Abandoned gully transformed into skater's paradise
There exists in the minds of a few the idea to build a fully equipped skate park in Jamaica. With a steady beating heart in Bull Bay, the small skateboarding community has got a surge of energy, sparked by a welcome makeover.
Skaters catching air from crudely constructed ramps are the fruit of Ivah Wilmot and Elishama Beckford's labour - the two notable figures in the move to popularise skateboarding in Jamaica.
"We saw the importance of a skate park from years before. We were trying to build a DIY skate park ourselves," Wilmot told The Sunday Gleaner. He continued, "We had no experience in building, or anything like that, but we saw the importance of having a venue where people could come and meet and experience this sport for what it is."
Both young men successfully market themselves as Jamaican surfer-skateboarders and are currently working in California. But their attention has not waned from the potential back home. "In Jamaica, we started to look at how we could build a culture here. That's how we began building in this gully. It was a sewage treatment plant that the community protested against, and the building was discontinued," Wilmot revealed.
In their absence, Shama's sister Esther, continued transforming the space by organising a mural painting, which some have now affectionately called Skate Gully.
"I tried not to brand it as anything. I try to do one volunteer job or mural, at least one each year," Esther told The Sunday Gleaner.
Her philanthropic motivations began during her tenure at the University of Technology, where she needed to complete mandatory community service. To accomplish that, she painted a mural at a basic school in Mandeville. She has also painted murals in Spanish Town and participated in the popular Paint Jamaica project Fleet Street.
"This year, I wanted to do something in my community," Esther said. "I figured that would be the most appropriate thing - to build a vibe for the skaters and make it their space. I thought it was a good culture to invest in as an artist."
The idea blossomed from Esther to involve skaters, who are also fine artists, who further invited other friends interested in painting. "I wanted to paint it myself. I didn't want to organise a big thing," Esther said. Regardless, the effort expanded into a group effort, with participants emerging and eagerly lending a hand.
Visual artist Dan Thompson was a tag-along to a painting project. "I think it was supposed to be one artwork for a photo shoot, and some people came to help out, and it blossomed into a lot more than just one artwork. Originally, there were five painters, and it turned into 10. I made 11," Thompson revealed.
Though on the periphery of that skateboarding community, the painters learnt of its short local history.
"There was someone called Ivah, one of the founders of the 'Skate Gully' and one of the most respected persons in the area. He teaches young kids in the community how to skate. This is something that can bring the community together like Fleet Street. This happened organically and can help pull more eyes towards seeing it as more than just a gully, but like skate oasis," Thompson continued.
For her next project, Esther is considering hosting a clinic for the neighbourhood children. It is her hope that other young people can find health and wealth from the locally underserved sport.
"We see young people who would rather play Fifa on a screen than go outside and play football. But with skating, it's something that's more affordable. You just need a skateboard and asphalt. There's lots of that. I think young people should get out there, keep exercising, being social," she said.
"For me and Shama, we had skateboards and surfboards around us, not just in great quantity, but we had access to them just by the people we encountered and the environment we grew up in out here in Bull Bay - Jamnesia Surf Camp. After we started having fun with the things that we had, we ended up getting better and better at it," Wilmot said.
"We see that it's possible to go out there and experience the world through this medium. This is another way you can have a career and have an identity as a skateboarder or a surfer. We see it first-hand," he said.