Launch of transgression’s custom-built new skatepark is the result of hard work, community spirit and a shared vision

The new park is custom built for all sorts of wheels

The new park is custom built for all sorts of wheels

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AS the BMX wheel nearly clips the top of Kenny Smith’s beanie hat, there’s a sharp intake of breath by those watching.

“Bit close,” says one spectator. “Could get closer though,” grins Forbes Howie, the BMXer who is riding his wheels up the smooth wooden wall and flicking his bike over his boss’s head.

It’s just after 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon and the new Transgression skatepark is busy with near middle-aged men in baggies boarding alongside woolly-hatted teens, while 20-year-olds fly around the ramps and bends on their BMXs and a boy, who most definitely should be in school, ploughs a lonely furrow as a solitary scooter rider.

“He’s here because his social worker brought him,” admits Kenny, one half of the duo which owns Edinburgh’s latest indoor skate/bike/blade/scooter venue. “He gets to come when he’s had a good week. We get a lot of kids in like that, who come as a reward. They love being here.”

“Here” is the former Jelly Club, a warehouse in Peffermill Industrial Estate, which once rang with the excited shrieks of toddlers and primary children, and now resounds with the scraping of board axles grinding on iron bars, squealing brakes and the odd moan as a rider or boarder hits the deck.

“But we’ve only had one amublance visit so far in the month we’ve been open,” says Forbes, a 24-year-old Napier marketing student who works part-time at the park.

“That’s not bad going. In fact, statistics show that skateboarding is much, much safer when it comes to accidents than sports like rugby or football – even if skateboarders are notorious for not wearing helmets.”

But Transgression will be a familiar name to anyone who BMXs or skateboards in Edinburgh. For the last three-and-a-half years it ran out of Ocean Terminal, before popularity meant it had to expand. A deal was finally struck in April for the building, which had been lying empty for some time – a 15-year lease with owners EDI Group, which means the park has to pay £65,000 a year in rent – and after six months of hard slog it finally opened at the beginning of November.

“It was a lot of hard work, and the investment has been substantial, close to a couple of hundred thousand, but we pulled it off,” says Kenny, 34. “And to be honest, it wouldn’t have happened without the full support of skaters and BMXers in Edinburgh who use the place. It’s been wholly funded by me and my business partner, Douglas, and our members. We’re lucky we have some rich kids who use the place,” he grins. “People said ‘I can give this, or invest that much’. But it’s been that way since the start.”

He and Douglas McFadzean (“he’s an architect but he’s socially motivated, and feels he’ll never change the world doing his day job,” says Kenny) had originally been involved with the Edinburgh Skatepark Project to build an outdoor skatepark in the Capital, which after a decade of debate eventually opened in Saughton Park last year.

But, Kenny admits, they got fed up with the pace at which council wheels turned, so decided to go it alone.

“I sat in a council meeting when my son was three weeks old and they were talking about a skatepark in five years – he’s now 11 and it’s only just opened at Saughton.

“It’s great but it’s missed a generation of young people. I didn’t want to wait that long.

“Skateparks in shopping malls were very popular in the States, but we had to do a lot of convincing of the management at Ocean Terminal to let us in.

“I grew up in that area where there was never anything for kids to do, so I wanted it to be in Leith.

“We held a lot of demos to raise the money – we never got any help from banks – and with the sweat and labour of the skating community we built Transgression and people were paid in pizza and beer. It was amazing to see it all come together.”

However, the park quickly became too small for the demand.

“It was 9000 square feet, but this place is 13,000sq ft and we’ve got a brilliant pool bowl, which gives another aspect to it. There’s nothing else like it in the UK,” says Kenny.

“We managed to recycle a lot of the timber flooring from the old place, but had to put down new high-quality birch on the surface. It’s all been handcrafted so it takes a long time to make sure it’s perfect. There are bigger parks in Britain, but there are few which have been purpose built like this.”

While the park is great news for those who like to show their flair, foot-jams, tail-whips, spins and flips, it’s also fulfilling another function, given its new location. Already in its first month it’s been used by schools, social workers and youth community groups in Craigmillar and Niddrie.

“When we were working on the place a lot of young lads used to come down and see what was happening and be a bit of a nuisance, though that was OK,” says Kenny. “But as soon as we opened and they saw what was going on inside they wanted to be involved. They do small jobs for us like sweeping the leaves up in the car park so they can get some free time in the park. They’ve become our biggest supporters and feel they’ve got an ownership of the place, which is great.

“And, as we hire out bikes, boards, helmets and all the safety gear, it means they don’t have to have their own stuff to come here and have a go.”

Before it moved to Craigmillar, Transgression boasted 1000 members (who pay £35 a year and get discount on entry), but since it reopened a further 4000 visitors have tried out their wheels on the rink.

“I used to work in engineering. Ocean Terminal was the first time I ever ran a business,” says Kenny. “It was a steep learning curve. But I was into BMXing quite seriously as a teenager and so to be able to do something you love is fantastic.”

Skateboarding and BMXing are becoming massive sports and Forbes, from Corstorphine, believes it’s a lot to do with the internet. “So many people film themselves doing tricks and stick it on YouTube, and it catches on from there. They’re no longer sports which just interest a minority – they can be done by people of all ages and all fitness levels.

“The best and most important thing though, is that this place is a community.”

JAM PACKED

SOME of the UK’s and Europe’s most successful BMX bikers will be at Transgression Park this Saturday for the Snowballin’ BMX jam competition.

With categories for 12 and under, 13 to 16-year-olds and over-16s, BMXers at any level can enter – and will be judged by 21-year-old Harry Main, one of the top riders in the UK.

Main has been riding his BMX since he was 13, turning professional at the age of 18. He, along with other professionals including Kriss Kyle, Dan Paley, Ben Wallace, Paul Chapman and Sean Lafferty, will also show off their stunts and tricks to spectators.

Forbes says: “We invited Harry Main, and then by word of mouth other pros heard about the jam and wanted to come along, but we like to think they also want to come and try the park for themselves.”

The event is from 2pm-10pm. Entry for competitors costs £15 or £5 for spectators. See {http:// www.transgressionpark.co.uk|www.transgressionpark.co.uk}