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University of Otago master’s student Flynn Acworth has been involved in the formation of Ōtepoti’s newest “playground”, a DIY skateboarding space at Fryatt St. Internal communications adviser Koren Allpress chats with Acworth about the importance of such spaces and what the activity has to offer. 

Flynn Acworth spends a lot of his time staring at computers for both work and study.

Skateboarding, he says, has always been the “exact opposite” of staring at a computer.

“It’s getting outside, it’s being social with other people I wouldn’t normally hang around with.”

The Peace and Conflict studies postgraduate student took up skateboarding seven years ago when he was in his second year at university in England.

“I started skating during a holiday. There was an empty carpark by my house, and I thought [skateboarding] was cool.”

He quickly realised he loved it.

While he acknowledges skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport has raised the profile of skateboarding, he doesn’t believe it is a sport.

“Personally, I think it’s play time. It’s like going to a playground for 20 minutes.”

Part of the activity’s appeal for him is the self-challenge and how individually driven it is.

“You’re not competing against anybody when you skateboard, you’re just doing it because it’s really fun.”

Acworth was involved with a DIY skatepark in Pōneke Wellington when he heard about the space in Ōtepoti, and says he thinks such spaces are important for skateboarders for a few reasons.

“DIY skateparks, they’re a way for young people to have a say in a public space, which I think is really important if you want to feel welcome in a city, to have a say around what physically is in that space.”

Skateboarders view the world differently and can really benefit from being involved in how cities are built. DIY skateparks fulfil this need by helping them feel represented, and by giving them room to design, plan and build a park on their own terms, and to suit their own needs.

“When you walk through a city, if you skateboard, you see architecture differently. You see a bench, or a slanted wall, and you think ‘I could ride my skateboard on that’.”

Painters and graffiti artists also make use of DIY skateparks, which gives the parks an “amazing” sense of community.

“No one’s really in charge of these spaces, so you get a lot of urban art that pops up.

“The act of building something together with your friends, is just the coolest thing.”

Knowing the skatepark, which is available for anyone who wants to have fun, could last for years to come, and that you’ve left a positive mark on the city is “pretty cool”.

“There are lots of cities around the world, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Malmo, mostly European cities, those cities are intentionally designed to accommodate skaters, they build lots of small skateable things and they disperse them through out.”

The cities accept the activity which creates a “really lively, vibrant culture”, he says.

An area where skateboarders might have helped with design was in George St in Ōtepoti, where it was disappointing that the new paved surface in upgraded sections made the street “really un-skatable” despite partly being repurposed to facilitate alternative forms of transport.

Skate stoppers, which are architectural add-ons (often thin strips of metal) designed to deter skateboarders from skating on a particular surface, are “exclusionary”.

“It’s a way of saying ‘hey, we don’t want you to be a part of our city’.”

As a taxpayer “that kind of sucks”, he says.

Acworth thinks people may not like skateboards because they’re loud and their skateboards can leave marks on surfaces.

“And [skateboarding] really does take up space, just by the fact that skateboarders go fast, they’re noisy, they’re in the way…it’s quite an all-consuming activity.”

He also believes there is a misconception about skateboarders: that they’re all young, rebellious and aggressive, when they are not.

“Everyone I know that skateboards is lovely and fantastic. Maybe people just don’t like stuff that they don’t understand.”

For anyone contemplating giving skateboarding a go, Acworth says “don’t quit”.

“Skateboarding has an incredibly steep learning curve. It comes with a lot of bruises, pain, and frustration.”

Everybody starts in that place, but “it’s the people that love it that get good at it”.

“Skateboarding is so incredible because it teaches you how to enjoy and have fun while failing.”

-Kōrero by internal communications adviser, Koren Allpress

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