The Ghosts of Skate Spots Past

By: Cleo Coney Jr.

I started skateboarding when I was nine in my parent’s driveway after receiving a solid oak skate deck with clay wheels and loose ball bearings as a gift. On that day skateboarding instantly became my means to creativity, it was my personal expression, it was my physical exercise, and it was a self-motivating tool that grew not only my young muscles but my mind as well. This positive activity occupied so much of my time that there was no time to do the things that would generally get kids my age into trouble. I begged my folks for rides to the skateboard parks that were spread out all across Tampa Bay. At that time there was Earthin Surfin skate park which used to be in Pasadena, Rollin Waves skate park, which used to be in Pinellas Park, there was Clearwater skate park, that used to sit right off of Drew Street in Clearwater, and then Skate Wave and Rainbow Wave skate parks in Tampa. So when those skateboard parks all closed there was no place left for skateboarders like myself to go, except home. Luckily Matt Davies and John Grigley who had been Earthin Surfin locals were able to acquire some portions of the skate ramps that complimented Earthin Surfin’s cement skate bowls and banks. Those left over pieces of wood became the earliest versions of the famed St. Petersburg Ramp, which sat in the back yard of John Grigley, about a block from the Childs Park Community Center. One day I ran into John Grigley and his skateboard, thirty-seven years later, I’m still skateboarding today.

During the mid to late seventies and into the early eighties, situated off an alley in the southern portion of the City of Saint Petersburg’s Child’s Park Community sat the legendary St.Pete Ramp. None who were lucky enough to have ridden it can ever forget it, those whom helped construct its towering walls still dream about it to this day.

                                            Contest crowds were huge at the St.Pete Ramp

For the majority of my teenage years I spent my free time working on, or skating on some variation of the Saint Petersburg Ramp, or traveling with the crew of skateboarders that rode it as well. I along with ramp owner John Grigley, were the first to session together out of what would become the St.Pete Ramp skate crew. Bruce Whiteside, Walter Lewellen, Paul Schmitt, Bill Procko and Thom Nicholson later joined John and I as the core locals. In the future, revolving locals included skaters like Mike McGill, Monty Nolder, Chuck Hults, Todd Webb, Billy Beaureguard, Michael Daly, Chris Baucom, Sam and Donny Myer, Steve Marinak, Mark Bustin, Jim Leno, Matt Davies, Buck Smith and others.

What started out as a twisted, sometimes water logged, hole covered and kinked skateboard ramp, eventually became one of the most famous vertical half-pipes in the country during this period in the history of Skateboarding. We put in countless hours of construction time, painting time, refitting of frames time, and of course thousands of hours skating the ramp in one of it’s several variations. The ramp faced north and south, and then east and west. It had side ramps, cross ramps, high extensions, roll-ins, no coping, PVC coping, wood coping, fiber-glass coping, cement block coping, and finally pool coping. It was natural wood for a while, then dark green, gray, light blue, red stain, dark blue, yellow, light gray and teal.

                                   Monty Nolder Backside Boneless.  Photo by Bryan Ridgeway

Friendships that exist today with other skateboarders world-wide were formed due to those large skate sessions, and national contests that were held with little fanfare, or publicity right off an alley in a city that only in recent years, has tried to accommodate the large number of skateboarders that were birthed from the skateboarding roots spread out from this original core group of skateboarders. During the time that the St. Petersburg Ramp existed I don’t remember any city or law enforcement official giving us a hard time about the ramp for years! It was a great time to be a skateboarder.

These huge skateboarding events pulled in skateboarders from both the east and west coasts of the country. Spectators blessed with the opportunity to attend any one of these skate events witnessed some of the most spectacular, mind-blowing, energy filled skateboarding ever performed! Skateboarders like Neil Blender, Lester Kasai, Lance Mountain, Tony Hawk, Steve Steadham, Jeff Phillips, Robbie Weir, Pat Love, Billy Ruff, Mark Lake, and a host of others visited and competed on our south side vertical monstrosity. There were days when the unexpected occurred, like the time an unidentified skater flew off the side of the ramp and disappeared inside a cactus patch, not to mention the time that Paul Schmitt penetrated a sheer piece of veneer up to his chest while attempting to ride up a smaller ramp that we had constructed adjacent to one of the earlier version of the half-pipe. We were learning lessons about physics at that time, but we hadn’t realized it yet.

