“These sports are just—you go do it, and you’re doing it on your own, you don’t have to answer to anyone.” – Tony Hawk
Somewhere in downtown Lahaina, in between an ollie and a kick-flip, a young skater is on the lookout for the fuzz. He knows all too well that if the Maui County Police Department catches him skateboarding, he’ll be answering to them.
The sport’s unofficial slogan is “skateboarding is not a crime.” But according to Maui County ordinance 10-52-150, the opposite is true. The ordinance states: “No person upon skateboards or similar devices shall go upon any roadway except while crossing such roadway within a crosswalk. When so crossing, such person shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to pedestrians.”
However, skateboarding is also illegal on all sidewalks in Maui County business districts. Therefore, skateboarders in Lahaina are legally limited to skating the few decrepit sidewalks that exist in the hill-covered residential areas.
To make matters worse, the strictly enforced skateboarding ordinance is mandated with a set of stiff penalties. “I can’t speak for every officer involved in every incident, it’s really a case-by-case scenario, but skateboarders can be fined, cited and have their skateboard confiscated and submitted as evidence,” explains Lieutenant Wallace Tom, spokesman for the MPD. “It’s really up to the officer’s discretion.”
One West side skater who asked that his name not be used says he is “constantly being harassed by the police.” He says he understands that it’s illegal, but that skateboarders have no place to go.
“It’s strange, because I always feel like skateboarding keeps me out of trouble, but then I’m constantly getting into trouble,” he adds. “I’ve even had my skateboards confiscated.”
Most skateboard laws were written to protect public property from the wear and tear of skateboards grinding against asphalt. But many of today’s longboard models are designed to safely coast down roadways—not grind curbs—much like one of the hundreds of beach cruisers legally freewheeling down Front Street on any given day.
Plus, many point out, in an age where every person must count each step of their carbon footprint, some Lahaina residents are riding their skateboards to work, only to be scolded for their conscientiousness.
Not far from where that young criminal practices his tricks, or the gas-saving employee illegally rides to work, stands the place where both may have bought their paraphernalia: the Lahaina Skate Company. Donovan McNab, owner of the Lahaina skate shop (not the injury-prone quarterback of my ill-fated Philadelphia Eagles), has been advocating for nearly 10 years in the hopes of bringing a skate park to the West side. Victory is closer than ever—but the wheels could still fall off.
“I really believe a skate park will be a valuable asset to our entire community, for both locals and tourists,” says McNab. “A skate park makes the community a better place to live and visit. And this side of the island generates the most tax revenue for the county, so shouldn’t we have a skate park also?”
Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson, who has supported a skate park since the idea was first conceived, agrees with McNab. “We must take care of the West Maui community needs, when our community is taking care of the needs of many other communities on Maui,” she says. “It is called capital reinvestment. Our kids deserve to have this park.”
Johnson says building a skate park would provide kids with a positive recreational outlet, and offer a “bright spot in our dismal economic [times].”
In 2006, Johnson pushed to have the county budget $100,000 to purchase plans from Gindline, a Seattle-based skate park design and construction company. From Kansas City to Israel, Grindline is renowned for building some of the world’s gnarliest skate parks, following a unique design protocol based on community input.
West side skaters and stakeholders agreed on a 15,000-square-foot design, complete with two bowls, a middle connector, a central green area and lights for night skating. The selected location sits immediately behind the Lahaina Aquatic Center.
Once plans finally met approval, the county budgeted funds for construction of the park in 2009. Currently, construction of the park is caught up in the permitting process, and all earmarked funds must be used by the end of the fiscal year.
“Once it gets built, this skate park is gonna be awesome, but it’s been a little bit slower than usual,” says Micah Shapiro, lead designer for Grindline, adding that the company understands “things move at island time.”
Island time or no, for McNab the skate park is long overdue. “I think it would be a sad sight to see the end of this year approach and go by and not see a skate park built for West Maui,” he says. “These kids over here deserve it, need it and have worked tirelessly for it.”
Maui County and the state as a whole have long failed to recognize the benefits of recreational skateboarding. “Skateboarding has a long history in Hawaii, longer than in most places,” says Scott Shinn, Director of the advocacy group Parents for Skateparks. “Yet Hawaii never responded to the skateboarding boom in the ’70s with skate parks like California and Florida did.” Shinn says a lack of skate parks has forced kids in Hawaii to ride in public places and on private property, which has put an undeserved stigma on a widely popular sport.
“Skateboarding is now in the same league as baseball and football in terms of participation numbers,” Shinn says. “Yet the keiki don’t have a safe and accessible place to enjoy the sport they have chosen.”
One such keiki is the 10-year-old nephew of Pam English, director of the West Maui Taxpayers Association. English has been working closely with McNab in an effort to get the park funded and pushed through the permitting process before year’s end. “It can be tedious,” she says. Despite having to weave through a labyrinthine network of boards, agencies and committees, each with its own unique, sometimes contradictory demands, English remains cautiously optimistic. “I’m really hoping that we can break ground on this before the fourth quarter of 2009” she says.
English recently wrote and received a $450,000 grant from the National Park Service in order to pay for the necessary permitting, landscaping and lighting costs not allocated in the county’s budget. Both Enlgish and McNab say continued public support is needed.
If all goes well, that fake criminal riding fakie down the street might have a place to enjoy his sport in peace. MTW