Skate or die.
This is the phrase tattooed on Charles Albert Ray Breeden's left wrist.
He's a 20-year-old Knoxville native who eats, breathes and sleeps skateboarding.
"It's pretty much what I do all day," Breeden said with a chuckle before kicking off the ledge of a deep, empty pool at the Knoxville Skatepark in Tyson Park on March 11.
Breeden is constantly on wheels no matter the time or place, says his girlfriend Nikki Roberts, who accompanies him on most of his skateboard excursions. On this day, Breeden was skating through the Knoxville Skatepark with just a T-shirt and jeans on, despite the 30-degree weather.
"It'll be snowing outside, and he'll go skating," Roberts said. "He just loves it so much."
Most often frequenting Tyson Park, Breeden is one of many Knox County residents who take full advantage of the skatepark. Usually crowded with parents and kids of all ages, the skatepark is in the former Lady Vols softball field. Beyond the banks, ledges and stairs is a small set of bleachers where Roberts said parents sit and watch their kids, as well as a rotting scoreboard that hasn't been used since the skatepark opened in 2008.
The History Behind the Concrete
Local media outlets covered the skatepark's opening heavily in February of that year. The cost of the project was $537,000, with funding coming from the City of Knoxville and Knox County (each providing $200,000), Lamar Advertising ($100,000) and the Tony Hawk Foundation ($25,000). Private donors also provided additional money. The skatepark, featuring 20,000 square feet of ledges, pools and curves skateboarders can skate on, was highly anticipated in Knox County.
Before the Tyson Park Skatepark, skateboarders had no home in Knoxville. The closest skatepark locations were 90 minutes away in Sevierville, and skateboarders would constantly run into trouble if they skated in public areas.
After a child was killed while riding a skateboard on a street in Fountain City, Brian Beauchene, owner of Pluto Sports, a store located off Cedar Bluff Road that specializes in skateboards, snowboards and discs, began a petition to create a local skatepark where kids could skate safely.
"Some of the supporters are people who aren't necessarily fans of skateboarding but would like to see the kids getting out of their loading dock or out of their parking lot or whatever and go someplace else," Beauchene told the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2004.
"Believe me, if we built a skatepark that was good, the kids would be there and not the Kroger parking lot or bothering somebody else."
The tragedy gave the idea of safe areas for skateboarders traction, and in 2005, Mayor Bill Haslam and Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale devoted taxpayer money to creating a skatepark in the Knoxville area. Soon after, a skatepark at the Cloud Park in Kingsport was developed, and in 2007, a skatepark opened in Concord Park near Farragut, as well as one in Fountain City.
However, some skaters continued to wait for a place to call home as construction at Tyson Park was delayed. The Lady Vols' new softball field, now known as Lee Stadium, was unfinished at the time, so the ground breaking was delayed by six months. In the meantime, the city encouraged skaters to opt for the parks at Concord and Fountain City, but Roberts said those parks were too small and unsuitable for more experienced skaters.
Then, in February of 2008 when the concrete had dried and the ribbon was cut, Mayor Bill Haslam finally declared the Knoxville Skatepark open for use.
"This is a day that a lot of folks have waited a long time to see," Haslam said at the opening. "This is a great example of the good things that can happen when governments and citizens work together to turn a dream into a reality.
"We're opening a great skate park that is going to bring a lot of joy to so many athletes and performers who haven't really had a venue for their sport," he added.
Shortly after its opening, the skatepark appeared to be too small to meet the needs of 200 skaters, a regular turnout for a Saturday afternoon. Beauchene, as well as the Knoxville Skatepark Task Force he was a part of, advocated for an expansion to provide novice skaters with a smaller set up in the same location.
A year later, the Knoxville Parks and Recreation organization evaluated the park. The normal complaints included littering, graffiti, smoking and lack of helmet use, which became a misdemeanor costing around $75. The evaluation recommended hiring an attendant to monitor the park as well as charging a fee for admission.
That never happened.
"It started out as a free park, why charge people?" Breeden said. "Everybody's money paid for it. It was all taxpayer money, why should it have to be supervised? No one comes in after dark. Once the lights shut off, everyone's gone.
"There's not really any problem, in my opinion."
... And the Law Won
Brian Beauchene, owner of Pluto Sports, a store located off Cedar Bluff Road that specializes in skateboards, snowboards and discs, was a major advocate for the creation of the Knoxville Skatepark and an overall supporter of skateboarding in Knoxville.
But he also noted that many boarders prefer what he calls street skating, "where it's more natural, more of that surfer feel."
"When you're at a skatepark, it's a little fabricated; it's made for you," Beauchene said. "It takes away some of the rawness of skateboarding, so there are some guys who are just like street purists and don't go to skateparks, and they go to places maybe they shouldn't be skating."
This preference for "street skating," Beauchene noted, causes more problems than skating at a skatepark.
"Then, they get busted or they get hassled and get kicked out."
Beauchene listed the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and UT's campus as two spots skateboarders tend to frequent; he said it's normal for them to get hassled out of these locations.
"Security guards tell them to leave, and then they come back on Sunday when no one is there."
In 2011, three years after the Knoxville skatepark opened, there was a deadly accident involving a White Pine teenager, Calvin Kelley, 16, who hit his head while skateboarding sans helmet. He suffered major injuries and passed away nine days after the accident.
Posted in two different places at the Knoxville skatepark, the consequences for any person skating without a helmet would be the minimum $75 fine. Although aware of possible injuries, Erik Phillips, Knoxville resident and seasoned skateboarder, said he used to go to the skatepark all the time until police officers started hassling him and his friends about wearing helmets.
