If you didn’t otherwise know what you were looking at, you might have thought something was wrong. But for the horde of people crowding the 2200 block of 14th Street NW Friday, everything was just fine.
On the 10th anniversary of National Go Skateboarding Day, hundreds of skate boarders milled around Palace 5ive, waiting to take off toward Freedom Plaza for the annual skate ride called “Palace to Pulaski”- named after the store and the official name of D.C.’s de facto skate mecca.
Started back in 2003 by the International Association of Skateboard Companies, the ride celebrates everything about local skate culture. Palace 5ive has been holding the event for 6 years, and it’s grown every time. Friday, organizers grilled burgers and hot dogs while riders performed tricks in a side lot on W Street.
“We get people from all over the place, including inner city kids who come down, too,” said Dioren Hallums, 25, a D.C. native from Benning Road and a team manager at Palace 5ive. “They can be having trouble at home and school and all that. It’s just good to get them out of the streets.”
There was a time when being a skateboarder in D.C. made you an outsider; indeed, it was an activity largely for suburbanites. Though the city scene wasn’t completely dead, there’s no question that the activity and business behind it has around it has sharply grown. And while the D.C. skate community may not be as big as the ones in Los Angeles and New York, it’s now sprouted beyond subculture status. And it’s fun to watch.
Inside the store before noon, young skaters hung around, looking to tune up their boards. With Frank Ocean blasting over the speakers, Northeast native Antione Frye pulled out his freshly purchased sneakers. A sponsored rider, the ride is a celebration between friends, he said.
“When you start skating, you start out knowing absolutely no one. And then the longer you skate, the more friends you get. And then eventually you just make it here. It’s like one big family and whole community,” Frye, 17, said, before he explained every single detail of the first setup he got from the store, with a monster smile on his face.
“Being able to ride and know that if you have a goal in mind to get somewhere, not only do you make that your job and say, ‘I’m going to take this seriously,’ but you also are having a good time doing so. ”
And while D.C. skate legend Darren Harper threw t-shirts and boards to an eager crowd off the store roof, 13-year-old Rico Felix, who lives on 5th Street NW, scarfed down McDonald’s before the big ride. An issue at birth left him with an amputated leg, and eventually a metal rod to walk around on. For him, being able to skateboard at all is more than a leisure activity. He quit skating as a 10-year-old. “I just didn’t believe in myself,” he said. But after a cousin motivated him to get back on the board, he did.
“A lot of people are getting into skateboarding,” Felix recalled thinking. “I’m going to give it one more try.” When asked if skateboarding gives him more confidence, his answer was quick. “Yes.”
Then, suddenly, a huge yell came from the crowd up the street. The ride, scheduled for 3 p.m. had taken off with a flash mob start at 2:45. The booming sound of trucks and decks on city concrete was off, headed down 14th Street, laughing the whole way.
So if you saw a swarm of kids in tank tops, Vans sneakers, backpacks and sunglasses this afternoon, understand they were more than just a group of kids looking to bend traffic laws. For some, it was the most exciting day of their lives.