I HAPPENED UPON THIS SKATEBOARD PARK when it was being built on a long abandoned lot in West Oakland, right next to a freeway, a recycling plant, an empty CalTrans lot, and the warehouse/junkyard where I photographed Bob Rosenberg (see my "West Oakland" gallery). When the park was finished it had a name: Lower Bob. "Lower" after the neighborhood, Lower Bottoms, and "Bob" after the guy who lent them tools and helped out.
Tony, a skater and skatepark builder, is the person most responsible for Lower Bob. He set up an NGO to get the money — $40,00 for materials from local skaters and Thrasher Magazine — and built the park in just five months with all volunteer labor. That was over three years ago and Tony and his construction crew have kept Lower Bob up. It's in almost constant use and skaters from all over the world visit it. Tony had hoped the city would eventually thank him for the park, and maybe bring in some toilets and dumpsters, but that hasn't happened. West Oakland councilwoman Lynette McElhanny tried to have the park torn down because she felt it was an insult to the long-time black residents of the Lower Bottoms. "Too many people have come here thinking they can do whatever they want", she says. "These were white boys with Concord money coming here only because they would be kicked out of any other neighborhood." She isn't right about the Concord money but she is right about Oakland's racial politics.
I love watching the good skaters, and there have been a lot of them at Lower Bob, but I'm not a sports photographer so I ended up photographing something I hadn't seen as a girl and an only child: boys being boys. Guys fooling around boy-style. I'm told the motto of skateboarders is either "Freedom" or "Life Sucks," but what I saw at Lower Bob, especially in the beginning, was a brotherhood of boys feeling strong and brave and happy together. For a while. The property has just been sold to a developer who wants to bring in affordable and low-income housing but that will take a couple of years.