You can see them almost every day at Carroll Park in Baltimore with their boards and bright orange T-shirts. The nine young men are members of “Milk Squad.” Twenty-year-old Jamone McKenzie is known as “Psycho,” because, as he explains, “I do crazy things that a lot of people don't try.”
He became fascinated with the sport when he was a skinny nine-year-old kid, watching skaters jumping high, spinning in the air and landing on their skateboards.
“I thought there was glue or something in their feet when they jump in the air but then, it's a lot of hard work you put into the board itself in order to do the tricks that need to be done.”
He says his mother wasn't too happy when he started skating. "She thought it was too big for me because she was afraid I would get hurt or injured,” he recalls. “But as the years gone by and she sees me progress daily, yearly, in everything else, so now she is proud of me.”
Freedom and other work habits
Eli Hech, who started skating at eight years old, says he loves the freedom he feels when he is skateboarding, "the feeling of being on my board flowing, floating down the road.”
Being a member of Milk Squad gives him a sense of belonging. “We can always like teach each other tricks,” he says, “like someone gets one trick, and you have another trick, so you a both sitting there trying to help each other get everything. The pride when you land a trick just feels nice.”
Skateboarding began in California in the middle of the 20th century, by surfers who were looking for something to do when they were not riding the waves. Over the years, the sport's popularity has grown, and skateboarders around the world have invented their own skating styles and tricks.
Milk Squad, just like the sport itself, is bringing together young people of different races and backgrounds. Their hard work practicing together made them noticeable. Eventually they earned a sponsorship from Bodymore Skateboard Company, which provides the team with boards and hats and T-shirts to wear when skating in public parks.
Psycho confides, “I never expected to be sponsored, because I didn't think my skating level was high enough.”
Group leader Jamal “Taco" Cottman says many young people underestimate themselves. When they skateboard they start to learn that staying focused, being confident and being persistent pay off. But while training is crucial to sharpening their skills, finding a nearby skate park to practice at every day is often a challenge.
“They just need to put out more skate parks,” Taco says. “It will keep more [young] people out of trouble. I know for sure it kept me out of trouble, definitely.”
Girls skate too
Local government employee - and skateboarder - Stephanie Murdock says building more parks will attract more young people, including girls, to this sport.
“Sometimes it can be intimidating for girls to come to a park, and it is all guys,” she says. “That can be a little scary. In general, most skaters are supportive. So they are not going to give you a hard time, if they see you are here to skate and have fun and learn. They are going to support you.”
When Murdock started skating more than 10 years ago and could not find a skate park, she founded a non-profit to build one.
“When I started I was 20 years old and it was like, let us build a skate park, you know full of energy and zeal,” she says. “I did not realize how hard it would be to raise close to a million dollars and to secure public land for this activity, and make these partnerships with the community, and help them understand that skateboarders are as valuable as baseball players or as our basketball players, and that they deserve great facilities to recreate too.”
The second phase of that facility has already started, and the new park is expected to open next summer.