that didn’t do anything with skateparks that just wanted to make it go away. Now we are in the best place we can be, especially in this crazy climate of 2020, which is turning into one of those years that you don’t want to go back to. It’s crazy that there is positivity in our direction and we’ll be able to get back in there and clean it up and work on it and skate it again eventually.

Absolutely. I was shocked to know that there is still momentum. Once COVID-19 hit, I thought it would suspend everything. 

Yes. I think maybe they haven’t had as much going on, but I didn’t expect it right now either. It’s crazy and cool that this is moving forward in what has been absolutely a slow down on every level. 

“It’s a unique way that we get to build things in the DIY world. We see who comes strolling in or we see a kid in the parking lot who is stuck living in a car with their mom. I had a kid working that would run a jackhammer because he was big enough and he wanted to do something. He was in a bad way, living in a car with his mom. I can’t imagine how he looks back on that park and what it meant to him.”

What are the next steps for reopening?

We’re going to see what we’ve got to do and then we’re going to get the band back together. Those who have time and want to pick up a shovel and be productive will be there. We have to fix the areas that we cut out to get off the pillars, so we’re going to need some help. We need to know who from the youngers will be able to help and, by youngers, I mean those under 30. There is lots of love, so those questions will be answered organically as we go. That’s how it happened at the beginning and that’s how it will happen now. The kids have grown into men, so it will be fun to see what we can get done as a group with the talents they’ve learned since. 

Once you start building, what design ideas are in the works for the reopening? 

Yamo drew it up and it will be better than it was. We used to joke about the areas that were tough, like the saddle, which is gnarly. There were three or four dudes that did something radical on it and that was as much as anyone was going to get. The saddle was like a patch on a patch, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we had to get rid of that part and we get to mess with it again now with more experience. It’ll be good. You’ll skate it. 

Yeah. DIYS are a never-ending adaptation and you build what you want.

Hopefully. We had the design worked out early. We thought about it when they told us that we needed to be six feet off the pillars for the highway project. That’s why we saw cut it the way that it was for the city. We were like, “It will be nice to rework this area because it’s kind of a pain in the ass spot.” The pillar is at a weird angle and it blocked off the whole skatepark, except for a few feet where you can get by. Now we’re going to go back and build it better than we did the first time. Yamo and Gabe have been building skateparks and I do concrete projects here and there, so we’re going to make it move quickly. Spohn Ranch has been good to us, and Gabe and Yamo have been solid dudes for them. Gabe’s experience in concrete is enormous and Yamo is so good at all of the things that he has done, so we’re going to get it done. 

CHANNEL STREET EARLY DAYS.  PHOTO COURTESY OF S.P.S.A.

What has been the biggest battle throughout the permitting process?

As far as permitting, Andy Harris has been dealing with the powers that be. He’s patient and he’s very good at saying his peace, but not going overboard. He’s so good at being consistent. He shows up and makes sure he asks, “What do we need? What are the problems?” He’s crossing t’s and dotting i’s and waiting to hear the answers that the city said they would give in the timeline they said they would give them. It puts people to task. With the two port entities and three different police forces that we were dealing with, it’s been an endless deal. Andy navigated our way and now we’re not dealing with a giant octopus of bureaucracies. Now we’re just dealing with one bureaucracy, which is much nicer. 

Can you talk about the unique vibe of the community at Channel Street?

Well, I have this kid that is darn near nine years old now and I was already in the skatepark before I had the kid. At first, I would take him down there in a BabyBjorn and then I would take him down there on a little three-wheel scooter. A lot of the girls skating there were all tatted up and there were the girlfriends of the guys skating there and there were the roller-skate girls and all of these gnarly dudes skating there and all of these people had such a good hand with my son. I realized that all of these people have had to take care of their younger brothers or sisters or their own kids. Everybody says that Pedro is so gnarly but, I went into this place that looks gnarly and I trusted so many of them with my kid. It is a family, and I want to see how much of that family is going to come back. There are people that moved to this town just for that skatepark and, when the skatepark went away, some people moved on. I’m not calling them out for leaving. I think some of those people will come back. Some people have a life that involves the community of skateboarding. Skateboarding is just skateboarding to some people, but I’ve always found a lot of good family and people in it. It’s a cool thing. It’s a weird time right now, but this will pass and the family will come back and we’ll have people that travel into town again too. People came from all of these different countries and you’ve got people reading about this in Juice Magazine. I think a lot of people will come back and travel here and there will be some youngers that absolutely kill it.

“I would like the kids to see Channel open again, because it’s cool to see people who don’t have something but they have something inside of them and you can see them learn things and get good input. You can come here and skate and help out and feel good about it.”

Can you talk about some of the kids that came up skating Channel Street?

Little Robbie Russo was there from the beginning. His dad saw what was going on and said, “Go down there.” Robbie came out of the rubble as a little dude and he was already going fast right from the beginning. He was already at the point where he was like, “I’m too old. Ronnie Sandoval is going to be the one.” He saw that Ronnie was going to hit his arc at the right time. Those are our hero dudes. Ronnie did a really good job at coming back after he broke his kneecap. He did it right and he was very diligent. Enough years have gone by that there are no youngers now though. Everybody is still skateboarding, but our culture was Channel Street. When we come back, it’s going to be a whole new thing. There are some really good kids out there and we are going to have homegrown skateboarder kids again. It’s going to take a minute to establish again, but it’s going to happen. 

Totally. I think Channel Street helped kids not go down the wrong path as much too. It saved some skateboarders in a way. 

The thing is that everybody wants to do something and everything is too hard. You’re not on the soccer team because no one is taking you and you don’t really care about that anyway. Skateboarding was there for the rest of us. This year has everybody at home and people that like to do sports are looking at a skateboard again. I know a kid in Chicago and he’s 20 and my wife showed me a clip of him doing an ollie on his board. The reason she showed it to me was because I gave him that skateboard years ago. He became a club level soccer player, but now he can’t do any of that and now he’s back on a skateboard. You just can’t be on a team right now in 2020 because there are no teams allowed, so it’s making people skate again. I’ve seen it in my neighborhood too. Kids are stuck at home and I’ve given them the last of what I’ve got because I don’t have a lot of extra boards anymore. I’m like, “Please don’t break that board in half. I’ve only got one more skateboard for you. Take it.”

Nice. What do you think that Channel Street has done for skateboarders and skateboarding globally? 

If you aren’t going to mess around with transition in your local skatepark, you’re going to come to Channel Street or Washington Street or Burnside and put something down that you have in your head and get that thing done. We will be open again soon so you can. I look forward to being a destination again for traveling skateboarders of the world. 

That’s a good point. The first time I was at Channel, I met someone from Sweden. 

There were two Swedes here for three months in the summer and they had an old Ford van and they just traveled and skated. They loved us and we went and skated with them in San Diego. They came here to skate and they’d travel and sleep in the van. Skateboarders would come here from all over the world. Let’s get back to that. I’m in. 

It shows that this type of skateboarding is a global family. 

It is. It’s one that’s not really seen from outside of skateboarding. I look forward to getting back to that. Right now everything is shut down and this is one of many things on hold. I hope all of this will pass soon.

Yeah, hopefully. In what ways can people help support Channel Street if they don’t have any money to donate?

Just pay attention. Once we start again, you’ll see movement. Just watch it happen and file in if you want to. Donations are great, but come hang out with us and skate when we’re ready too. First, we’re going to work and then we can skate. 

When you guys had fundraising events in the past, do you think that was the main thing that made a significant difference in keeping Channel Street alive? 

No. In the early days, a big percentage of the money came from DVS and that was really helpful. We were getting concrete trucks and they would pay for them. We have some corporate support, so don’t kill yourself to donate to us. If you’re a local and you feel a need to come down and clean up or help out, do it. If not, just keep us in mind. If you can afford to donate, please do at www.gofundme.com/channelstreet. For the people that don’t have money, just come skate. 

Just having people come and skate there shows the city that there is a community. 

Well, I’m a little darker than that. Once we get the okay, we’ve got to keep the okay with those that are looking at us, which is essentially going to be the California Highway Patrol. We have to keep a good relationship with the officers that have to deal with us. Largely, it’s those that are coming down from L.A. that don’t know us. We all have to deal with it on all kinds of levels. I’m not tripping on it because there is a lot of tripping going on about those guys. We just have to get it going and keep it relatively clean. For now, we have to work and show that we’re going to handle it. As people file in, we’ll see how we’re going to behave in the skateboarding culture that we call DIY. It’s a pirate town, but it is L.A. We’ve got an opportunity. Just don’t blow it. You know what I mean?

Absolutely. What advice can you give to skateboarders who have an underground DIY spot that is discovered by the city?

Well, the law is different for every town or city, big or small, and you’re probably going to get smacked down, but find out about the land you built on. Try and get civic with it. Understand who is talking to you and what they represent and work with them. You can’t just be an obvious blow out because that’s what the law does. It stops people from being total blow out turds. You gotta be able to have a clean conversation about what you’re doing. If you’re going to build a DIY spot, expect failure, but reach out to folks and see if you can get a meeting. If you find out who owns the property and they say no, there’s not much you can do. You have to find some dirty horrible hole where nobody goes and build there. Maybe it will stay there for a while and, when the cops roll through, they will see a bunch of vandals making the place better. You make it cleaner by building and making it your clubhouse. Definitely, go for it. Start digging it out in your mind before you do it. Think about who is going to come and bug you and what is going to happen. With Channel Street, I just got on with these two guys and I really wanted to help them develop it and then we got to keep it for a long time. 

Do you think it helped to learn other DIY skatepark’s experiences with the law?

No. I think it’s good after the fact. Maybe it is for some, but L.A. was so different from San Diego and we’re both California CalTrans. The CalTrans that deals with the areas under bridges in San Diego is a whole different gang from the ones in L.A. I can’t even hope to understand Washington and Oregon, because, just from San Diego to L.A. in the same state and the same CalTrans organization, it was different. If you want to do it, be smart about it, so your spot doesn’t get destroyed. Clayton Graul is rad and he does all of these cool spots, but a lot of the spots get ruined. I’m inspired by him, but I hate building stuff and having it destroyed. That has not deterred him at all though. He’s more of a spot guy and he makes things better. Put a little mud on a jersey barrier, fine. When you build something, it sucks when they tell you that you can’t be there and then they spend taxpayers money to destroy it, and then it becomes another place for people to come in and sleep and piss and poop. 

What keeps everyone motivated to keep fighting after all these years?

Everyone is doing their own thing now, but Andy is keeping his finger on the pulse. We are keeping an open ear to when the band needs to play. Right now it’s just trying to set up the show. We have a chance at the show, so everybody is getting ready, and we’re all playing our instruments and our chops are good. When it’s go time, we can make this band work five ways from Tuesday.

Do you have any shout outs that you want to give or anything else to add?

I want to thank Vans. They have been on board with helping us out. Shout out to all of the people that are living their lives or being a rad pro or being an okay pro that needs to get me more clothes because they don’t have a good clothing sponsor. My shout outs are to Andy, Rob, Yamo and Gabe. I want to shout out the old crew and all of our youngers, like Robbie Russo and Ronnie Sandoval for doing something good with it and being righteous dudes. Oscar broke his foot on his motorcycle and I’ve got my fingers crossed for him to be able to get back to being a pretty tech transition dude. He’s a young father and husband and I hope that stuff will file in for him so he can come back and get it going. 

It’s good that you taught the youngers work ethic and building skills at Channel.

It’s a work ethic that we exposed them to. People came down under the bridge and somehow they wanted to be there like I did. I did what I could and I got to learn concrete better. I already had a skill set and I was able to fix some things and do some work and take pictures. You don’t have to feel bad if you’re not that guy. Just come skate and don’t leave a mess and be good to people. I would like the kids to see Channel open again, because it’s cool to see people who don’t have something but they have something inside of them and you can see them learn things and get good input. You can come here and skate and help out and feel good about it. I want to be part of that again. It’s nice to affect lives in that way. It’s a unique way that we get to build things in the DIY world. We see who comes strolling in or we see a kid in the parking lot who is stuck living in a car with their mom. I had a kid working that would run a jackhammer because he was big enough and he wanted to do something. He was in a bad way, living in a car with his mom. I can’t imagine how he looks back on that park and what it meant to him.

Great things have happened at Channel Street. I can’t wait to see it open again. Thanks for the interview, Billiam.

Absolutely. That’s funny. I can’t remember if it was my aunt who called me Billiam or who. Thanks for bringing that back and thanks for the interview. 

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, GET ISSUE #77 AT THE JUICE SHOP HERE.

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