Skaters Fundraise for growth of park

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Billy Leach, a longtime surfer and skateboarder with one of the boards he built, hopes the community will support local skatepark users.
Kristi Dobson

Saturday night’s Wham Bam at Glenwood Centre was one of the largest to date and brought together a group of like-minded skateboarders, bmx’ers and scooter riders. As an integral part of raising funds for the skate park off of Wood Avenue, these fall and winter events are organized by a small grassroots effort.

When Billy Leach came to Port Alberni to open Totally Board Surf Company, the small skate park was already constructed, but since then, he and a group of users have been fundraising to make it bigger. In the 1980s, Billy built a similar park in Gibsons and paid for it out of pocket because of the lack of community support.

“The laughed at me and said I wouldn’t get any money for it,” Billy said. “It got built and it might still be there today.”

He said the local fundraising is necessary to modernize the park, add variation like a bowl and to ensure its safety and durability. He also hopes to make the community aware of how important the park is to the youth of the Alberni Valley.

“It is here because the kids and families fundraised and built it,” Billy said. “Communities rarely want to invest in skate parks, but you ask any parent who brings their kids there…they are taking their kids out of town because (other communities) have newer parks. If Port Alberni had a nice park, people would come out of their way.”

It also provides an opportunity for people who prefer individual sports to excel and spend time doing something outdoors that they enjoy.

“It is an amazing sport and it is not easy,” Billy said. “There is a lot of pressure on some kids in team sports but there’s no pressure at the park. That’s the main thing. There’s no worries of letting anyone down.”

That is the whole premise of the Wham Bam events. It is a chance to bring boarders and riders together indoors during the off-season. The monthly event kicked off with the Halloween Wham Bam on Saturday and had about fifty people attend.

“There were lots of little ones this time,” Billy said. “We reassure parents that it’s all good. There are no rules, but the only thing we enforce is that there is no bullying or violence.”

Overall, it was a success, bringing in about $300 to the skate park fund.

“A kid came up to me and said, ‘I’m so glad you have the Wham Bams. I’m so stressed out,’” Billy said. “Sometimes they just need anything that can get things out of their head and bury them for a while and skateboarding is good for that.”

Billy ultimately hopes for more support from the City and community, but said growth can happen by having more parents on board.

“The more voices there are, the more likely we will be heard,” Billy said.