In the long and glorious history of skateboarding many domestic cities stand out as mini-Meccas in various eras of its growth and development. The short list tends to consist of Venice Beach, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland. One city that rarely gets mentioned is Seattle. Until recently Seattle has been acknowledged more for the music used for decades in skate videos than actual skateboarding. Despite producing talented skaters dating back to former H-Street OG Chad Vogt in the early 90s right up to current Girl Skateboards' pro, Corey Kennedy the greater Puget Sound Area remains pretty slept on.
My first visit to Seattle was in 2000 when the former home of the Seattle Seahawks, The King Dome, was demolished. As I sat in my hotel room watching the news the anchorwoman spoke of local legend, Tom Peha, climbing and skating the King Dome (seen in the first minute of this classic Seattle video, Urban Rubble).
I instantly fell in love with Seattle's skate scene but have always felt with Portland and California so close that it didn't get the notoriety it deserved. But local Welcome Skateboards pro, Nolan Johnson, adamantly disagreed, "I don't think anyone overlooked Seattle for skateboarding. There have been plenty of historical skate events here from Gotcha Grind contest in the 80s to the West Seattle crew having vert ramps and bowls, to events when I was a kid like Hey Punk at the Seattle center and Tony Hawk tour coming to Rain City Skatepark. Lib Tech coming out with fiberglass skateboards in the late 90s, Sound and Fury contest I could go on and on. They're all documented in magazines and all over the Internet. I just don't see how you think Seattle has been slept on."
Plan B Skateboards pro Torey Pudwill blamed it on the rain, "I think Seattle gets overlooked mainly because the harsh weather almost year-round. But unless your from Seattle or have visited, you wouldn't know that it's a city full of purpose whether you're trying to hang or skate. There's a ton of untouched spots, really well designed skateparks, and a lot of art all over the town giving it a rad history. Not to mention, when the weather is good, it's absolutely beautiful and perfect for skating."
Map by Amigo Skateboards' Sasha Barr
The skatespots are the reason we're discussing Seattle at all. As you can see from this handy, dandy skate map there are 78 skateparks, sanctioned skate spots, and skate dots in Seattle and the surrounding area with more being developed and added soon by the supportive folks at the Seattle Parks and Recreation department. Last weekend, on Go Skateboarding Day, I was flown to Seattle for the unveiling of the newest spot, The Red Bull Skate Space. Last August I wrote about the developing story where Red Bull had commissioned Oregon-based artist C.J. Rench to build a public skateable piece of art for Seattle. Ten months later the final touches were put on the 22-feet-tall, 11,000-pound red monster revealing the secret message in the design: The piece was dedicated to me and my family.
Torey Pudwill, photos courtesy of Red Bull
When I first saw the piece, I was equally excited and concerned. On one hand it was clear to see it was built in my honor but I had no idea how the hell anyone was going to skate it. Torey Pudwill, the mind behind the project, has a long history with my family, which began when he won $10,000 at the Maloof Money Cup Best Trick in Flushing, Queens in 2010. At the time my first-born son, Christopher II., was barely nine months old and my wife—also named Cris—was still nursing. To celebrate Torey's victory she squeezed out a shot of breast milk for him. One year later he was the first to the hospital when my second son, Christopher III, was born. He's been a part of our family ever since but never in my life would I imagine he would design three connected, skateable Cs with a fourth curved C ledge at its base to signify the four Chris Nieratkos.
Torey Pudwill with a shot of my wife's breast milk.
As my wife and I stood in the shadow of the massive Nieratko-sculpture we teared up. "You did this for us?" She asked Torey. He smiled and hugged us both. In my 15 years of working as a writer in skateboarding people have extended numerous extreme kindnesses to me and skating has truly made a wonderful life for me and my family. But no one has made such a grandiose gesture as to forge a symbol of my undying love for skateboarding out of steel as Torey did with the Red Bull Skate Space.
Just before Torey and C.J. stepped upon the curved-C ledge to address the gathered crowd and local media Torey asked me if I wanted to say a few words about the real meaning of the piece but I was so choked up that, for the first time in my life, I was speechless. In hindsight I should have at least thanked C.J., Torey, Red Bull, The City of Seattle, my wife and kids, and skateboarding; but it was such an emotional moment that I was I felt incapacitated.
As Torey stepped off the podium we hugged again. Teary-eyed, I told him, "It really is wonderful. I mean it. I can't thank you enough. And I don't want to sound ungrateful but how the hell are you supposed to skate this? The tranny in the big Cs are super tight, the C ledge is a drastic curve and the run up to the thing is hairpin and the ledge on the backside is nearly tit high (another subtle homage to the breast milk incident.), and those wavy things, I don't even know what those are." I was basically confessing I couldn't skate it. My pathetic noseslide was all I had for it. But then again I am not a professional skateboarder and the pros that Red Bull flew in (Torey, Ryan Sheckler, Ryan Decenzo, Felipe Gustavo and Joey Brezinski and amateurs Alex Midler and Tom Schaar) made it look easy. Like that Sheckler kickflip fakie in the top C? For as basic of a trick as that is it would be nearly impossible for most other skaters.
The four Cs are an obvious tribute to my clan but truthfully the final execution of the sculpture is a metaphor for my entire life. Torey knows all about my rough childhood, having grown up in constant fear in a home decimated by domestic violence. My mother, my siblings, and I never knew which day my drunken old man would send one of us to the hospital with a concussion or broken arm or nose. Life was not easy and every day I battle with those memories. Torey explained, "I didn't want it to be easy to skate. I didn't want it to be a skatepark. I wanted it to be a spot worth filming a trick on and if you were going to get something good, it was going to be a battle. And I just want it be a spot for every generation of future skaters."
I dropped to my knees and broke down and cried.
Thank you, skateboarding.