                           Jim Leno rocking a frontside Air on an early version of the St. Pete Ramp

Lights were installed above the ramp to allow for evening sessions that were regulated to end by outside temperatures, tired bodies, or John’s mom. We could never get enough of rolling on four wheels. Like insects attracted to a flowers bloom in search of nectar, skateboarders converged on this awesome ramp consistently and with a life flowing energy that sparked our desire to increase our skateboarding skills to get better and better.

Skateboarding made all of our lives more colorful, there were many future skateboarding companies that would be developed or co created by the skateboarders that frequented the St. Petersburg Ramp. Many of us traveled to far away places to compete or represent sponsors at skateboarding events and trade shows. Skateboarding culture captured us and kept our focus on positive efforts like body control, geometry, graphics, and woodwork, while opening our minds up to what was possible on a skateboard.

                                        Chris Baucom Frontside Air over the Yellow version.

I revisited the historic site that once was the center of our skateboarding universe on the central west coast of Florida. The first feeling that came over me as I entered the alley leading to the former home of the St. Pete Ramp was that I was about to skate.

It was that same joyous emotion that I would get in anticipation of a daily ritual that used to take place years ago. My routine would include going up to the ramp and then looking for the broom to sweep off any dust or wood chips that may have accumulated at the bottom of the ramp. Then moments later I’d hear John’s voice ask, “Is Bruce coming?”

Today there is no ramp so there would be no sweeping, there will be no skating, no one living in the home these days to start playing early eighties punk and alternative tunes through the screened windows of a home that really should be a historic site for the City of Saint Petersburg. Only an empty piece of run down real estate absent of life is left where so much of my and the core group of skateboarders I grew up with pasts existed.

                               John Grigley Lein Air during the early dayz. Photo by Cleo Coney

Absent is the energy that generated screams, shouts and the proud cheering of each other on for successful skateboarding. Absent are the cars parked haphazardly around empty lots along the alley, absent are the young ladies that came to watch us skate, absent are the barks from “Charlie” John’s old dog that used to live under our ramp. Absent are the daily greetings from “Nellie”, an old woman whom was a holocaust survivor that lived directly behind and across the alley from our ramp. Her home now vacant and boarded up as well. I look around and I can still hear the sounds of wheels rolling on painted plywood, the loud running of feet that jumped off a skateboard on the ramp. I can imagine my skate crew sitting about the flat bottom on the skate ramp drinking Big Gulps purchased from the now defunct seven eleven that used to be just right down the street, but is now a fish market.

                         Bruce Whiteside frontside ollie over the cross ramp. Photo by Chuck Hults

This is the place where it all went down, this is where bay area skateboarding careers were hatched, this is where you had to come skate and prove your worth as a vertical skateboarder. All that’s left now are the images in my mind and the minds of those that rode the ramp, the old photos we took, and the memories of the skate sessions that we will always share. There are other skate spot ghosts around the bay area, but none as legendary or as awesome as those ghost that exist behind this old house.

                                    Walter Lewellen frontside air on the twisted green version.

As the City of St. Petersburg grows so will it’s skateboarding population, thus it is of great importance that the city grows it’s available skate parks to super serve each of its communities. There are young lives that can be steered positively with access to quality free concrete skate parks. They don’t have to be complicated structures or vast in size to be effective, they just have to offer a bowl and a flow area so that multiple ages of skateboarders can enjoy them. The City of St. Petersburg has already partly addressed the street style skateboarders with a plaza skate park at Lake Vista in the Lakewood Community, and a beginners skate park at Fossil Park Community Center. However, the Childs Park Community Center already has land available where a bowl and a flow course can be built, and perhaps dedicated to the St. Petersburg Ramp, that kept skateboarding alive on the central west coast of Florida right in the heart of the Child’s Park Neighborhood. So many lives were positively impacted due to skateboarding in that area. As a community let’s keep this trend going and build a quality skate park in the Child’s Park Neighborhood where skateboarding has it’s deepest roots in the entire city.

                        Left to right,  Monty Nolder, Bill Procko, CC,  Mark Bustin,  Mark Smith, and Paul Schmitt

I look forward to the day when I can look upon a brand new skate park in the City of St. Petersburg and realize my dream to have contributed to the positive influence of young minds. The recycling of the positive energy that skateboarding brought into my life, and that will now have the opportunity to manifest in the young minds and bodies of today’s generation of skateboarders.