Putting on his knee and elbow pads at "pool" side in Roosevelt Park, Bob Pribble, a silver-haired employee of a hedge fund management firm, didn't fit the stereotype of a skateboarding enthusiast.
But Pribble, 49, of Annapolis, said he has been skateboarding since the 1970s and had tried all of the skateparks in the region, from Washington to York, Pa. — except for the newest one, Skatepark of Baltimore, which officially opens Saturday in Hampden.
"I haven't skated this pool yet," said Pribble, fluent in the language of skateboarding. He was referring not to the swimming pool in Roosevelt Park, but to the new skateboarding bowl, nicknamed a pool because it is built like one, rimmed with tile and coping material that in a traditional pool would keep the water from splashing up.
In a skateboarding bowl, the rim provides a hard edge, "to ground your trucks," Pribble said, this time referring to metal axles under a skateboard that hold the wheels.
Pribble was among 15 skateboarders, from beginners to veterans, who rubbed elbows at the bowl and at a makeshift skateboarding "plaza" nearby, on a weekday afternoon with rain clouds hovering.
"It makes you feel young," Pribble said. "That's why you do it. The only people who feel old are the ones who don't skate."
Phase I of the skatepark — a 5,000-square-foot, $180,000 bowl, constructed by North Carolina-based Artisan Skateparks and featuring on its lower exterior walls commissioned artwork, brick pavers for donors and panels for advertisers — has been in use for several months.
It draws about 100 people a day on average, many of them from outside Hampden, said Stephanie Murdock, who founded Skatepark of Baltimore Inc., and has been working on the project since 2006.
Ground was broken on the skatepark in October, when Murdock presented city Department of Recreation and Parks officials with a check for $90,000 in matching grant funds. The money was raised through a combination of public and private contributions, including a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation.
Other major contributors included the Hampden Community Council, the Hampden Village Merchants Association and Murdock's family.
The grand opening from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday is expected to draw as many as 1,000 well-wishers, including Baltimore City officials, to 1121 W. 36th St. Planned activities include bands, skating demonstrations, a street course design workshop, a silent auction, a live graffiti wall and a beer garden.
On a roll
Murdock, 31, of Hampden, an aide to City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, is raising $300,000 for Phase II, a street plaza to be designed by the skateboarding community, with ramps and platforms for jumping. She has $250,000 promised for the plaza, $150,000 of it in state funding obtained with the help of state Del. Barbara Robinson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and $100,000 allocated by the city in its fiscal 2015 budget.
"I think we're on a roll now," Murdock said. She said she thinks the skatepark will eventually bring 30,000 people a year to the neighborhood — not just to skate but to shop and eat on The Avenue, boosting the local economy. She said she has met several skateboarders who say they are moving to Hampden to be closer to the skatepark.
Late last year, Gary Smith, owner of Vu Skate Shop on Harford Road, opened his second Vu Skate Shop on Falls Road, around the corner from the skatepark, buying out the old Union Skate Shop, according to Vaughn Volkman, manager of the new store. Hampden was an obvious choice for a second store because, "We know a ton of kids around the neighborhood who skate," said Volkman, 22, of Parkville, himself an avid skateboarder.
The store sells everything from sneakers and wool hats to helmets and skateboards. Last week, the movie "Wayne's World" was playing on a TV as customer Jordan Epstein, 25, browsed in the store. Epstein, who is moving from Charles Village to Hampden, said he hurt his shoulder last year and is just now getting back to skating.
"It's been hard not to," he said. "The weather gets nice and all your friends are out there."
Similar stories abound. Pribble, the employee of hedge fund management firm, said he to is easing back into the sport after breaking his wrist while skating and having a kidney transplant.
Although Murdock is one of the rare women in the sport, she is not the only one. Rolling tentatively in the asphalt plaza was bartender Hannah Moore, 24, of Fells Point, who is just learning to skate. It started as a first date with Sean Fitzpatrick, 27, of Harwood, also a bartender, who promised to teach her how to skate.
"I'm trying," Moore said. "There aren't very many girls who come, but everyone is very welcoming and I don't feel like I'm being judged."
Still, there is "an intimidation factor," she said. "That's why I started at 24 and not 12."
Jumping for joy
Excitement is building as the grand opening nears.
"I skateboard through the city but it's dangerous," Fitzpatrick said. "The roads are terrible."
T.J. Torres, of Hamilton, who works at the restaurant The Food Market, is a veteran skateboarder in Hampden at age 21. He has high hopes for the street plaza, which he said he and his friends have been using with whatever jumping props they can find or make.
"This green thing has been here for like five years," Torres said, pointing to a small makeshift ramp. He also pointed out "those little concrete mounds and that yellow thing."
"We bring stuff. We find stuff," he said. He even helped mount two metal poles that people can skate over.
Felix Detwiler, 22, of Pikesville, looked every inch a skateboarder, wearing his cap. He's a soccer, baseball and football coach at the Coppermine Fieldhouse in Bare Hills.
"I thought I'd come over here for my break," Detwiler said. He is moving in with friends on Power Street in Hampden to be close to the skatepark.
"I'm getting the basement — pretty big basement, too," he said. "I'm excited."
Detwiler grew up in Woodberry.
"Every time I come here to skate, it feels like home."