Punk & Hardcore

The Best Concrete Skate Spots in Phoenix of All Time

The Valley of the Sun didn't always have skate parks. For many years, finding a good place to drop in and have some fun was both a challenge and a somewhat noble quest for riders of all ages. According to Rob Locker of local skateboard and record company AZPX, when it comes to skate spots,"If you don't know, you don't need to know," and this is still true today. There are still skate spots around the Phoenix area that were not necessarily built to grind, but asking about them — or worse yet, blogging about them — is a no-no.

Skaters are territorial, at times, and protective of their spots. Over the 30 years I have been part of the "scene," spots have come and gone. Some were amazing, some still exist and can still be skated, and some have yet to be built. Pools were always the hardest to come by, and when you found out about a good pool, sometimes you were even reluctant to tell close friends about it because the more people who knew, the sooner it would either become a huge bust (the cops loved us) or the sooner it would be full of dirt or junk.

Here in Phoenix, ditch skating has also been a primary focus. To find a good ditch and skate for as long as you can without being hassled by "the man" is a great feeling.  There have been some great ones around town, just like the pools over the years, and some of them will be mentioned in this blog. The sacred spots, though, the ones that still flow like the concrete waves of misspent youth, will not be shared. If you skate or want to skate, you're going to have to find those on your own and you'll thank me later for not sharing them here. 

Prior to the days of the iPhone, we carried a boombox with us. Another great aspect of finding a pool or a well-hidden ditch was the ability to blast the tunes you wanted to listen to while enjoying your skate "session, as skaters like to call it. Sometimes certain songs or bands would seem to attach themselves to a pool or ditch and it just wouldn't be the same to skate them without listening to the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, or local heroes, JFA. I decided to pick a song I thought was fitting for each of the spots discussed in this blog, so enjoy the tunes, as well.

The spots aren't any particular order. Skateboarding, even though it has its contests and such, has never been about competition as much as discovery. Each pool, each ditch, each park, each ramp, etc., offers different opportunities and different challenges. To rank the skate spots of the past would require a ridiculous database and input from everyone who ever road them, so no, this blog is definitely not about one spot being better than an another. As I think of them, each one I skated was my favorite for a time, and many of them left scars I still have and can fondly remember. In addition, I'm sticking to concrete for this. There were and are too many ramps to choose from them and these are even more territorial for most skaters. Perhaps they'll be talked about in a different blog.

Pipes, pipes, and more pipes

"Fullpipes were a big part of AZ skateboarding history here as well," states Jeff Araiza, who has ripped his fair share of spots over the years and now builds them as well. When you were part of the inner circle of valley skateboarding (which I just sort of scratched at the door of), you learned about where the pipes were and if you were really lucky, got to skate them. These were often kind of like searching for the holy grail for those of us not quite cool or skilled enough to make the cut. Over the years, there have been a number of different pipes to ride around the Phoenix area. Sometimes these rides were only available at certain times of the year, between big rains, or accessible after going down quite a few stairs and ladders. Regardless, one of the most iconic local skate punk images, the cover of JFA's 1984 "Untitled" record, shows the silhouettes of the band in front of one of the many pipes skaters yearned to go past vert on over the years.

This track from the previously mentioned album says it all.

Ever Play Jai Alai?

This spot was such a pleasant surprise, back in the day. As a central Phoenix local, to have something this cool, this unique, right in your back yard, well, it was magical. It was fast and it was a former Jai Alai court connected to the old Arizona Heart Institute (thanks Dr. Mollen), but it was special and rideable for a klutz like myself. The rippers definitely shredded this place, though, like the late Richard Rubio,  who rode it as well as anyone. Early on, there was a lot of chainlink fence you could grab onto or use for killer foot plant tricks, as well as nifty wall ride when someone wired up a 4' x 8' piece of plywood at one point. This spot had both a DIY feel, as well as the built in feel of something designed by a skateboarding architect. Similar to the Tennis Court Banks up in Berkeley, California, if you're familiar with them.

While not a skate band, Jane's Addiction's "Nothing Shocking" is perhaps the most aptly title song I could think of to describe what sessions at the Jai Alai banks were like. 

No Pictures Please...

A shortlived but ultimately awesome spot on north Cave Creek road located behind some condiminums, these killer banks had a nice downhill slope which would empty into a large bowl-ish area, and a long run of steep banks winding through an established neighborhood. The downill portion of the banks were not particularly high or steep, but they did have nice transitions which made for nice carving as you picked up speed on your way down into the bowl area. Tiny rocks would occasionally find their way into the banks, so if you weren't careful, you could easily end up being thrown off of your board and wind up with all manner of scrapes and bruises. Brooms were definitely necessary when you made a pilgrimage to this killer spot.

