Featured photo: Sturgill Horn skating at the Winston-Salem skatepark (photo by Gale Melcher)

For Sturgill Horn and other skateboarders in Winston-Salem, the sport is as natural as breathing — and so is fighting for it. Winston-Salem only has one skatepark, located at the Fairgrounds on Deacon Boulevard in the North Ward. 

“When they first built the skatepark, he had just been born,” Horn said, gesturing to his 8-year-old son Jupiter. Horn has been riding a skateboard for 30 years since picking one up when he, too, was 8 years old. 

As years went by, the park desperately needed some upgrades. In 2022, the pump track — an undulating 325-foot-long obstacle — began to deteriorate as it took on water, putting skateboarders at risk for injury. When the pump track was removed, Horn said it was like a breath of fresh air. 

“You could see a possibility,” he said.

Horn said that the pump track “looked neat to people that didn’t skate” and that it’s good for kids, but for safety reasons it needs to be in a field or on rubber mulch. It was placed on a concrete surface. Some obstacles were also too close together, Horn said — within five feet of each other. 

“It was just ridiculous,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel comfortable letting Jupiter skate there because it was too dangerous.

“Now it’s got a good flow to it,” Horn said.

In February, city council approved a nearly $124,000 contract for new equipment purchases; installation wrapped up at the end of August.

Now the park has a few new, shiny pieces of equipment where skateboard enthusiasts can show off their skills, such as a china bank — a steep slab with ledges. The decaying pump track is long gone, only a tan line snaking across the concrete remains. 

‘I gave up on this place’

Not everyone was happy with the park’s design when it first opened. Horn said that many of the “guys that really looked forward to skating this park” when it first opened have now quit. 

“Those are the guys that I grew up with, the people that pay the taxes to get this place. And they were so disappointed,” adding that many of them said that they’d just work out at the gym instead.

“I gave up on this place,” Horn said. “I would just have to find other ways to soothe, and a lot of those are super toxic. And that’s what a lot of the guys and gals and kids are going through because this place sucks.” It was depressing, too, Horn said, because there are no other options in town.

But then Horn met his partner Elizabeth, who encouraged him to get back into skating. Horn skated in front of the bars downtown, he said, noting that bars were where a lot of the guys he used to skate with ended up after skateboarding. 

Sturgill Horn and his wife Elizabeth and son Juupiter at the Winston-Salem skatepark (photo by Gale Melcher)

“That’s pretty much where we go, and that’s not healthy,” Horn said. Gesturing to park, he continued, “This needs to be the bar, this is where we’re trying to spend the majority of our time as skateboarders.”

So Horn started skating at the Fairgrounds again around this time last year, but he wanted it to change. People were getting injured from the pump track, Horn said, and so the idea sprang up to simply get rid of it. Horn said that his logic was that if there’s “some rusty piece of equipment that’s on a field, it’s dangerous so as patrons we can just remove it.”

“I wasn’t trying to cause a problem, but it caused some issues the way that I was doing it,” Horn said, adding “I got a call from the police department and they were like, ‘Hey, we need you to do a hard post and tell everybody not to go to the skatepark and take apart the pump track and remove it.’” 

Community engagement in city government eventually brought changes to the park. Horn received a message from the city’s former Senior Community Educator Braxton Langston-Chapman, who now works for Forsyth County. He reached out to Horn to help him get in touch with people at the city so Horn could make some actual change — giving Horn advice about who to contact, what their positions were and what Horn needed to do to get something accomplished. 

“He was very meticulous,” Horn said.

In an interview, Langston-Chapman told Triad City Beat that he thought Horn’s frustration was a “good time to educate citizens on the proper way to make their voice heard.”

“All I did was point him in the right direction of who to speak with and who to call,” he said.

Horn eventually spoke to the right people in the city and did a walkthrough of the skatepark with them, he said. He said that he showed them the dangers with the way it was previously set up and gave them ideas about what kind of equipment the park needed.

“Call your elected officials. Come to council meetings. Talk during the public comment period. Figure out who is in charge of what,” Langston-Chapman said, adding, “Sturgill figured out who was in charge of recreation and parks, he figured out who was in charge of the Fairgrounds and got what he needed done.”

