From my early days crowd surfing at Vans Warped Tour, to my more recent Hot Topic-themed birthday, to the septum ring my parents hate, I’ve always held a deep appreciation for punk culture. But skateboarding? Not in my wheelhouse.
Be it fear of falling (or fear of looking stupid in all that padding), I'd never actually hopped on a skateboard. But after my first lesson at SkateBird Miami in El Portal, I seriously can’t wait to hop back on.
MORE THAN A SKATE PARK
Tucked away on an unsuspecting street off Biscayne Boulevard and NE 83rd, SkateBird is the definition of a hidden gem. While technically a pro-level park, it feels more like a giant community center. Parents are dropping off kids for lessons, regulars greet each other by name, locals are picking up pizza to-go. I immediately felt at home, something SkateBird Founder and CEO Joner Strauss says was built by design.
“SkateBird is a curated safe space for kids and adults to learn the culture,” he says. “In the past, to be part of the street skateboard culture, you had to hit the streets and there’s risks to that. Here, we’ve curated it so that Miami has a space for an Olympic sport, where people from all walks of life can coexist and grow safely.”
After checking in at the front desk, I met Coach Cody, SkateBird’s Head Coach and Park Manager, for my trial class. Required for newcomers and experienced skaters alike, this 30-minute class ($20) includes all of the protective gear you need – helmet, knee pads, wrist guards, and elbow pads – and a board to rent for the day.
Strapped up and ready to rock, I followed Cody to our first lesson. We started with the basics: terminology, park etiquette, the sport’s surfing roots, and a bit of skater wisdom. “You might fall,” Cody warns. “Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it’s fun. But don’t be nervous. Skateboarding is for trying new things and getting out of your box.”
GETTING ON THE BOARD
SkateBird has three epic spots for skating: the street park, the pump track, and a mini ramp. We started at the street park, an 8,000-square-foot pro-level plaza designed in collaboration with Rob Dyrdek’s Street League Skateboarding.
Once I figured out my stance (I’m a “goofy” girl), we practiced foot placement, balancing and pushing off. Things felt a bit awkward at first, but I was surprised at how quickly I got the hang of things thanks to Cody’s positive reinforcement and literal hand-holding. He also quizzed me on my new skateboarding knowledge throughout the class, making sure I was engaged and giving me space to ask questions without embarrassment.
After “mastering” my moves on the street park, we headed towards the mini ramp. Along the way, I couldn’t help but poke my head into all of the other cool things happening at SkateBird. There’s a music room for private lessons, rotating retail concepts, graffiti by local artists, a live music stage, a snack shop, a pizza bar, and a cocktail bar – with a lot more on the way.
SkateBird’s traditional halfpipe mini ramp – decked out by Miami graffiti artist Atomik – had new lessons in store for me like tic tacs, pumping and 50-50s. “You’re more confident on that board now, I can tell,” Coach Cody observes. And he’s right. I’m falling less and moving faster. My nervous two-hand grasp softened little by little. “Let’s try one hand this time,” he encouraged. Even though I’m learning the absolute most basic steps, these micro-progressions feel major. I’m ready for the next spot.
A NOSTALGIC RIDE
The final lessons of my trial class took place on the pump track, a 12,000-square-foot circuit of concrete waves where Sk8r Bois of all sorts – skateboarders, roller bladers, bikers and scooterists – can practice their moves. Wheelchairs are also welcome here. Not quite ready to dominate the bumps, I practiced pushing on a straight path and learned how to shift directions with my feet, slowly pumping up and down the inclines. “Alright, let’s do one more,” Cody says.
As I glide down the pump track, Cody lets go. I was finally doing it! I was skateboarding by myself!! It felt liberating, and nostalgic. I instantly remembered the moment I learned to ride a bike on my own as a kid. I could see my mom running up beside me, showing me her hands to say “you’ve got it!” My heart swelled. It was awesome.
BUILDING CULTURE & COMMUNITY
Once we were done, I kicked back at Yeti’s Snowballs & Pizza, SkateBird’s on-site culinary concept developed by Jerry Pennington, former GM of Brickell’s Blackbird Ordinary. Between serving slices and packing up to-go orders, Jerry’s a busy man. His naturally-leavened sourdough pizza (also available on Uber Eats) is an obvious crowd-pleaser, even earning a respectable 7.8 rating from notorious pizza critic and Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy.
Yeti’s and its adjacent cocktail bar anchor SkateBird’s weekly social events. There’s comedy night on Wednesdays with Custom Laughs, “fire flows jams” on Tuesdays with Flow Angels, and different live music acts throughout the month, including an upcoming program collab with local Latin rock band Suénalo.
It may seem strange bringing all of these concepts together at a skate park. But for Joner, it was never a question. “Skateboarding has always been the trendsetter – for fashion, for culture, for music, for anything you can think of really that’s culture-driven. What we want to do here is feature skateboarding to build and inspire the culture in Miami.”
These mixed offerings help draw different crowds to SkateBird, too – and hopefully inspire them to give skateboarding a go.