We listened to this song multiple times while bombing down these sloped banks.
Did you know there was once a terminal one at the Airport?

The "Airport Bowl" was legendary, even if it was only rideable for a short time in the summer of 1988. Just on the outskirts of the old Terminal One (which was demolished in 1991), the Airport Bowl was a beautiful site to behold for skater's young and old. There were 18 to 24 inches of nice blue tile all the way across the deep end running up to blue-tiled spit gutters wide enough to get a set of Indy trucks on top of if you were good enough to do a stand up fifty-fifty grind. I watched Chris Livingston, another valley legend, do his first inverts in a pool at this bowl. The transitions were amazing throughout, but especially in the huge curve of the bowl, which were like the best ramp transitions ever as you easily floated over endless tile while carving the big curved wall. There was a nice hip on the oppposite wall where I learned how to stylishly grab the nose of my skateboard as it came out of the bowl by watching Brian Brannon of JFA do it over and over again. When I rolled up and saw it had been filled in by an evil bulldozer, I wanted to cry. Still do.

Riding the "Airport Bowl" was just like honey.

Downtown lives

Sunday afternoons downtown were a way of life for my friends and I in the late ’80s. So much so that we had a nice route of banks, painted curbs, and parking garages to hit each Sunday afternoon, as well as the occasional night time sessions. One of the best spots on the route was the Crazy 8 parking garage which is still going strong, somewhere in the vicinity of a couple of Phoenix's current crop of great music venues. Crazy 8, at times a total bust, is tons of fun and just fast enough to get even the bravest downhill riders blood pumping. For awhile, there was also some fun parking blocks to grind inside Crazy 8 until the toy cop would come running after you and chase you over to our next spot, the Valley Bank banks.

This RKL song was perfect for Crazy 8.

The bank along the outside of the old Valley Bank building always presented a fun challenge. For new and novice skaters, the bank round the edge is pretty steep and not a little daunting. Once you had the feel for it, though, it was nothing to get to the top and do a nice one wheeler (where only one wheel is still touching the bank with the other three floating off the top) or a grind. The real treat was the bank down in the courtyard which was able to be skated for only short periods of time unless there was no security guard on duty. Night sessions here are the best.

If you are lucky enough to skate the courtyard, have this cued up on your playlist.

Speaking of banks...

Nestled beneath east Camelback Road where it intersects with Hayden is(well, was) the Stoops or for some, Stoopers. For most skaters, this was a fun spot to learn how to do all kinds of slide related tricks and for most of your run, skate in the shade. There was always the chance of running into a jogger or bicyclist, so it was a good idea to have someone down in the ditch before you started your run, which would best begin on the south side of Camelback, as there was a nice big banked wall to use to build speed as you entered the main part of the ditch. 

Here's a mellow song for your mellow time underneath all the fancy passing cars.

At the edge of Tempe where University now meets State Route 143, Hohokam banks (or what is left of them) can be seen. It's probably ignored by people every day, but in its time (as in before they were rendered almost completely un-skateable), the Hohokam banks were about as much fun as you could have in this town for free. Maybe 44 inches high or so, they had some attitude, for sure, but once you got the feel for getting up and down in them, they were endless and could be pumped for huge amounts of speed. There was always the catcalls from passing cars to keep you entertained as well or a passing squad car to look out for, especially when you session-ed the part closest what was the intersection of 48th Street and University back in the day.

The Big Boys might have even skated here.

Tatum Banks
Prior to the guard posts that are now installed, the Tatum banks (just south of Shea on the west side of Tatum) were fairly easy to get to, visible from Tatum, and you could get a pretty good session in before the cops might show up. It was not uncommon for us to have a boom box out there on these banks between pristine half-million dollar homes (or more) and over the years they were skateable, there was often coping set up to grind and parking blocks to rock and roll. Big, wide, and relatively easy transitions, the Tatum banks were there for hours of fun and there were a couple of good places to park inconspicuously, as well. 

The Dead Kennedys were always a must when skating the Tatum banks.

Psst....behind the Smitty's in Chandler

Personally, I never skated these banks but for a lot of east side folks, these were (and maybe still are) the bomb. According to Fat Gray Cat frontman and local skater, Michael Pistrui, "This was in Chandler, Smitty's grocery store, loved this spot, we would always hit it on Christmas Day as the store would be closed, Sunday mornings were a good bet too that you would not get chased away."

This song seems fitting.

Son, this is called a white card. What's your name?

