Rolling Down East Hillside: Duluth, MN
I hopped onto my worn-out, park-style skateboard at the bottom of 15th avenue. The combination of the hard wheels attached to my board and my weak legs were no match for the incline that stood before me. I took a deep breath and inspected my surroundings. What I saw was an encompassing view of Duluth: a tug boat chugging along Lake Superior, houses slanted on the diagonal roads, and about five Subarus with canoes strapped on top.
As I started to push, my conscious began to grapple with the idea of starting at the bottom of the hill. I wanted to be easily distracted by the local boutiques and bookstores with adorable trinkets in the windows.
It wasn’t long before gravity defeated me. I humbly picked up my board and caught my breath about four blocks in, when suddenly–a pack of angsty-looking teens packed into a 2003 Toyota Carola, covered with old Santa Cruz and BirdHouse bumper stickers, zoomed past me. The air went from a faint smell of red cedar to a suffocating stench of skunk and cigarettes.
Who are they? What are they doing? Where are they going?
There was one place in Duluth I had previously heard of, and it immediately popped into my mind: The Rink. They had to be going to The Rink. I had never been there, but it had been chalked up to be this fantastical hub for skaters in Duluth that couldn’t be found on any website or map. I was always too intimidated to cross the uncharted waters of the Duluth skate scene to step foot there.
However, this time, there was no excuse. I had to catch up to those skaters, or else I was going to lose my ticket to The Rink.
I slapped the board back down and pushed as hard as I ever had before. Luckily, rush hour traffic forced the driver of the angst mobile to slow back down to the speed limit. Even if I lost sight of the car, I was able to follow the sound of the worn muffler.
Eventually, it came to a low rumble and silenced. I had to have been almost there, but something didn’t make sense. They had stopped on a street with a massive incline and rancid potholes, where you can hear the Chester river flowing on one side, and the low hum of people mowing their lawns on the other. I saw no skate park, just a run-down ice skating rink.
Then it dawned on me–the Rip Memorial Ice Skating Rink is “The Rink”.
As I got closer to the skating rink, I heard music from the group “Wu-Tang Clan” playing accompanied by the sound of wheels tapping and rolling around on the concrete.
Skateboarders, scooter-ers, and rollerbladers, oh my. This truly was a hub. Slightly underwhelmed, I noticed that the obstacles were nothing but stolen bike racks, DIY ramps, and other miscellaneous items. There are actual skate parks in Duluth, so why here?
I had to know what the deal was, so I went up to the crew that emerged from the Carola.
“Not only is it a great place to practice flat ground tricks, but The Rink is also reasonably a safe spot to be. And on the plus side, we have a lake view and access to Chester.” Said local skater Joe Durall.
I was amazed at how inclusive the environment was. Skate circles were filled with people of all ages and genders, people brought extra snacks and water for other skaters, and they all work together to maintain the park.
I returned the next day after the rain, to take photos of the area. Even without people there, you still can feel the liveliness that was present the day before.
Ten story ideas:
Why are there so many houses burnt down in Duluth?
Gentrification on the west side?
Is sex trafficking still prevalent in the Twin Harbor area?
Under-representation in skating?
How accessible is it to live in Duluth for those who can’t use stairs?
Why are there so many stairs in Duluth, how did they get there and when?
What is the deal with that massive, hollowed-out field on 15th and 8th street?
Is there a street art scene (illegal or legal)?
Whats the purpose of building the new hospital?
How has covid-19 impacted the skating community?