The "Pittsboro bowl" sits in Tony Sabbagh's backyard. It's a concrete depression about the size and shape of a large swimming pool, and it regularly attracts skateboarders to his Chatham County house. As recently as last weekend, Sabbagh hosted a half-dozen Tennessee skaters on a regional tour.
"In a sense, Pittsboro's on the map because people know my bowl," he says matter-of-factly. Sabbagh, 37, lives several miles up U.S. 15-501—closer to Bynum—where he welcomes both locals and travelers to grind and ollie in his backyard. Yet, no matter how cool Sabbagh is about his pro-level personal park, it lacks the inherent ease of access of a public facility. To put it plainly, it's private property.
"People in the skate culture up and down the East Coast know that the Triangle, right now, has a huge backyard skate scene," he explains. When he talks about other regional skating spots, he sounds like an excited hiker rattling off the names of waterfalls. "I'm talking ramps and bowls that people want to travel and come skate."
And Sabbagh wants another place to skate in Pittsboro—a public park—which he believes will benefit locals and bring skateboarders from out of town. "Without a doubt you would get people coming from Apex, Cary, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham, Sanford," he says. Many of those towns have no public ramps or, as in Chapel Hill, skaters have to pay to get in. "That's like asking parents to pay $5 a pop every time their kid wanted to play basketball at the city park," says Sabbagh, who has played team sports as well.
Sabbagh is trying to raise awareness for the venture. If his organization can raise the money to build the park, the Pittsboro Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to help find potential land. And the Pittsboro Skate Park, rather than a mere pipe dream, is a nonprofit organization soon to have 501(c)(3) status, which will allow it to apply for grants.
"The dream of having that here—a publicly sanctioned skate park—that is a great thing in general," says Caltrop bassist Murat Dirlik who, like Sabbagh, has been skating since he was 12 or 13. Dirlik recalls a spread the Independent ran when he was a teenager, featuring him skating with his friends near Guess Road in Durham. Dirlik and Sabbagh are roughly the same age; they're old enough to want to share their passion with the next generation, but still young enough for their own teen years to feel relatively recent.
One of the early steps in raising awareness is a four-band benefit for the park this Saturday at Pittsboro's General Store Cafe. With Dirlik's band Caltrop, Chapel Hill's 800-pound gorilla of blues rock, headlining, this will easily be one of the loudest—probably the loudest—bill yet to hit the venue. Also playing this diverse evening are Shred Crust and Gasoline Stove. The former are Wilmington skate-rockers; the latter plays foul-mouthed outlaw Americana. The fourth band on the bill, Blag'ard, has a vested interest in the proliferation of loud music in this little town. The feisty rock duo practices just a few blocks away from the General Store. Drummer Adam Brinson is happy to finally play his own town and thrilled that a skate park may be in the works. Brinson's business, Window Wizard, donated 10 percent of its January revenue to the park.
Joe Taylor, Blag'ard's guitarist, remembers the challenges skating kids faced in Morehead City, where he grew up. Swinson Park, an unofficial skate park behind an elementary school, was all local skaters had. Joe's brother Sam, who plays guitar and sings in Caltrop, recalls that Swinson Park was bulldozed in the late '90s to make way for a bypass.
But the '90s also saw ESPN's X Games and the rise of stars like Tony Hawk. Toys like Tech Deck, "fingerboards" about the length of a Hot Wheels car, appeared in big box retailers—as did Hawk's Pro Skater games. And Sabbagh cites another important development from the same era as essential to his group's mission. By relatively recent law, cities don't have to staff a skate park if they instead post signs identifying skating as "an inherently dangerous sport" and instructing participants to wear protective gear, he says. The city is released from liability, and the park can be built and left open to the public, much like tennis or basketball courts.
As the members of Blag'ard point out, more traditional sports are also dangerous. "Yeah, you break stuff, but you break stuff doing anything," says Brinson.
Dirlik, who hurt his knee several years ago skating in Garner, believes a public skate park may help prevent injuries. "One of the things about having proper facilities," he explains, "is that they concentrate people who are trying to learn around people who have more experience." Seasoned skaters teach new skaters how to do tricks, and they also teach them how to be safe. This is a healthier, and safer, learning and skating environment than "two kids kicking around on a gravel-covered parking lot on the edge of town," he says.
Sabbagh doesn't want the sports to be pitted against one other. "I've played a lot of team sports, too. I played a lot of basketball growing up. Kids gravitate towards skateboarding because they don't like the whole team sports aspect," he says. Skating is an individual sport, but skaters form friendships and support one other.
After Saturday's show, Brinson hopes like-minded locals can "keep the momentum going and have more stuff like that going on. Louder music, later at night, skate park ... I wish I had it when I was growing up." Brinson is a homeowner, an entrepreneur and a parent of two young boys. He and Sabbagh, also a father of two, are former rebellious teens of the '80s and '90s who, now as responsible adults, want to share their interests with their children. And even if their children are presently too young to take advantage of public ramps, these two fathers view the Pittsboro Skate Park as an investment in their future.
"My son knows skateboarding, he goes out there and rolls around with me," says Sabbagh. "I'm not going to quit skateboarding."