They go whizzing by in twos, threes, and fours. They’re chased from alleys, sidewalks, parking lots. If you own a business, they’re a “safety hazard.” If you have a nice handrail at your church, they’re “vandals.” They’re athletes at practice; hobbyists killing time; artists perfecting their art. They’re your children. They’re skaters.
Many have an opinion on skaters, and it often is a poor one. “They skate on public streets, their boards damage public property.” I’m old, so let me remind you of a time before skating. When we’d take a ball with electric tape, hit it with bat similarly attired, on a public street, or untamed lot. We’d break the occasional window. Damage the odd fence.
Usually, there wasn’t anywhere else we could play. If there was a park, we were run off for fear we’d hit a citizen. If there was a well-manicured field, we couldn’t play unless we could afford the dues. So, we’d sell enough candy to play, but only when the adults scheduled a game. We baseball players were the scourge of the neighborhood until the skaters came to town.
We forget how new is the sport of skating. Just this week Lakeland’s first indoor park opened. The owners are two skaters in their early-thirties. The guys are “old school” because the kids liken them to the pioneers of the sport. After all, they did start skating in the 1980s. That’s how Eric Grodzinski and Mike Wetherington came to name their business Old School Compound.
Both Grodzinski and Wetherington are from Brandon, but they chose to build their indoor park here because of the need. Lakeland is halfway between the parks of Tampa and Orlando and Polk County simply lacked an indoor park of its own.
Both started skating before they were teens, and have partnered building skate ramps and rails for seven years. They consider the indoor park a natural transition. Building a park wasn’t a whim. “It takes lots of know how, hard work, and a lot of money,” Wetherington said.
They’re confident their ramps and rails will be popular with local skaters. “We know from experience what people want.” Wetherington said as he and his partner watched video of skaters. Growing up street skating, they also understand the oft-spoken public opinion of skating. “They don’t look at is as a sport,” Grodzinski said.
Grodzinski added as an adult he now understands why people are concerned about the damage some skaters can cause. Nevertheless, the kids need to practice their sport. “We built this place so someone can have a good place to skate,” Wetherington added.
Though Old School Compound is primarily a skate park, next week the owners are opening BMX dirt bike ramps on their nearly two acres behind the building. There is still plenty of room for skaters with 14,000 square feet under the roof. Once the park is finished, Grodzinski and Wetherington believe 300 could easily skate and bike at any given time.
It seems word is out on the new park. They’ve been open only a few days, and already a skate team from Cocoa Beach drove over to check out Old School Compound. Without advertising, the park has still attracted a few regulars, from a 42 year-old to one skater’s three year-old following in his dad’s “wheels.”
Those new to skating can get lessons on Sundays from 9 am to 10 am. If you want to fall in front of the fewest onlookers, Wetherington suggests, “The first thing in the morning is quiet. With school back on it doesn’t get busy until after three.”
In addition to the ramps and rails, Old School Compound sells boards, trucks, wheels and some clothing. They plan to add their own line at some point, but currently feature the major brands.
Old School Compound, 841 N Combee Rd, is open Monday – Thursday 10 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to 11 pm, and Sunday 10 am to 9 pm. Everyone has to sign a waiver to skate, and if you’re under 18, bring a parent to sign.