Skateboarders find sanctuary at Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater

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On a recent Wednesday, Luca Woolsey stood at the edge of a skate ramp at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Wearing bulky headphones, he walked down the colorful graffiti-covered ramp and off he went.

For the 16-year-old, skateboarding isn’t just about riding around. It’s a way of life.

“I feel pretty crazy when I skate,” said Woolsey, whose dirty blonde hair peeked out from under her red bob. “When you skate, you walk away. When everything is going well, you feel like you’re surfing, you’ve accomplished something. It’s an indescribable feeling. »

The Novato High School student is part of a group of skaters who hit the ramps weekly at the theater, which also serves as a music room and teen clinic with health information and resources. Some discovered the hobby after the world shut down during the pandemic. Others have been skating here for many years and have found a community to lean on when life gets tough.

“When I come here to hang out or go to shows, I feel like I can escape the stress and the problems,” said Zoe Luna, 16, a student at Petaluma High School.

In the dimly lit theater the clanking of planks hitting railings echoed. Planks turned upside down. The skaters fell, stood up, brushed off their dusty jeans and casually resumed their ride.

“Sometimes you eat it (fall) and have to try the trick again,” said Izzy Noble, 15, who works on hitting a hardflip (using the feet to flick and rotate the board in the air). “I like to progress”

A universal language

Nik Cotten, 19, who has been skating at the Phoenix since he was 13, decided to take a year off before college. During the gap year, he skated across Europe.

While skating figures in new countries, he realized one thing about the sport.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the world – Portugal, Spain or Italy,” Cotten said. said of Rome. “A kickflip is a kickflip. People will react the same way to a killer trick. Language is universal.

Woolsey, a major in digital art at Marin School of The Arts at Novato High School started skating at age 13 at Petaluma Skatepark with his friends. Driving on concrete was his way of distracting himself from the stress he felt at school.

When the world shut down due to COVID-19, it left a hole in people’s lives. He and his friends decided to fill that void by skating in their neighborhoods and on the ramps of the Phoenix.

“Skateboarding is something I can always come back to,” Woolsey said. “’Hey, I feel like shit today, I’m not turning in my homework or I failed an exam.’ … I can skate, and that takes me away from everything.

The origin story of skateboarding begins in California and Hawaii in the 1950s. Traditional skateboards were developed by surfers who needed something to do when the waves were flat. Back then, skateboards were nothing more than a wooden box or board with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. People called him “Surfing the sidewalks”.

Luna took up the hobby again during the pandemic quarantine. In her garage, she learned from watching YouTube videos how to do an ollie, a trick where the rider and the board jump through the air without using the rider’s hands.

“Skateboarding already means so much to me,” said Luna, who had red hair and nose piercings. “The Phoenix is ​​such a safe space. It’s good to know that there is a space where people can express themselves.

Thinking about where she will go to college is sometimes scary, she said. But the Phoenix gives her a place to forget everything for a while.

“The community is very encouraging. He has a special place in my heart,” Luna said.

Although Luna doesn’t know what the future holds for her, she hopes skateboarding will be part of it. She would like to study interior design and possibly design a skateboard shop one day.

A new skate shop

When Petaluma’s beloved skate shop, Surf and Skate on the Sonoma Coastclosed last summer, young skaters decided to open a skate shop inside the Phoenix.

A skateboarder, who got his first job in the Phoenix five years ago selling tickets and food, is determined to fill the void the store closure has left in the community.

“We can’t have that hole in our community,” said 21-year-old Tiger Brown, a skateboarder and artist who wants to design boards for the store.

They hope that by November 25, a shop with new skateboards, t-shirts, hoodies and ‘zines will be ready for skateboarders to visit, said Tom Gaffey, the theater manager, who grew up skating the hills of downtown Petaluma in the 1970s.

For now, they will be selling items from one of the empty rooms in the theater and adding more over time.

“It’s in the works,” Gaffey said of the store’s plans. “It’s new for us. It will be a learning curve.

You can reach editor Mya Constantino at [email protected] @searchingformya on Twitter.

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