On Talent Skatepark's 'loving community' and the difficulties of keeping the space open
For 18 seasons, Made Here has brought local and regional documentaries to Vermont Public audiences. You can stream them on our website, or watch them on our main TV channel at 8 p.m. every Thursday.
And this season, we’re providing more context on each film by bringing you interviews with the directors or subjects.
This week’s documentary is called Talent. It tells the story of Burlington’s Talent Skatepark — the only indoor skatepark in the state — which first opened its doors in 2001.
Twenty-two years and two locations later — Vermont Public producer Nathaniel Wilson visited the skatepark for a conversation with Hannah Deene Wood, the Talent’s executive director. Their conversation below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nathaniel Wilson: Much of this documentary is centered around the idea that Talent is so much more than a skatepark. Can you talk some about what this space means to you?
It is so much more than a skate park because we wanted it to be when we first opened. So what does that mean? It means that kids have a tendency to tell you to do things, and we don't do [what they want] unless they say, please, thank you and make eye contact, which was a big [lesson].
A lot of time is spent on life lessons. A lot of the things that happen inside a skatepark happen when you're driving a car: waiting your turn, looking both ways, being respectful, not getting mad when somebody else messes up and helping each other out. Whether it's a flat tire or a snowbank, same type of things happen within a skatepark. It's always been a safe haven. I want kids to come here and feel good. I want them to feel like they're coming home. I've tried to carry that through every single month of talent skatepark since 2001.
And what would you say characterizes Burlington skate culture? How would you describe the scene here relative to other places?
Skateboarders are like no other, you can have somebody who's 60 and you can have somebody who's 5 sharing a skatepark like best friends. Because they speak the same language — and that language is skateboarding. Skateboarding doesn't care what color you are, what size you are, your pronouns and your sexual preference. They all speak the same language; they all have that same motivation. Fall down and then get back up until you land it. It's an unbelievably kind, loving community that hasn't always had that adjective to describe it.
In October, Bolton Valley Resort closed its indoor skate park in order to convert this space into tennis and pickleball courts. One of the founding goals of Talent was to create a space for skaters to use during the winter months. What does the loss of one of these spaces mean for Vermont's skating community?
I'd like to start from the beginning and just applaud Bolton Valley for hanging on to the skate park for as long as they did — it was not a moneymaker for them. I know there was a lot of people that were very upset, very angry that they were closing it. I'm a small business owner; I'm an entrepreneur. I know, I had a space in Burlington with 12,000 square feet that I couldn't sustain. They're at the top of a mountain with 20,000 square feet, and we're asking them to maintain. And they just couldn't do it.
It had nothing to do with whether or not they liked skateboarding. It was a financial, business decision. Pickleball, tennis— yes, but also having an open, clear span room where you can host banquets and weddings, bar mitzvahs. Whatever they choose to do with the space is going to be more profitable, I promise, than an indoor skateboard park.
What does it mean for our community? I will tell you that since I opened here in January of 2020 — when we first opened before COVID, it was busy; it was gangbusters. It was fun. All my sessions were sold out. COVID hit — and we haven't quite recovered from that, truthfully, I think it's sad when a skate park closes. But unfortunately, it happens everywhere with the use of electronics, with kids not moving their bodies as much as they used to.
Bolton Valley's president and CEO told VTDigger that financial issues are what led to the skatepark's closure. Talent is no stranger to these kinds of difficulties. Can you talk about what it was like to close your doors in 2018?
We closed our doors Aug. 5, 2018. It was one of the worst days of my life. I didn't want to close, but our rent was going to go up and I was already not in a good place. I went to sleep for about a month after that, just so depressed. Keeping in mind that we did everything: free lessons, deals on all product, skate sessions, scooters, inline skates. We tried everything we could to stay in business at the time. And 2008 really hit us; we hung on for 10 years until the landlord said rent was going up. We just couldn't compete with Amazon. We couldn't compete with video games. We just couldn't pay our rent.
People who hadn't been in Talent for five years came out, "Hey, why are you closing your doors?" I haven't seen you in five years! You couldn't come buy a pair of sneakers here, a T-shirt, anything, or just come in? It is the worst feeling when you're supplying something for a population that doesn't have a ton of places to go, then you have to close your doors.
And now, we’ll hear a little bit about what the park means to the skaters themselves, who producers Adiah Gholston and Nathaniel WIlson spoke to at Talent on a recent afternoon.
Todd Kohlmn: I started Talent when I first moved here from Wisconsin. It was just a really awesome community. I didn't know anyone. And It was really cool to just go, and Hannah and Dave are super friendly. And It's just like a second home that I could go to and learn how to skateboard better.
Raphael Shmulevich: I'm a student at the University of Vermont, so I come to Talent pretty often to skateboard. I come from Philadelphia, and we have a pretty strong skateboarding scene there. That being said, I feel like it's a pretty tight knit community here as well. Everyone's super nice. You always see guys skateboarding or you see the trends with the fashion.
Avery Devereaux: Talent means a lot of things to me. It's changed a lot over the years. I've been coming here since I was like 12, or 13. Mostly, it's been a space where I can come and enjoy myself, skate, hang out with friends and have a good time. I think that Talent has always fostered the youth really well and given them a place to escape.
Tim Gardner: I worked at Talent for about two-and-a half years and managed it for a year. Talent to me is a place where people of all ages and skill levels can come together and share something they love. We have the space as a melting pot so that kids have a healthy outlet to get their energy out. Skating at Talent is a good way to do that. This is versus maybe out in the streets where it's a little more dangerous; you have people yelling at you to get out; you're being too noisy or whatever. Talent like — it's all about noise; it's all about getting after it and skating. Talent forever.
"Talent" premieres on Vermont Public's main TV channelon Thursday, Nov. 9 at 8:00 p.m.