Off Mayport Road and W. Third Street in Atlantic Beach, dug into a pile of rocks in a conspicuous corner of the new outdoor skateboard training facility, The Skate Yard, a headstone memorializes new space’s long-lost kin. It’s a reminder that the beaches skate community once rued over the demise of the indoor, industrial skate park, SkateLab, which—as indicated by the headstone—had an immeasurable impact on the local skate community that resonated well beyond its seven year run from 2002-2009.
“Those Skate Labbers were amazingly appreciative of the life and experience they had at SkateLab,” says Brian Christensen, the former operator of SkateLab and co-partner and founder of The Skate Yard. “That had a great impact on me and they were the catalyst of venturing into another skate project.”
Nearly a decade after SkateLab’s shuttering, the skate community now has access to two public skateparks at the beach and another half-dozen within striking distance. Meanwhile, Christenson and pro skater turned educator Joe Marrara, have parlayed the deep connections forged at the Lab into a new project that seeks to fill a distinctive void in the skate community. With the newly finished Skate Yard—a small, yet highly rippable skating facility designed for learning programs and events—this corner pocket of Atlantic Beach is once again alive and well in the hearts and minds of the skate community.
We recently caught up with Christenson and asked him to reminisce on the SkateLab days, the evolution of skate culture at the beach and how his experiences led him to embark on his newest venture.
How’d the idea for Skate Yard come together? Have you guys been planning it for a while?
Joe and I had always talked about having a small, manageable facility to teach, train and provide programs for all levels of skateboarding. A little over a year ago the property between Surf Source and The Training Yard became available and I approached Joe at the Band-X Pool reunion session. We milled around some ideas, concepts and strategic business tactics—no tactics just providing a valuable service [laughs]. We came up with our dream: The Skate Yard.
Who built it and how long did it take?
For the ramps we hired Mike Krause and Brandon “Yarbs”Yarborough. What a dynamic duo—rambling, streaking, wood cutting, throttle twisting machines. Mike has been on the wood crew for Team Pain—the best park building company in the world—for 30-plus years. Most all the X-games ramps where built by Mike back in the day. Just a little knowledge to get there, don’t ya say? Joe and I did the Ramp Armor surfacing and 100% of the amenities and cosmetics.
Can you run me through the basics of the ramps (dimensions, unique transitions, etc)?
The Skate Yard was designed on two disciplines; mini ramps and street. There were countless hours of design trying to combine stepping stones for progression and good flow. The mini ramp is mostly a 4’ high, 6’3” transition with a 5.5’ extension with a drop down to a 3’ high section. We placed a bonus ramp on the deck of the 4’ mini, we call it the Animal Chin/micro mini. We kept the street section very basic, for one, very minimal space and not to chop up the flow. One side has a 2.5’ roll-in next to an 18’ wide 2.5’ quarter at 6’3” transition. The center piece is simple—a 1.5’ up-and-over next to a kicker to bank. That leads in to a 3’ bank with 2.5’ quarter-ramps on both sides. All ramps and decks are surfaced with Ramp Armor.
You had a lot of people from the SkateLab days come out to the opening of Skate Yard. Were you aware that so many local skaters had such a strong connection to that place?
Yeah, we had a lot of Skate Labbers! Man, I’m so proud of all those rippers. For one, they are amazingly appreciative of the life and experience they had at SkateLab. That had a great impact on me and they were the catalyst of venturing into another skate project. SkateLab changed, created and provided identity for a lot of skaters and I by no means will take credit for that, it takes way more than a village. First my brother—the landlord of that building [where SkateLab was located]—made it financially possible. He was challenged by his great friend Todd Huber owner/operator of the SkateLab of California. Dale loves challenges so that was the first ingredient. Second was our staff. Where did these angels came from? Maybe skateboard heaven. The parents of the skaters were incredible and so very conscious of reinvesting into the park. Lots of love to the Moms and Pops! Then you had the skaters—wow. I don’t think a crew like that would happen again. And they are sticking together to this day. They’re like a legendary rock band, a collaboration of coinciding personalities—maybe like The Red Hot Chili [Pepper]’s, Rolling Stones, etc. You can’t fabricate that chemistry. I love all those guys. keep on trucking!
What are the hours of operation, currently?
At the moment we are approaching a “if we are not reserved, we are not open” model. It is a small facility designed for learning programs and events. The Yard is available to rent during Duval County school hours for $50 per 2.5 hours, weekday evenings $195 per 3 hours. The weekday/school hours rental is designed for the college, home school and any skate groups to get together, throw down $5-$10 each and have a private facility to train. The weekday evening rental would be for birthday parties and small events. We specialize in private lessons and programs such as camps and progressions sessions. We are keeping it private so individuals can concentrate without other skaters interfering and intimidating.
What plans do you have for Skate Yard in the future? Lessons? Camps? Comps?
“Oh, big plans,” as my bud Jason Motes would say approaching a very smack-able section. Well you pretty much stated it all—lessons, camps and competitions. But, refined for the best skate boarding experience possible. Kind of like the evolution of skateboarding itself, which has organically progressed. We want to take teaching to a higher level. We want super structured camps where learning skills and having fun is all in one. We will have organized competitions. Both Joe and I have seen the standards first hand. We are both proud Dads. Joe’s background includes over 30 years on a skateboard, professional competition experience, six years of teaching elementary art education and over 15 years teaching skateboarding. Myself, owning and operating SkateLab of Florida. Our goal is to take our combined experience and make it a first class experience, as you might could tell from the look of our facility.
For someone who grew up skating when people were kicking kids out of skate spots and parks were struggling to make it financially, it must be cool to see skating become such a broad, community oriented activity in the last decade or so. Can you talk about the strength of the skate community here at the beach now?
The scene at the beaches is incredible. For example, look how the Matt Rasta Gray annual surf and skate competition has rallied our beach community year after year. We have two insanely good cement parks, a handful of backyard gems and now The Skate Yard. The beaches is definitely a “destination spot”. Mystic Scrapers (out of town rippers) are showing up all the time. Skate Lab and AB skate park brought us generations of rippers who are now having their own kids. This next generation is already blowing minds at just three feet tall. The future of our scene is bright. We are super excited to be involved and help it grow.