In recent years, skateboarding has experienced a remarkable transformation. Once considered an underground subculture, it has now emerged into the mainstream, receiving an enthusiastic embrace from people of all walks of life. Skateboarding has woven its way into the fabric of society, captivating hearts and minds with its daring tricks, artistic flair and undeniable sense of freedom.
It’s no surprise that our coastal location and close proximity to the water makes us a hotbed for board sports. But when those surfer and skim kids turn inland, shredding on a skateboard is often synonymous with riding the surf.
Jason Wilson, owner of Alley Oop Skim and local skate ambassador, agrees. “Board riding is a big part of the culture here in southern Delaware, because we’re close to the ocean, so naturally people surf and skimboard, and with that comes skateboarding.”
While skater kids developed a bad reputation for being “troubled” or “punks” in the ‘80s and ‘90s, a few people in the community wanted to provide a good place for them to skate and to foster an attitude of positivity and acceptance around the sport.
In 2012, a small nonprofit group of parents and individuals, led by Susan Selph, rallied to give skaters an awesome place to skate, which is now known as Skate Epworth. The east end of the parking lot at Epworth Methodist Church in Rehoboth had been turning into a makeshift park over the years. A mishmash of donated wooden ramps and pipes worn down were placed around the property. Skate Days, a community event to raise funds, sponsored by local shops like East of Maui, Dewey Beach Surf Shop and Liquid Board Shop (which closed in 2018), was held there.
Today, a $75,000 park, designed by Jesse Clayton and built by Evergreen Skateparks, features a bowl, quarter pipes, China banks, ramps and rails and is free and open to the public every day of the week.
Among the ambassadors for the local skate scene is James West. He’s been on a board since his toddler years and knowing the positive impact skating had on his own life, he wanted to keep boards under kids’ feet. “I love skateboarding because it saved and changed my life,” he says.
West got involved with the Skate Epworth Project early on and leveraged connections he had with his job at Liquid Board Shop (a local retail store which sold surf, skim and skateboard gear) to heighten the fundraising efforts.
“I like keeping everyone stoked on skateboarding, so I always did little contests, filmed and did photos at the park. Working with everyone from the local shops was always cool and much appreciated when they donated goods to the cause” says West. But when Liquid shut down, he found himself in need of a new gig and recognized a hole in the market that he was determined to fill.
“In 2010, I had seen folks modifying step vans into food trucks and retail stores and thought to myself, hey, I could do that here.”
Strapped with inspiration from mobile skate shops in California and New York and a friendship with Joe Moore, a fellow board sports enthusiast, the pair got to work outfitting a former commercial electrician vehicle that was painted pink into First State Skate Supply, the state’s first mobile skate shop, which opened in 2018. Their mission was to promote skateboarding as a positive influence for the community.
“We want to be able to put as many skateboards as possible in people’s hands,” says West.
The truck carries new decks, trucks, wheels, apparel and safety gear. The truck also has a small workbench in the back for boards that need immediate repairs. Today, you can catch First State Skate Supply at Epworth Skate Park, in the lot of Liquid’s original home next to Big Chill Surf Cantina, or at skate events as far north as Smyrna and around Sussex County. But for West and Moore, it’s not just about skateboarding. In 2022, in celebration of International Go Skateboarding Day, they doled out 17 free skateboards to kids in Burton Village with help from insurance agent Eric Blondin. They have also aligned themselves with Autism Delaware and The Boys & Girls Club of Georgetown and are always seeking new ways to be active in the community.
“Skateboarding has something for everyone,” says West. “You just have to step on a board and see where it takes you.”