In August 2022, dozens of area kids and families converged on Solano Park for the Cowtown Skateboard Foundation (SKATE) “Boards for the Barrio” trade-up event. Old boards were traded in for a brand-new board, and those old boards were refurbished and then given to those who have no boards at all. By the end of the day, the foundation had given away over 200 complete skateboards to children and families in area. One thing was missing, though: an actual place to skate. That, however, is about to change.
Cowtown SKATE is a nonprofit that was launched in 2018 by the team at Cowtown Skateboards to further its mission of making the benefits of skateboarding available to everyone. That was around the same time that the owners of Cowtown, Laura Martin, her husband Trent Martin and Ed Cox, began petitioning the city of Phoenix for a skate park in Central Phoenix.
This isn’t the first time that Laura Martin has worked with the city to get a skate park in Phoenix. Her efforts go all the way back to the ‘90s. Martin, along with Damon Alire and Daniel Shircliff, raised money and worked with the city to successfully open Desert West Skate Park in the west Valley in 1997.
Since Desert West, two additional parks and six skate plazas have opened at Phoenix parks. But there were still none in the central city, thus the 2018 petition. After conversations between the skateboarding advocates and the Parks and Recreation Department, numerous public meetings and working with City Council, it was decided that Solano Park would be the best place for a new skate plaza. The area was ripe for rejuvenation, a Parks representative said.
“We had the available space, and we were already looking at how we could make improvements to Solano Park.”
The city secured the $800,000 needed, and construction on the Solano Park Skate Plaza finally began in December 2022. It is expected to be completed by May 2023 — just in time for summer vacation. The features of the plaza include grind rails, grind boxes, a bank ramp, mellow bank, a quarter pipe and more. Landscape improvements, site furniture and area lighting with push button activation will be part of the improvements. Also in the works is a public art feature for which funding has been approved. The new skate plaza is expected to draw hundreds of new users.
“Solano is a very active park just because of its location,” the Parks representative said. “It’s next door to a school, a library, a YMCA, as well as apartment complex and a shopping mall. I’m expecting, over the course of the month, maybe about 300 to 500 additional users to that park seems reasonable.”
The Parks department also says that the new skate plaza will help to activate the park in a way that will be important to the residents as well as the tight-knit skating community, adding, “Our skateboarding community is just as important as any other community.”
So why does skateboarding matter? Beyond the general health benefits of physical activity, it can help develop balance, endurance and coordination. Studies also have shown many mental and social health benefits as well. And, in addition to being a creative and passionate form of art, Martin says that there are important life lessons to be learned, “It teaches you how to fall and get back up.”
“Skateboarding is such a mental release,” Martin added. “When COVID happened, the first thing I thought was, ‘please don’t close the skate park.’ Closing the store down, that was really hard, because the kids would hang out in the store and we have a lot of kids that are at risk, there are a lot of latchkey kids, a lot of single parent kids. I was worried about them…mentally. Skateboarding saves lives. Period. End of story.”
And the skate park is where that community comes together.
“The skate park itself is a meeting place. It’s a place to meet people, a place to learn new tricks. It’s a place to go have fun and take your mind off things,” Martin said.
Although the Solano Park project is a big win for the skateboarding advocates, it is only one element of SKATE’s continuing work to build community across the Valley.
“I’d love to do another Boards for the Barrio with our nonprofit with an actual skate park there. That would be really cool,” Martin said.
She added, “And now, we’re working with the city on Safe Skate Spots. We’re working on building little projects at every park, so that every kid has a place to go and doesn’t have to wait for a big skate park anymore. So, they have something, somewhere.”
While skaters await the opening of the plaza at Solano, they can join their community at Cowtown’s annual PHXAM skate contest, which will be hosted at Desert West Skate Park for its 21st year. This year’s event will be held March 25-26 and showcase the best of the best amateur skateboarding talent from the Valley and around the globe.
Learn more about city of Phoenix skate parks at www.phoenix.gov/parks/parks/skate-parks. Cowtown has four locations across the Valley, including the Phoenix store at 5024 N. Central Ave. For information, call 602-212-9687 or visit www.cowtownskateboards.com or www.cowtownskate.org.