"I personally believe, when you turn 18, you can decide to fight in the army and die for this country, but you can't make a decision as small as (wearing a helmet)?" Phillips said. "I think that's a little absurd."
Charles Albert Ray Breeden, 20, a Knoxville native who aspires to go professional in skateboarding, shared that sentiment.
But Breeden also said he has experienced tough hits he was able to walk away from because he was wearing a helmet. Still, he said he believes once a person is of age, they should be able to make the decision on whether or not to wear a helmet.
Getting hassled by cops, helmet or not, encourages some skateboarders to return to specific spots.
"It kind of pushes me more," Brandon Adams, skateboarder and Knoxville resident, said. "It's not that I dislike authority, it's because you're telling me that I can't do something that I want to do.
"It doesn't limit the skill level; it just limits the accessibility of where you can skate."
To get in a day of skating, Phillips will park his car at Tyson Park and skate around the city. Since he's on the go most of the time, he avoids the police, and if he runs into one, he'll go a direction they won't be able to keep up with, he said.
"The cops around here," Phillips said, "they got a lot more going on than just messing with us."
Adams has gotten four tickets for skateboarding. Philips has seven.
"You can't ticket someone for riding their bike or for riding their scooter," Adams said. "On a bike you can do the same things you do on a skateboard, it's just on a bike. The signs that say no skateboarding don't say no bikes or no scooters, it always says no skateboarding, specifically."
Boarding on Rocky Top
In 2007, in an effort to reduce noise pollution in Presidential Courtyard, a Freshman Council bill was passed that enforces quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Skateboarders and BMX bikers were direct targets of this bill, especially since renovations to Presidential Courtyard were scheduled in the near future.
An April 18, 2007, Daily Beacon article quoted skateboarders and BMX athletes who felt the bill was a "direct attack on their sport."
One source cited how major sports have stomping grounds on campus, but that skateboarders have no place to go. Another expressed interest in creating and joining a club on campus to establish more of a foundation for the sport, but said they didn't have time to create one.
Sgt. Cedric Roach of UTPD's Community Relations Unit said skateboarding is fine as a mode of transportation on campus – with or without a helmet – but students' safety is in question when they start practicing tricks.
"If you're on the sidewalk and you're skating down the sidewalk, it's just like walking," Roach said. "There's no rule against skateboarding.
"The rules come in play when you are doing tricks and things like that, grinding on rails and things like that around campus."
Doing tricks on campus, Roach said, can cause damage to university property and put students at risk. He noted this also brings into question who would be accountable in a situation where a student gets hurt skateboarding on campus.
"Who is responsible?" Roach asked. "Is the university responsible or is that person responsible?"
There is no mention of skateboarding in UT's Hilltopics Student Handbook. The RecSports Participant Policy Handbooks, however, states much of what Roach outlined.
"The use of skateboards/rollerblades is allowed on campus if being used for transportation," the handbook states. "Anyone performing stunts or tricks on benches, curbs, etc., in or around RecSports facilities will be asked to stop and leave the area. If the individual or group does not cooperate, UTPD will be called for assistance."
If a UTPD officer approaches a skateboarder on campus, Roach said the officer would advise them when they are in unauthorized areas and tell them doing tricks on university property is not permitted.
Founder and President of The Longboard Club at UT, known as LBC@UT, Jacob Revetta, senior in civil and environmental engineering, said he has had a different experience.
"After I started the club I would literally just tell them that we're a UT club and they would go away. Before I started the club, it would be hit or miss," Revetta said. "Police have never been fond of skateboarders, so when they see a bunch of people skating a garage, they usually tell us to get out."
Developed about a year ago, LBC@UT is looking to change its name to Skate UT to encompass the preference of skaters on campus and to create more of a "community rather than a club," Revetta said.
The group frequents places like Cherokee Farm, the Fort and campus garages like G-10 by Neyland and G-13, ironically the same structure that houses the UTPD.
Originally from the mainly flat terrain of Franklin, Tenn., Revetta describes UT as a perfect campus for long boarding, specifically because "it's a hill no matter which way you go." Knoxville's topography may be perfect for skating, but Revetta said he doesn't see it becoming much of an influence on the UT athletics department.
"When it comes to skating from point A to point B, it's considered legal, but ... you're not allowed to be on the streets and things like that," he said. "If there was a long boarding mecca, I definitely think people would go there, but I don't really see that being mainstream enough to happen."
LBC@UT has about 20 active members, with more than 40 students involved. New members, Revetta said, are always welcome to join.
On the board
Revetta describes the stereotype associated with skateboarders as people who say "dude," wear ripped jeans and drop out of school. As far as his club goes, none of those are accurate.
"It goes back to the police officer deal, they stereotype us as skateboarders that are going to go out and vandalize places and spray paint stuff, but like I said, we don't do that ever," Revetta said. "It's definitely one reason why it's looked down upon."
Philips said he thinks the people who skateboard have been misrepresented in terms of the sport.
"I don't think it's the skating; I think it's just the people who skate," he said. "People just incorporate it with dirty, bad people. Of course, there's bad in everything, but I think it's good.
"There will be people biking around and people on scooters, but you'll be skating and be singled out."
Adams shared that sentiment, expressing his dislike of what skateboarders are usually associated with.
"Skateboarding, it's an individual thing," Adams said. "If people would actually sit down and talk to one of us rather than just say that we're a punk because we skate. ... As much trouble as this gets me in, it keeps me out of more trouble playing around town."
"We're just staying out of the streets and the business area," Phillips added, "and even more trouble."