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‘These guys are my best friends’: Lawrence skating community's camaraderie stays strong

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Hidden among a canopy of trees with aging autumn leaves, a concrete playground etched with initials, inside jokes and profanities hosts a subgenre of Lawrence that is rolling through the pandemic. Feet are replaced with four wheels as skaters take turns speeding down half-pipes or flipping over a single traffic cone, hollering for each other in camaraderie. They sprawl out in masses but are ultimately together.

At the cusp of fall, Centennial Park’s skatepark is the premiere time for skating, according to its frequenters. The sun does not blare directly into the eyes, and the temperature is perfectly cool. The ideal conditions make it easy for the skaters to forget that a pandemic is happening.

“These guys are my best friends,” says Ethan Balian, a Lawrence resident who frequents the park, this time in a pair of bright red cargo pants. “Half of my favorite guys aren’t even here, but when we’re all here, that is when the fun starts.”

skate culture

Ethan Balian soars over a traffic cone positioned at the edge of the drop-off as another skater watches from a distance. 

It only took minutes until a gaggle of brightly dressed skaters and I were perched onto a rickety, wooden fence laced around a half pipe. Each of them took turns ollying over a “borrowed” traffic cone (or so I was told) placed at the edge of the drop-in.

“You should see when we play S-K-A-T-E,” says Edgar Rodarte, a Lawrence local often spotted at the park. “I’ve seen at least 14 of us speed in a line in that drop-in.”

S-K-A-T-E is a game much like H-O-R-S-E in basketball, where one sees a trick and tries to copy it.

However, I was the only one wearing a mask. Not even the children sipping large gas station sodas, watching the boards sway back and forth, donned masks. Jokingly, the group proposed that I photoshop masks and helmets onto all the photos I took, creating an illusion of safety.

skate culture

Edgar Rodarte skims the edge of the skatepark's bowl, holding his arms out to keep balanced. 

“We only hang out with each other,” Balian says. “Nothing has really changed in the community, as far as I know, since everything happened. We just continue to vibe."

Unphased by the rapid change of life, the Lawrence skate scene continues to do what they do best: skate. When someone lands a trick, an outcry of baritone cheers launches into the autumn air. Each person at the park admires one another, learns from one another and accepts one another as if nothing has changed since January.

The sound that skateboard wheels make when furiously turned against asphalt is uncannily similar to a duck’s quack. Taj Salazar, an employee at River Rat Skate Shop, is determined to land a kickflip on video. He causes quack after quack while his friends eagerly watch on. When he lands it, the entire park erupts in triumph.

skate culture

A skateboarder holds tight to his board and waits for his turn to shove off.  

“He’s been working on that for weeks,” Rodarte says.

Balian, the man behind the camera, chases after his companion while continuing to film. Salazar offers a nonchalant shrug of his flannel-covered shoulders. Determined for another success, Salazar shoved off again but ends up lying flat on his back, his board leaves him there.

“You win some and you lose some,” Salazar says — a skater’s mantra.

Person 1: This song slaps.

Person 2: Your mom slaps.

Person 1: Thank you, my mom is a kind and wonderful lady.

 Person 1: I’m so sick of alcohol.

Person 2: I don’t know, I’m getting stronger every day. I love it.

Person 1: Do you do the vegan wrap here?

Person 2: We can do the chicken wrap with no cheese?

Person 1: I’ll take the Beyond Burger please. 

Person 1: Oh my God! I feel like I know you somehow…

Person 2: Yeah, we went to high school together. 

Person 1: Oh! *walks off*

Guy 1: Is the black market even real? Has anyone ever been on it?

Guy 2: I tried once but I couldn’t figure out how to get on.

Guy 1: I stayed up until 2 am watching Disney plus

Guy 2: I told my girlfriend I fell asleep but I was actually watching the Mandalorian.

Girl 1: How long have you guys been dating?

Girl 2: Since the summer, well actually for like two years but it’s a long story.

Girl 1: Who are you looking for?

Girl 2: This guy, wait I found him. Fanny pack boy. He flipped off my professor after a test and ran out of the classroom.

Girl 1: How did you choose KU? 

Girl 2: Honestly, I flipped a coin. 

Boy 1: Did I tell you? I think I had a threesome this weekend.

Boy 2: Woah, hold up. You think?

Boy 1: I was born a Phi Delt.

Boy 2: Please don’t ever say that again.

Girl 1: How do you get your boobs to look like that?

Girl 2: I don’t ever wear a bra? I don’t know. 

Girl 1: I just really want a guy to bend me over you know?

Girl 2: How do you know? You’re a virgin!

Guy: Sometimes I wish I could just be a dog and sleep all day. 

Girl: You wake up at like three every day. 

Guy: I know.

Girl: So…

Guy: So does that make me a dog or something?

Girl 1: I wish I was a little bit taller.

Girl 2: I wish I was balder.

Girl 1: I wish I had a...wait, wait, wait balder?

Guy 1: Let’s slap dicks

Guy 2: You ever pee and it feels like throwing up?

Woman 1: *holding baby* He would have been safer at the Hawk

Woman 2: Oh absolutely.

Girl 1: I would never date that guy.

Girl 2: Well, it depends how much money he has.

Girl 1: I’m going to the doctor to see if I have bronchitis before I hook up with him again.

Girl 2: Yeah that’s smart so you don’t give it to anyone else. 

Girl 1: No I mean I want to make sure I infect him.

Guy 1: I'm cutting some of my unnecessary costs, starting with Juuling.

Guy 2: Ight man, good luck.

Guy 1: Actually I might just start chewing

Guy 1: How was work?

Guy 2: My manager was chastising me for not dressing up in a Halloween costume, she doesn’t understand I’m strictly here to get paid.

Guy 1: I am so tired of this week, man

Guy 2: Dude it’s Monday

Guy 1: I know

Person#1: I want to be on the first ship to mars

Person#2: Not me, I doubt they have Wi-Fi

Perons#1: Yeah but at least they’re evolving up there. We’re all just devolving.

Girl 1: Um, I don’t eat pig.

Girl 2: You eat bacon all the time, bitch.

Guy 1: You better get going. 

Guy 2: Yeah, see ya. I’m off to get some Adderall.

Girl 1: Are you home right now?

Girl 2: Yeah, why?

Girl 1: I bought a cat

Girl 1: I just don't understand what fishing is for.

Girl 2: I don't know. Food, maybe?

Guy: I’m just gonna have to like carry an entire box of spiders up the hill tomorrow.

Girl: What?

Guy: Yeah, just like a hundred spiders in a box.

Guy 1: Sometimes ya just gotta give yourself a haircut.

Guy 2: Dude, you shaved half your head. That’s not a haircut, that’s a mess.

Girl 1: Can you eat fruit raw?

Girl 2: How else are you supposed to eat it?

Girl: That class is killing us. ​But they say rest is for the dead.

Guy: Well, at least we'll be rested.

Girl: She's not in class this semester.

Guy: Maybe she's dead.

Girl: Or studying abroad.

Girl: They're like oil and water.

Guy: Wow, you're so good with analogies.