I blame these banks for many things. Run-ins with the cops, a love affair with rounded blocks, and the death of my mom's Mercedes. Somehow I put a hole in the oil tank of my mom's beautiful '73 220 SL on a summer day in 1987 and when we went to leave Hisco, the car didn't make it very far. Needless to say, I will never forget these killer Tempe banks north of Broadway in the industrial lands. Smooth, multiple level banks with the sweetest rounded parking block on the north (and tallest wall). As typical with a few of the banks found at loading docks around the valley, there were some nice natural features that made for excellent tricks including the eventual hand rails, some stairs with nice two-step high blocks to use for tricks, etc., and walls try and ride from the excellent transition. Hisco was always a bust and it was always fun to come up with a new name and address to give for your white card.

Robert Shipp, valley musician and self-described "zealot' when it comes to local skateboarding spots said this song is the best anti-war song ever. It also sums up the way most of us felt after being chased away from these exceptionally smooth banks by the po-po.

Thank you, State Route 51, thank you.

For a magical time, there were empty pools seemingly everywhere. For skaters, hearing about a new pool is akin to being told you get an extra day of vacation or another day to celebrate your birthday. When the State Route 51 freeway went across central Phoenix and into Paradise Valley, there were empty pools for months on end. It's a wonder I got my high school diploma on time because during my junior year, at one point there were five or six pools within a 15-minute ride on my skateboard from the apartment my mom and I shared near the Mason Jar. I remember when a friend of mine, Lorina McCabe, asked me to take her husband, Dan "Deafboy" McCabe skating one day when they were in town from up north. Little did I know Dan was the closest thing to Spiderman I would ever meet in real life, able to skate any transition and rule any bowl. We hit seven or eight empty pools in Paradise Valley and he ripped them all. Every skater I knew followed the path of the freeway for many years, carefully cruising up and down alleys looking over fences and waiting to hear about the next great bowl.

These locals rocked Paradise Valley a time or two, for sure, and this song is fitting on several levels.

The elder statesman

Longtime locals over 40 will probably remember the Dead Cat bowl. Though it's been gone for almost 30 years, the Dead Cat is still legendary and still honored. Over the past few years, there has been a reunion, t-shirts, and skateboards made to commemorate the giant Maryvale bowl, known for both the skaters who ripped it and the flesh it sometimes tried to destroy. Local legend Don Ho remembers, "I'm 15 years old. We're having a night session. Fires in the loveseats. There is a wooden extension in the deepend. I am doing a backside wheeler on the extension. I have to bail. I land on the floor wrong and blow my knee out. Luckily its a big session, The boys carry me to the fence and two guys jump the fence. Two more throw me over the fence where they catch me and drive me to the ER. Thankfully I had some good friends that night. Just another fun night at the legendary Dead Cat."

A song from a similar era and completely representative of the feeling of skating an amazing pool.

Last but not least...Love

Perhaps the most well-known Phoenix area spot around the national skate scene due to the multitude of pictures, videos, and magazine coverage, the Love Bowls and their reputation as a beautiful, yet daunting monument to vert skating stand alone in terms of unique skate spots. Built on Dick Van Dyke’s old TV studio grounds in Carefree, Arizona, the Love Bowls were actually able to rotate, which was a way of capturing outdoor shots for Van Dyke’s short-lived The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Local skaters have flocked to these bowls, built quarter-pipes to help launch riders higher and higher on the vert walls, and have even had a few skaters successfully drop in on the steep walls. One local skater, John Negrelli, knows these monoliths better than anyone, as he was the first person to skate them back in 1986. "A guy named Paul Stapleton found it and called me that night. [Stapleton] said, bring your skate stuff and meet me at West Coast Connection [local skate shop] at 6 a.m. [He said] to trust him. So we roll up on the property as the sun's coming up and approach from the back. As we walk around the front and got our first look, it was unbelievable-looking. We stood there for what seemed forever, speechless. It was so smooth and virgin in the morning light. Finally I say "it's like...a bowl of love! And immediately ran up the wall and jumped on our boards. We didn't even tell the rest of our crew for a week or 2. And then it was just two at a time swearing them to secrecy. To little avail. I moved to San Diego less than a year later and started seeing it on the cover of Thrasher and in all these videos and I watched it slowly get beat to fuck and it broke my heart."

Some classic Cleveland punk that says it all.

AZPX's Locker adds, and I think this sums it up nicely, "Public Skateparks and facilities, fine, but non-skatepark spots are off-limits to those not in the know. For your readers who wish to be in the know, here is some friendly advice: Go get a skateboard and start skating. Go to a park and meet other people who skateboard. Eventually you might become friends with some skaters and maybe they will share info with you, but you will always have to prove yourself to be down to skate, period. And if you are not, we will see right through you. However, if the local news contacts you to do a story on skateboarding and they invite you to a homeowners pool with full permission to shoot a story on you skating a pool, throw all that other shit out the window and fuck it all and go skate that fucking pool. No regrets."
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon