There is a scene in the 2008 documentary about the group of misfit artists that coalesced around NYC’s Alleged Gallery in the ‘90s, Beautiful Losers, in which artist-filmmaker-surfer-skateboarder Thomas Campbell talks about the differences between surfing and skateboarding; both of which were favorite pastimes of his while growing up in California. Because surfing is, naturally, confined to the coasts, and skateboarding can take place really anywhere where there’s a curb or transition to be ridden, Campbell seems to infer that he prefers the latter activity. As the artist explains in the film, skaters are more consistently exposed to diverse groups of people, subcultures, music, art, etc.
It’s a unique insight. And one that, if we hold to be true, means that skaters, however unwilling, may be a region’s most important contemporary ambassadors.
Over the course of a decades-long career as one of the most influential skateboarders of his generation, in which he appeared in dozens of magazine spreads and video parts as he traveled the globe, Mike Peterson certainly did his part to connect Jacksonville to the global skate community at-large. Now, as part owner of The Block Skate Supply, Peterson is continuing that diplomacy. After moving from Riverside to Springfield in 2017, The Block has added a free-to-the-public skate plaza to its premises, providing a place of refuge for urban core skaters, as well as a kind of community gathering place for the burgeoning neighborhood that surrounds the shop. The Block partners—which include Peterson, Pete McMahon, and James Smith—will soon expand to Orange Park, opening a retail store next to the town’s public skatepark.
We caught up with Peterson and asked him what makes Northeast Florida’s skate scene so unique.
You’ve been exposed to skate scenes all over the world. What makes Northeast Florida’s standout?
The best way to describe is just like people say about Jacksonville in general: it’s a big city with a really cool small town vibe. Everybody knows everybody. It’s so rare to find that. I didn’t create that. Skateboarding itself creates that.
Who were some skaters in the generation before you that you feel like laid the groundwork for Northeast Florida to have this really great skate scene?
There are too many to name. But Mitch Kaufmann and Dan Brooks at Sunrise. Then Buck Smith came along and Bob Reeves, Kevin Lambert—those guys were the guys I looked up to. Those dudes, I don’t really have words for it. Their impact can’t really be measured.
The Block hosts community events, you guys have that cool skate plaza. Why do those things? In other words, why weren’t you satisfied with just being a shop that sells soft and hard goods?
I always wanted to own a skatepark/skate shop and be able to offer a free park. I wanted to make sure that kids who maybe couldn’t afford to pay to skate, had a place to go, a place to stay out of trouble. That was our idea, our dream, when we started. And we think it’s a really important thing to offer.
Does every good region need a great skate shop?
Yep. Absolutely. I remember traveling and doing demos, there was always one main, iconic skate shop in each city: Stratosphere in Atlanta. Westside Skate Shop in Tarpon Springs, etc. I’m naming parks that are close or comparable to areas like ours; but any shop that’s created <by> skateboarders, those are the ones that tend to give back the most to the scene. There’s a lot of sacrifice in owning a retail skate shop. It’s hard. You can’t be in it for the money. That’s for sure.
Here’s a hypothetical: Your all time favorite skater comes to town for the first—and possibly only—time. You want to impress upon him or her how great it is to be a skateboarder in the 904. You get to go to three spots. Where do you go?
OK, first we’d go to Jax Beach Skate Park. That place is super fun. I’d take them downtown for some street skating. Then I’d take them by the shop [laughs]. Go to the park and get warmed up, get some photos and video clips on the street, and then finish at the shop and have a, in my case, Pepsi [laughs].
Here are the complete results of our #1 in the 904 Shopping poll:
The Copper Closet
Clothing Company (local)
The Copper Closet
Atlantic Pro Divers
Golf Cart Dealer
Ponte Vedra Golf Carts
Home Decor Store
Adamec Harley Davidson
New Car Dealer
Beaches Jewelry and Pawn
Power Sports Dealer
Palm Beach Autographs
St. Augustine Boutique
Sunglasses Shop (best place to buy)
Used Car Dealer
All Day Vape
Wedding Gowns & Apparel
Love, a Bridal Boutique
Yard / Garden Supplies