Just past the bustle of Avondale’s town center, the creaking swings at Boone Park, and the passing hum of boats along the St. Johns River, on a relatively quiet avenue, a sidewalk bisecting a verdant lawn leads to the brick steps of the quaint, wood-shingled, green-doored home of Murphy Williams. Before owning the home, Williams spent a good part of her childhood here; her grandfather cleared the land and built the house nearly a century ago.
Williams, proverbial shovel in hand, has broken new ground on the property. Not much of what Williams has renovated/added can be viewed from the street, however.
The backyard is where the action is. A smooth concrete oasis. A veritable skate paradise.
Typically on Wednesday afternoons, an organic mix of sounds can be heard emanating from Williams’s backyard: skate-induced thunder, the unmistakable grinding sound of metal on concrete, hoots of praise and encouragement, sometimes followed by a splash. Centered around a shimmering pool, and tastefully incorporating a handful of mature trees, a pump track seamlessly circumnavigates the backyard. Banked turns, speed generating moguls, a long quarter pipe, hips; an endless canvas for the inspired mind.
Though Williams’s Wonka-esque skate wonderland was a byproduct of the quarantined months of the pandemic, it’s become a gathering place; a cultural locus for a burgeoning skate community.
On a recent Wednesday, I dropped by for a skate session at Williams’s place. We talked about the ambitious “landscaping project” she took on and the roots of Lady Skate Day.
Can you tell me a little bit of backstory on the house and how long you have lived here?
The house was built in 1920 by my grandfather for his sister (my great aunt). He lived two houses down, which was where my mom grew up. He then sold the house to my mom when I was born and built another house for himself on the property, so I ended up growing up in the same place my mom grew up in with my grandfather in our backyard and my great aunt just down the street which is where I live now. Eight years ago, when she died, I moved in, and my sister moved in next door.
Let’s ollie the gap of some of my other questions and drop right into your backyard. It’s a pretty unique feature of the home. Is the current layout the original intention of the space? If not, how did it come about?
At one point, I had row crops and farm animals back there. My neighbors have always been very patient with me, so the skate park wasn’t too big of a stretch noise-wise. I’ve always loved rock climbing and mountain biking but living in Jacksonville; those are not very realistic hobbies.
About two years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to skate. As a 27-year old, I wasn’t sure if I could do it and made absolutely no progress by myself. I was too nervous going to skateparks and didn’t know any other beginners. My Covid-induced lockdown encouraged me to bring my hobbies home to me. I originally wanted to put in a skateable pool. I shopped around a few companies, and no one took me seriously; then, a friend referred me to Sunshine Pools, and they were all for it. The owner used to skate a lot, so he knew exactly what I was looking for. They sent me a mockup image that had water in it, and I was hooked on keeping the pool for swimming. I decided the skating had to be elsewhere, still determined to incorporate it somehow, Sunshine introduced me to [custom skate park builder] Chris Withrow who was excited about the challenge. He poured and formed the current pump track that’s there today. It’s a great spot to host Lady Skate Day.
Tell me more about Lady Skate Day. What was your initial vision, and what’s in store for the future?
After a month of failed attempts at self-taught skate lessons, I called my best friend Dana Friesen and I asked her to make me a flyer I could post on my Instagram, asking any ladies, femmes, nonbinary, etc. who skate or wanted to learn how to skate to come over Wednesday at 3 p.m; all wheels welcome. Four girls showed up and changed everything for me. We were slightly acquainted but became fast friends after that day. We realized what something like Lady Skate Day could be, and made an Instagram account (@ladyskateday). Each week new people show up, and we have the best time. We found any excuse to skate together and started posting about new meetups, whether it be street skating or having events at [Springfield’s] The Block Skate Supply. In our first meetup at The Block, over 30 people showed up and we realized what this had become, not only to us, but to the community–yes, we cried. The block gave us a lot of old parts so we learned how to set up boards together, and were able to provide them to people who didn’t have one. Chris also came back to add a mini ramp and ended up teaching a concrete workshop one Wednesday where we all got our hands dirty and built ourselves a curb.
That’s awesome. Sounds like it’s been successful beyond anything you could have imagined.
Lady Skate Day is what makes my home so special to me. It is now an oasis for not only me but a safe place for anyone who wants to be a part of the skate community. Despite our shared insecurities and anxieties about learning something new, we all came together anyways. With all of the support from the community and with all of the new friendships, many of us have felt more comfortable venturing out into parks and streets together. Things we never thought we’d try, like going to parking lots or even doing an ollie, are all now within our grasp. Each week new people show up and are included in that. It has been overwhelmingly nice. It’s so rewarding to see the progression of people who have never touched a skateboard before showing up. Some people that come over obviously are already incredible skaters, and have taught everyone so much, and have given confidence to beginners.
For more information on Lady Skate Day, follow @ladyskateday
This Rad Pads feature originally appeared in Void Magazine’s June 2021 issue.