Venice Beach can now add a beachfront skate park to its legacy in the world of skateboarding.

Though widely credited alongside Santa Monica as the area that gave way to modern skateboarding in the 1970s, Venice had been without an official arena for generations of skaters to show off their tricks.

In the days that the Zephyr Skateboard Team members, also known as the Z-Boys, were perfecting their new style, skaters would search for empty pools to find places to ride. After the Pavilion, a popular skating area near Ocean Front Walk, was torn down at the turn of the century, skateboarders were left to ride a concrete section of the Boardwalk.

While they would find spots to skate, they were looking for something more, something befitting the skateboarding foundation that the Venice community helped create.

Skateboard enthusiasts say that has finally been fulfilled with the long awaited Venice Skate Park, considered by designers to be one of the only such beachfront facilities on the West Coast.

“It’s really a fantastic skate park, and that’s due to the effort that was put into it. There’s something there for every ability,” said Geri Lewis, executive director of the Venice Surf and Skateboard Association (VSA), which initiated the effort to get a skate park built.

The Venice Surf and Skateboard Association, along with generations of skaters and Los Angeles city officials, celebrated the grand opening of the $3.5 million skate arena, west of the bike path near the skate dance area and Public Art Walls, during a ceremony Saturday, October 3rd.

“It’s almost an indescribable feeling; it’s surreal,” Lewis said of finally opening the park to the public. “To share this with the guys I grew up with who are still skateboarding, it’s just a thrill.”

The VSA is calling for the new park to be named after the late Dennis “Polar Bear” Agnew, a skateboarder who grew up in Venice and represented the community as a professional, Lewis said.

Members of the VSA recalled the years they spent pushing for the skate park construction and said they were impressed with how the facility turned out.

“It came out unreal. We really couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Jesse Martinez, a professional skater and VSA member.

Martinez said he is proud that the new park can pay tribute to the riders from Dogtown who pioneered the skating style that is still popular with youths today.

“Let’s not forget they created this tradition, and this tradition is called Dogtown,” Martinez said. “This skate park is a testament to what they started.”

Aside from being one of the only skate facilities on the beach, offering scenic views of the coast, VSA members say what sets the park apart is that it was designed with input from both professional and local young skateboarders. The arena is created to enable beginner to the professional levels of skaters to ride, they say. Even longtime skaters who are not so young anymore have a chance to renew their skills.

“The design reflects all levels of skateboarding and reflects the style of the neighborhood with the skate and surf tradition,” Martinez said.

Young skaters who were eager to have the first ride on opening day appeared so comfortable on the ramps that it seemed like they could have built the park themselves.

The 16,000-square foot concrete park features bowls, ramps, a nine-foot-deep pool, rails, a “snake run,” platforms and steps. The site includes an entry plaza, walls, fencing, walkways, landscaping and other improvements skaters helped develop. Built by California Skateparks, Inc. of Upland, the park was designed by RRM Design Group of San Luis Obispo, in collaboration with Wormhoudt, Inc. of Santa Cruz.

The project was funded through sources including Quimby developer fees, the Venice Area Surplus Property Sales Trust Fund, Damson Oil Facilities Restoration Fund and the Capital Improvement Expenditure Program of the city’s general fund.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose office helped move the project forward, said the Venice Skate Park is the first in his 11th District, and there are plans to add such facilities at Stoner and Mar Vista recreation centers.

“This is a signature skate park that will be in magazines all over the world,” Rosendahl said of the Venice arena.

The councilman explained that he was motivated to push for a skate park when he got elected after seeing how family friend Adam Hamilton and other youngsters who grew up in his neighborhood did not have a dedicated place to skate.

Hamilton recalled telling Rosendahl how the skaters of Venice need their own park and he expressed excitement that the day had finally arrived.

“People identify Venice Beach with skateboarding, how can we not have a skate park here?” Hamilton says he told Rosendahl. “This is where skateboarding belongs.”

Elected officials who attended the opening ceremony also spoke of the facility’s fitting location in Venice.

“People come to Venice from all over the world to get a slice of L.A. you just don’t get anywhere else,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky added, “This is a state-of-the-art facility that Venice and L.A. County can be very proud of.”

Members of the VSA noted that while their dream of building a skate park for the community has been realized, the “real battle has begun” with working to ensure that the park is maintained as a safe and clean environment for those who use and visit it.

“Now the real work begins on providing services for the youth and maintaining the park with some semblance of order. Remaining a viable and significant entity out there is the next mission,” Lewis said.

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