WELLFLEET - "When I first got this job 11 years ago," says Becky Rosenberg, Wellfleet recreation director, "there was a police detail outside Town Hall to give tickets for skateboarding."
In those days, kids would congregate on the lawn outside Town Hall, and spill into the street, frequently skateboarding around the busy intersection of Main and Commercial streets. Town officials and residents grew concerned about safety. Some wanted to increase the fine for skateboarding in that spot. Others insisted the problem wasn't boards, but cars, and the town should lower the speed limit.
In 2000, the town built a skateboard park by Mayo Beach, next to the playground and tennis and basketball courts.
Someone could build it, but would they come? On this brisk, decidedly un-spring- like Saturday afternoon in late March, the skateboard park is the busiest spot in town, its popularity enhanced by a $174,000 renovation last year that replaced the steel and wooden ramp equipment with poured concrete forms.
About two dozen mostly high school and middle school-aged boys are practicing their stunts. The less experienced glide their boards along a flat concrete stretch, or ride over small, smooth rounded mounds of concrete. The more accomplished roll up the ramp of the quarter pipe and jump off. And the most advanced take turns at the top of a large concrete bowl, also known as "the pool" for its curvy swimming-pool form. They hang their boards over the edge, step on, tilt and plunge down, riding the concrete bends as if surfing the waves. They pick up speed going down a curve, roll up, jump and twist in the air, and land back on the board.
Or not. There are plenty of spills, and you can't help but picture the bruises they're going to have by morning. "It's sketchy learning how to do the bowl," says Andrew Reeve, 16, from nearby Eastham. "I'm taking a break for now. I had a couple hard falls."
Jackson Renaud, 15, of Wellfleet, takes short turns, executing less complicated moves. "I like the pool best," he says. "It's so much like surfing." Renaud prefers it when there aren't so many people around. "There's less stress when you're by yourself. When it's crowded there's more competition so you want to look good."
Despite the posted sign saying that helmets are required and other safety equipment recommended, Renaud is one of just a few wearing helmets. The only one sporting elbow and knee pads is Chuck Carson, 43, a part-time Eastham resident. "I have a 401(k) and three dependents," he says. "I can't afford to have a major head trauma."
Like the kids surrounding him, though, Carson is drawn to skateboarding, even if it means waking up sore the next day. "It's like snowboarding or downhill skiing," he says. "A minor shift of weight and you pick up speed. It's exhilarating."
Visitors find the park a one-stop destination for various family members. "A lot of people say they couldn't get their teenaged kid to go on vacation with them anymore if it weren't for the park," says Rosenberg. "The best thing we did was to put the park at the main recreation center, with younger kids on the playground right next to them. The older kids teach the younger ones and give them lessons. I find them to be so helpful and polite, so different from the usual stereotype of teenagers. And their parents are grateful for their having someplace to go."
And local interest is booming, according to Rosenberg. "It wasn't clear whether skateboarding would be anything more than a fad. But every year we have more and more kids. Half the kindergarten class in Wellfleet got skateboards for Christmas."
Kathy Shorr, a freelance writer in Wellfleet, can be reached at email@example.com.