A park with an edge

Ten years ago a young skateboarder named Brian Schaefer took a gamble and decided to open up his own business. He used all his savings to lease a warehouse and to buy supplies build wooden ramps for skateboarding. He opened the doors to the Skate Park of Tampa. Today his business is internationally known for being one of the best skate parks in the world.

Schaefer founded the Skate Park of Tampa, also called the SPoT, in 1993. Schaefer went on a road trip to San Jose, Calif. and while he was there, he skated at a park in a warehouse. He decided to take the idea back to Tampa and build his own park. Using some money he had saved and with a little bit of help from his mother, he leased a warehouse on Columbus Drive, right outside of Ybor City.

“The landlord actually tried to talk Brian out of it,” said Ryan Clements, general manager of the Skate Park of Tampa, “But since Brian had first and last month’s rent deposit, the building got leased.”

The original park consisted of an indoor half-pipe surrounded by street-style obstacles. A half-pipe is a large ramp, usually from about 12 feet to 15 feet in height. It is shaped like the bottom part of a gigantic pipe, and the sides of the ramp are normally parallel. A street-style course generally has smaller ramps. It has blocks, rails and other objects that are used by skateboarders to balance on and to perform various kinds of skateboard tricks.

“Schaefer built SPoT simply for a place to skate, and that’s how we always try to run it,” Clements said. “We just want everyone that walks through the door to get the feeling of ‘Man, this is a real skate park.'”

The skate park is best known for its annual skateboarding competitions. The Tampa Amateur Contest is held each year in January, followed two months later by the Tampa Professional Contest in March. Since its opening, the skate park has had thousands of dollars in renovations. Those included the addition of a larger half-pipe, a beginner’s course, a snack bar and a fully-stocked pro shop.

“We’re also adding a parent’s lounge and making the entire place more spectator friendly and basically cleaning it up,” Clements said.

Skateboarders come from around the world to participate in the Skate Park of Tampa’s Amateur and Professional competitions. Past winners of the Tampa Pro competition include Andrew Reynolds, Eric Koston and Bucky Lasek, all of whom have characters in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game series. Skateboarders use their skills to execute the most difficult tricks they can, using the obstacles provided. They have two 50- second rounds to do as many stunts as possible without falling off of their boards. They are judged based on number of tricks completed, difficulty of the tricks, the skater’s ability to use all of the obstacles in the skate park and the creativity of the tricks completed.

“We’ve found that our niche in contests is not to get too big with them, just keep them where they are and make them as fun as possible,” Clements said.

USF sophomore and Skate Park of Tampa employee Scotty Conley is expected to participate in this year’s Tampa Am Contest. He skated in last year’s competition as well. He started skating at the SPoT in 1997.

“I was 13, and I got bored skating in my driveway. I heard it was there, so my dad took me there,” Conley said.

The Skate Park of Tampa sponsors Conley. He said there would not be bias in him competing because the people who are judging the competition do not work for the skate park.

“I get negative points for working at the Skate Park of Tampa,” Conley said.

This year’s Tampa Am contest will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the Tampa Pro Contest will be held March 14 through 16. Tickets are available for both of these events from the Skate Park of Tampa and from for $10 per day.

Besides the annual competitions, the SPoT is open daily to skateboarders and inline skaters. On Wednesday and Sunday nights the park opens its doors to BMX bicyclists, as well. Freestyle BMX bicyclists use the ramps to do massive jumps and variations of jumps, such as 180-degree jumps and handlebar spins while in the air. Skaters use the rails to balance and to perform difficult stunts, just as skateboarders do.

This month, in addition to the skate park’s annual Tampa Am contest, the park will also celebrate its 10th anniversary. To commemorate this occasion, the staff will be holding a party at the Masquerade in Ybor City Friday. The Bouncing Souls, Andrew W.K., One Man Army and Icon are lined up to play at this all-ages event. Limited tickets are available from the Masquerade, the Skate Park of Tampa and from for $14 each.

Contact Whitney Meers at oraclefeatures@yahoo.com