It’s not every day you get a casual phone call from an international celebrity.
So, Janine Powell was understandably taken aback when, while checking her messages Wednesday, she heard the voice of perhaps the most iconic skateboarder in the world.
“It was unbelievable and very surreal to have a voicemail saying, ‘Hi, Janine, it’s Tony Hawk,’” Powell said.
The “Birdman” himself got on the phone to personally tell Powell, donor relations director for the Parks Conservancy of New Hanover County, that a planned skate park in Ogden would be getting a hefty push forward.
This week, the Tony Hawk Foundation decided to award the Ogden Skate Park $25,000 toward construction. It’s the maximum grant amount the foundation hands out in its twice-yearly funding cycles. Ogden Skatepark was one of eight to receive this round of grant money and the only recipient from North Carolina.
“We are proud to support Wilmington in this way,” Hawk said. “This project represents the type of community effort that we encourage through our skate park advocacy.”
Hawk created his non-profit in 2002 to empower youth, primarily through the creation of community skate parks that serve as sites for positive, safe interactions.
According to county parks and recreation director Tara Duckworth, Ogden Skatepark, a 10,000-square-foot outdoor concrete skating facility within Ogden Park, will be built in two phases. It will include various street elements, a bowl and a “snake run,” a shallow winding, waterslide-esque path.
“We’ve learned a whole new language through this process,” Powell joked.
All jokes aside, Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, said the varied design of the park is what helped Wilmington win the big money.
“That is a key component from our point of view because it brings in different types and different generations of skaters. And what happens then is you tend to get interactions between older and younger skaters and that sort of casual mentoring that happens in skate parks,” Vuckovich said.
Perhaps more importantly, he added, Ogden Skatepark has had strong buy-in from the community, a buy-in brought about by a loud call to action from the youth it will serve.
“It was clear that the community really came together on this,” Vuckovich said. “And there was evidence in the application that the kids had been particularly involved in getting the word out and the community demonstrated support for their cause.”
For Hawk, who has overseen the foundation’s $5.4 million in contributions to 569 public skate parks, the one in Ogden stands out. And it’s one he plans to be hands-on in helping shape.
“It…is close to my heart, so I plan to be involved closely with the park design and construction,” he said.
Hawk is no stranger to the Port City, having made numerous trips to the area to visit his late dear friend and fellow pro skateboarder, Ray Underhill, who lived in Wilmington.
“Tony is very familiar with Wilmington; he has been here many times,” Vuckovich said. “So, Wilmington was more than just a name on an application…It was a living, breathing place he could envision.”
He’ll see it firsthand next summer, when the two-phase project is completed and open to the public. There, Hawk will host “Get Rad for Ray,” an annual fundraising party, ’80s style, that he started in 2014 in memory of Underhill. Underhill died in 2008 from chordoma, a rare form of spinal cancer.
With the Tony Hawk Foundation grant, Duckworth said enough funding is in place to begin construction on phase one in April. The $300,000 project, which includes the bowl and street elements like railings, should take four to six months to complete, she said.
While that work is underway, Duckworth hopes to raise the $150,000 necessary to add the “snake run” and other phase-two implements.
Considering there is now a big name attached to the park, funds could come in quicker than expected. A pleasant side effect of the Tony Hawk Foundation award, Powell said, is that the Ogden Skatepark’s Facebook post about the grant reached 86,000 people in less than 24 hours, earning 1,700 thumbs-ups and giving the page a 40 percent increase in “likes.”
“It was hard to sleep last night because I kept wanting to check Facebook,” Powell said Thursday. “I’m absolutely tickled.”
For more information on the park and to make a donation, visit the parks conservancy’s website.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.