Calgary has a long and often topsy-turvy history with skateboarding. We have seen many indoor skateparks come and go. The opening of numerous outdoor parks is building a buzz of excitement, talent, and increased participation. With so many new skaters we need people like Brent King to dig up the past and tell us the stories that make the Calgary skateboarding community so great.
I had a chance to interview Brent recently and if you would like to learn more be sure to check out his Instagram @skatopia1 and on his Facebook page at Skatopia Park.
- How did you get involved?
BK – A couple years ago I was picking up an order of parts from a business in NE Calgary. While waiting out back I had a memory of my older brother with me (12 yrs old) in tow descending the grass hill behind the building to go to a skatepark circa 1978. That Skatepark was Skatopia1 and I had forgotten all about it until that moment. Further research indicated that the park had indeed been in that group of building (actually next door) but there was very little information beyond an address and a few black and white photos on line. That began my journey to uncover as much information about the park as possible. It’s become a bit of an obsession. The park pre-dates home computers the internet and digital camera technology. Photos, were a not convenient back then. Cameras were large and relatively expensive, developing took a long time, and the quality was generally poor especially for a kid taking action shots. Non the less there are shoe boxes full of dark, low res pictures of the park, stored in basements around the city, and thats what we are trying to find. There has been a tremendous amount of support from the contributors to both of the social media pages. The stories alone are priceless and we offer a retro sticker pack to anyone who contributes photos, stories of knowledge to the pages.
- What was your interest in digging up the past?
My recollection of the park is from a 12yr old kids point of view and was very patchy. My initial desire was to rebuild my own memory. Our goal now is to archive this knowledge so that it can be shared with others of the era as well as future generations. I hope this interview helps to create a lasting record.
- Did you skate there?
I only visited the park once, I lived on the opposite corner of the city and it required multiple bus transfers to get there. My parents were not supportive of the sport (beyond an after school distraction) and my brother wasn’t going to make a habit of dragging me along. I remember the experience being overwhelming. Some of the images are burned powerfully in my mind, like the large snake run, the freestyle area and the fenced off keyhole.
- How long was it open?
The business license indicates that they incorporated on May 15, 1978. Newspaper articles from the same time put opening day that same week. The closing date is a little more fuzzy, We have photos of membership cards issued as late as May 13, 1980 and reports that it was open until early 1981. After the business closed, a number of the older “regulars” of Skatopia1 would sneak in to the park and ride the abandoned bowls. The building’s owners would fill the bowls with gravel and debris to stop them but they would persist in cleaning parts of the park and riding anyway. One story involved one of the guys riding his motorbike through the abandoned park. It all came to an end when the owners pushed all the above grade features into the bowls, then filled the bowls with gravel, and capped the park with a concrete slab entombing it for the last 40 years. My recent visit into Bay 4 of Skatopia1 shows evidence of 8” of additional concrete added on top of the previous grade that was the park. This would indicate that all bowls, coping and grade features are still intact under the 8” slab.
- Where was it?
The building is located on 30 st NE, Behind Marlborough Mall. It spanned 4 huge bays of an 8 bay building. The tenants of bay 4 were recently very kind and allowed us to do a tour of their facility which still has the original art on the walls. We were able to confirm the addition of 8” of concrete by comparing old photos of the art to current day. Five cinder blocks are visible below the art in ’79, only 4 blocks are now, indicating that one full block (8 inches) is buried in a new slab.
- Who skated there? Anyone famous?
The park held a contest in 1978 or 79 where they attracted some big names of the time. Lonny Toft, Russ Howell (the 360 king), Jerry Valdez, Bob Mohr, Steve Rocco, Ellen Barryman and Vicki Vicker. These names were huge in the exploding California Skate scene. It was a pretty ambitious move to have them up to Calgary for a contest, not surprizing considering how ambitious the design of the park was in the first place. We have a copy of Russ Howell’s membership card, its classic.
- Who built it?
The park was owned and built by a Real Estate business man and at least 3 partners. We have their names and have been searching for them without success for a few months now. The 70s was a paper based time and tracking them down has proven difficult. We really want to talk to them about the motivation to build, details of the operation and ultimately the reasons for failure of the park. To date we have had no luck in tracking them down. I estimate that they would each be in their late 70s by now if indeed they are still alive. As you can imagine, most 70 year olds don’t have a rich online presence. We have had to resort to some old school detective work to find them but we won’t give up. Stay tuned to the IG and FB site for updates as we find out more.
- Who operated it?
Skatopia Management Company ran the park originally until Late ’79 when the operation was handed off to a local sporting goods shop (Sunbum Sports) that operated it until its closure. Sunbum sports used to have a shop in south Calgary (Canyon Meadows Mall) that sold some skateboard gear. The details of the switch in management are fuzzy, remember all of our information sources were 12-17 yrs old at the time. They weren’t interested or privy in the business aspects of the operation, which is why we want to find the original owners so badly. There is a wealth of knowledge that will be lost if we don’t interview the “Adults” that were involved.
- How much did it cost to skate?
Memberships cost $10 and it was reported to cost $2 for 2hours and $7 for the full day. In today’s dollars that is: $34 for a membership, $7 for 2hrs and $24 for the day
- Was there always supposed to be a Skatopia 2? As implied.
The original brochure that we obtained indicated plans to open a Skatopia2 and possibly a Skatopia3, both in Edmonton
- Do you think Calgary is ready to sustain such a venue now?
I have had this conversation with a number business and real-estate associates of mine. Sadly, I don’t see how it is possible as a conventional profit based business. There is certainly a need but I can’t see it happening without help from the City. We have seen a lot of private indoor facilities come and go in Calgary over the last 40 year. Each of them were critical to our skateboarding history, but all of them ultimately, often quickly, failed to turn a profit or even break even. That being said, we salute those who have had the passion and the stamina to create these indoor parks, old and new. My youth and indeed my adulthood was shaped by these individuals who dared to dream about the business of Vert. Myself and many others dream about excavating Skatopia1 and restoring it to a usable indoor attraction but for now it will have to remain a ghost park safely entombed in concrete.
- Any last thoughts or comments?
Much thanks and all credit goes to the contributors of @skatopia1 on Instagram and “Skatopia Park” on Facebook. Without them this is just a 12yr old kid trying to remember something from 40 years ago.