I went to downtown Waxhaw on the first Saturday in August to see the newly renovated Waxhaw Sk-8 Park on South Caldwell Street.
The skatepark had officially re-opened the day before with a ceremony recognizing the singular efforts of sculptor, philanthropist, businessman and skateboarder Tom Risser. By midmorning the park was busy, with teenage skateboarders showing off their various skills.
The freshly-cleaned concrete sparkled in the morning sun, and distinctive metal sculptures of skateboarders in mid-stunt shined perfectly against the cloudless sky and green trees. I thought, “What an asset for the community.”
Subsequent conversations with Risser and Natalie Jackson, parks and recreation director for Waxhaw, made it clear what a gift Risser and Jackson had created.
Waxhaw’s skateboard park has been part of the downtown scene since 2006. The original design was Risser’s. Over time, vegetation had covered the edge of the park causing safety concerns. Weather, tree roots and use had taken a toll on the surface, and the perimeter fence had been cut.
Waxhaw Public Services Department felled the encroaching trees and arranged to grind the stumps. Billy Sellers of parks and recreation beautified the grounds outside the fenced skate park, added new trash cans, new signs and installed a plaque recognizing Risser. The town paid for the fence repair. Jackson coordinated the effort on the town side, including support for Risser.
Risser’s passion for Waxhaw and the sport of skateboarding led him to renovate the skatepark using his own labor and funds. The work included installation of a quarter pipe and a hip feature, and repairing the existing half-pipe.
“I spent a little of almost every day working on the park directly for about two months and about a month prior to that in the studio, as well as on the computer or at the shop rolling pipe, cutting forms, hauling in materials,” Risser said. “I am not sure of my total man hours, but when you add in the fact that I spent four months building the original park, without exaggeration I would say I have spent six months or more of my life committed to the creation and maintenance of the park. That doesn't count the hours of not sleeping dreaming about it of course.”
Add to that the original art created for the project.
“...The little skateboarding guys on top of the poles ... each one took about two hours ... the pipes took hours just to bend because I forged them. It took about three days to install it,” Risser said.
He speculated that building a concrete skatepark of this caliber is unaffordable in today’s marketplace using a commercial design crew. He believes using local talent made it possible and more practical, long term and, of course, more unique.
“I don't know of any other town who has ever done anything like this on such a basis ... pretty cool,” Risserhe said.
Jackson led the effort to modify the town ordinance that applies to the park. That change allowed parks and recreation discretion to hold freestyle bicycle events.
Jackson said she also has taken action to ensure skatepark users conduct themselves in a safe environment. Earlier this year, surveillance cameras were installed to provide parks and recreation, and the Waxhaw police, with an around-the-clock view of the park. Both departments have taken the approach of “catching people doing something right,” such as wearing the required safety gear or picking up litter.
Individuals cited for positive behavior are eligible for a drawing on Aug. 21. The prize? A new skateboard.
John Anderson is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.