William Royston, the head of the city’s parks and recreation department, told TCB that there was community engagement when it was initially designed years ago, but that it was “just with a different group.” Royston said that before the city moved forward with plans for new equipment purchases this time around, they got input from the community, which he thinks “is important because at the end of the day it’s the citizens’ skatepark.” Royston said that working with Horn and the community took place “over several months,” where they met with them and listened to their input.

Despite a delay in getting the equipment, Horn said that the city moved quickly and shut the doors for a week or two while installations took place.

“Now we have this,” he said, “and it’s amazing.”

‘An outlet to relieve stress’

At the end of September, the skatepark will close temporarily due to the Carolina Classic Fair which is hosted at the fairgrounds. 

That takes the culture away from so many who use skateboarding as a pastime or creative outlet, Horn says.

“They’ve taken it away every single year for nine years,” Horn said.

When the skatepark closes for the fair, Horn thinks that there will be an “influx of people getting tickets downtown because they’re still handing out skateboard tickets.” 

The city’s code states that it’s against the law to “coast on a sled, coaster express wagon or toy wagon or move or skate on any roller skates, skateboard or other similar device upon any public street, right-of-way, sidewalk, park or other public property located in the central business district of the city.” Violators are slapped with a Class 3 misdemeanor and a maximum fine of $500. 

The Winston-Salem skatepark (photo by Gale Melcher)

Plus, with increased visibility and skatebard-centric events like the Winston-Salem Skateboard Open which took place downtown in mid-August, Horn feels like skateboarding needs to expand beyond just the Fairgrounds skatepark.

Right now, the park is north of the city’s downtown center, and not accessible to people in other parts of town, Horn said. 

“They ain’t got bus money — they’ve got a skateboard,” he said.

“A skatepark needs to be accessible to downtown,” Elizabeth said.

Horn ultimately sees the need for another park.

“This is Northside, this is almost out of town,” Horn said, adding that there’s a huge need for an in-town skatepark. “Like Mooresville, or Lexington, or Raleigh or Mount Airy or Greensboro. Lexington is a dying city, you can’t even get good barbecue in Lexington anymore and their skatepark is five of these!” 

Winston-Salem’s is also surrounded by a wire cage, something Horn points out is different from parks in other cities. 

“Greensboro, Mooresville, it’s all wide open, you can picnic,” he said. “They got us backed up here in the industrial area at the damn Fairgrounds.

“Winston-Salem is the city of arts and innovation and is ready for the innovation for skateboarding,” he continued. “It’s an Olympic sport.” There’s only one park in the city “for now,” Langston-Chapman said. But even if there were plans for another, Royston isn’t sure if it would be downtown.

“That really depends. We’re always looking to expand recreation opportunities,” Royston said. “We do hope to build more facilities, I just don’t know if downtown is going to be the place to do that.”

Because of the lack of available places to skate, Horn has been part of a guerilla equipment installation located at the old BB&T Financial Center building downtown, fixing 30 feet of angle iron to a surface with a caulk gun. They skate, and then they make sure all their trash is picked up before they leave. As to whether he’s worried it will be removed, Horn said, “I want them to contact me, not try to catch me. Where can we put this?”

The renegade said that it’s a great outlet for kids downtown to get some tricks in, and that it gives the area’s unhoused people an opportunity to skate as well.

“Skating’s not an afterthought to some people,” Elizabeth said, adding, “It might be to a lot of people. But this is what they need to not hate their lives.”

Gliding around the park, wiry Horn performs tricks high and low with his board.

Horn said he loves three things — Jupiter, Elizabeth and skateboarding.

“I love him, and I love her,” Horn said. “Without [skateboarding] I get weak. I get super weak.” Horn said it’s the same way for a lot of people. Skateboarding is their “crutch,” he said, adding, “This is their emotional support group.”

Elizabeth agrees. “This is their preferred hobby that is an outlet to relieve stress, to get exercise. It’s like any other outlet.”

Jupiter rides a skateboard just like his dad. “I try not to soccer-mom him too hard,” Horn said. “He likes it for now. So as long as he likes it, I’m gonna keep fighting for the kids his age and older.”

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