BIG CYPRESS INDIAN RESERVATION, Fla. - TJ Stockton leans against a wooden quarter pipe and guides a skateboard back and forth with her small foot. She raises a plastic water bottle to her mouth as she watches the older kids struggle to land kick flips — the 6-year-old knows she has a lot to learn.
Wheels smack into concrete and wood bangs against metal — percussive sounds that blend with the grungy pop rock filtering from a set of speakers, providing a soundtrack at the tribal skate park. The park, a collection of rails and small ramps, sits next to the basketball court on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation, creating a gathering place for the community’s children.
Near the quarter pipe, TJ’s best friend and cousin, Halley Balentine, pictured above, right, takes a break too. She douses herself with a bottle of blue Gatorade as a 2-year-old rolls by, belly-down on a board bigger than his body, narrowly avoiding the clatter around him.
TJ started out riding on her stomach too. Then on her knees. Then on her feet.
She’s been skateboarding since she was a baby, she said, an interest sparked by older cousins and siblings who are now whizzing across the park. It’s just hours before a skateboarding contest.
Organized by the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum as part of this year’s American Indian Arts Festival, the competition coincides with the display of “Ramp it Up,” a traveling national exhibit on the history of skateboard culture on American reservations.
As judges arrive and participants register, TJ splays out across the concrete in the early November heat. One day, she said, she’ll be as good as her sister, Alena, who’s grinding across a rail on a pepperoni pizza-print board. The 12-year-old practices her tricks over and over, her brow furrowed in determination behind her black-rimmed eyeglasses.
Today, skaters are competing for prize bags stocked with new decks, wheels and skate gear. The contest was funded largely by the ABC Foundation, which gives scholarships to kids involved in extreme sports in honor of Alexander Blaine Cypress. Cypress, an avid skateboarder and TJ’s cousin, died of pneumonia two years ago at age 21.
TJ glances periodically at her sister and talks through a row of missing front teeth — her enthusiasm is palpable even if her knowledge is spotty.
“I’m gonna get older and I’m gonna do a 50-50!” she said, as she peels the back off a sticker and presses it to the bottom of her scratched-up skateboard.
What’s a 50-50?
Old enough to be excited about competing but young enough to not care about the outcome, TJ spends most of her morning goofing off as the older kids practice.
Danny Fuenzalida, a Miami skateboarder and emcee of the event, announces an official 15-minute practice session to kick off the contest. TJ is back on her freshly stickered board in her pink-trimmed Nike high-tops, balancing with her arms out, gliding across the park.
- Carolina Hidalgo, staff