As the 30th Ave labor day street fair was winding down I met Philip Sparta and his best friend Wallace de Olivera on their way to meet some friends at the Athens Square basketball courts.
They are both skateboarders. Serious skateboarders. They skateboard for between four and six hours every day. They used to skateboard in Athens Square itself but only do that rarely now. Philip explains why:
“People thought that the skateboarders here were annoying. Once in a while the police would come and kick us out of this park. We didn’t really care, we loved skating so much that we just kept coming back once they’d left. But now since the Skate Park opened up we hardly come here, just once in a while. We have friends who play basketball on the courts here so we come to hang out.”
The Skate Park he is talking about is the one in Astoria Park that opened in 2010, beneath the towering Trioborough Bridge and next to the East River. It’s always whirring with boarders, the sound of their wheels competing with the traffic roar overhead. (Here’s an article about the opening of the park and a You Tube clip of boarders there).
Wallace and Philip met in primary school but now go to different high schools: Wallace is at La Guardia High and Philip at Bryant High, at 31st Ave and 48th Street. “I like it around here in Astoria,” says Philip, who lives near 30th Ave. “I used to live in Flushing. Over here is a lot nicer, it’s really diverse.”
On what they enjoy about skating, Wallace says, “it’s the thrill of actually skating.”
“And it keeps us from doing bad things, you know,” adds Philip. “We don’t do bad things like most of our friends have gotten into. It keeps us fit too, it’s very healthy.” Not that it’s without its risks; both of them have recently recovered from ankle injuries.
Philip, now sixteen, was born in Japan and came to New York with his family when he was six. He has few memories about living in Japan but does remember the move and how weird it felt. He hasn’t been back. “I’m totally Americanized. I’m not really interested in going back. Except to skate there.”