The Feeling: A Deeper Dive
Welcome back friends! It’s time to get into the nitty gritty of the skate scene in New Haven. The Feeling is a great introduction to the world of Black skaters on a microcosmic level featuring some of the prominent skaters in our city. Today we’re speaking with two of them whom I regard as OGs in the community: Steve “Skateboard Skoob” Roberts and Ty Cooper. Both of these young men were born and raised in New Haven and started their respective journeys in the formative years of their adolescence. We spoke at length about what led them to skateboarding and how they were able to cultivate community with each other and find other skateboarders who looked like them to show them the ropes of the sport. We met at The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop in the heart of downtown, right on Chapel St on a sunny but brisk day. As I walked in, the energy in the shop was tangibly electric. The walls are lined with bikes, decks, and any other supplies and paraphernalia you can imagine. Customers were flowing in and out of the store and some of the regulars stopped by to talk. I found Skoob and Coop lounging at a small seating area in the middle of the store, both equipped with their boards.
We all were enthused to sit down and have this discussion for a few reasons. The primary reason being that the contributions and overall participation of Black people in just about any facet of life is hidden and purposefully so. However, an equally important second reason is freedom. Freedom in expression, freedom to exist and to exist uniquely without internalizing the monolith projected onto us by prejudices and stereotypes. There are multiple layers at work here and we sat down in The Devil’s Gear shop that day to peel back a few of them and discuss their impact. We went back in time and started at the moment when they first were exposed to the world of skateboarding. Roberts is in his early 30s as is Cooper so their origin stories run quite parallel to one another. As we went back to his adolescence, Roberts recounts watching the classic Nickelodeon cartoon, Rocket Power, and feeling inspired to try his hand at skateboarding. But, there was that feeling of isolation Black children are all too familiar with when it comes to doing something “outside” of what we normally see in our friend groups and overall community. This speaks quite clearly to the necessity of representation. When we don’t see people who look like us engaging in presumably common or ubiquitous activities, it stunts our ability to visualize ourselves as a part of that community. This cascades into the rejection of said activity or we tend to ascribe to the misconception that it’s not for us and we have no place there.
I GREW UP IN THE VILLE SO IT’S LIKE BIKES WAS THE MAIN THING - Steve Roberts
Cooper chimes in and echoes a similar sentiment of not seeing anyone in his neighborhood skating. He recalls how there was one sole person, his cousin RJ, who inadvertently introduced him to the world of skating and from there his intrigue blossomed. It’s true, even to this day, that biking was more common: trick bikes, dirt bikes, and the occasional mountain bike. It’s not a New Haven Summer if you don’t see and hear a large pack of young folks speeding down Whalley Ave or Goffe St on their dirt bikes and ATVs. Cooper continues to say that from that day with RJ, he hadn’t stopped skating since and he was 13 years old at the time. Roberts also credits the world renowned X Games as well as Tony Hawk Pro Skater video games for passing that love of skateboarding onto his pre-teen self. He often practiced at home until one summer he grew privy to a skate park at Edgewood Park while attending a summer program at one of the local schools. He recalls one day when he decided to take a different route and saw the skate park through the trees. Upon discovering the park, he realized there was not only opportunity to build his skills but also an opportunity to meet new people.
BEING A BLACK KID IN THE HOOD AND SKATING IS JUST SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAT PEOPLE DON’T SEE REGULARLY - Ty Cooper
Despite the lack of representation in the media and in their own backyards, this didn’t extinguish the fire that skateboarding lit inside them. They continued sharing how the more they learned and got involved in the culture, the more it started showing up around them. Cooper speaks on the judgement he faced from some of his peers growing up because “it’s a predominantly white sport…some people try to take [your board] from you.” That effect from lack of representation can also deter us from engaging in an activity. We ultimately internalize that rejection and perpetuate it against one another which creates another plateau of tension to overcome. They both have anecdotes of being enamored with another skater from around the way named Kyren who served as their mentor of sorts. He executed tricks with ease and lent a helping hand when it was needed. Not only was this mirror effect happening in the city but in the mainstream media as well.
SEEING BLACK PROS AND LEARNING ABOUT STEVIE WILLIAMS, I WAS LIKE OKAY WE’RE SMALL BUT MIGHTY - Steve Roberts
Fast forwarding a bit, Roberts brought up Channel One: New Haven’s first Black owned skate shop. He and Cooper credit the store and its owner for continuing to stoke the flame of their passion. Most notably though, this shop turned into a haven for Black skaters to come together in community. It was not only a place to buy parts but “they sold graph supplies; they were an art gallery and they also sold vinyl toys”, Roberts recalls. Channel One was unique in that way compared to Enclave which leaned more into fashion and often lacked that feeling of inclusion. While they both still skate regularly and have been for almost half of their lives now, Roberts is in the space to give back and to show other Black kids that they can skateboard too. He created a program called “Push to Start” in the Newhallville neighborhood using boards donated from the community to teach young kids how to skate. The lessons took place on Dixwell Ave in front of the Stetson Branch Library and the response he received from the kids was one of excitement and intrigue, much like his own back in the day. From there, he realized they needed a larger space and came together with some friends to apply for funding to build a park on this side of town.
Roberts and his friends continued to advocate for space in meetings with the city and investors until they found the perfect spot in Science Park. There was already a bike trail there and it would be a safe and easily accessible place for folks in the neighborhood to come and skate. Scantlebury Park was created in just under three months with the help of the folks at The Devil’s Gear and Rampage Skateboards in Bridgeport. Take a ride on over there one day and you may just see some of the kids ripping through the park or even more seasoned skaters warming up for the long day of skating ahead. WATCH THE FEELING HERE AND FOLLOW Steve and Ty ON INSTAGRAM