A shopping centre might not seem like the most obvious place for an indoor extreme sports experience but, in the ocean terminal shopping centre in Leith, Edinburgh, a bmx and skate park has been developed which has been touted as the highest in the country.
At the time of my visit, it’s a building site but the official opening is planned for late January.
To understand the impact that this indoor park may have on Edinburgh’s skating and BMX community, you really need a little bit of the history. Ken, who I meet first at Transgression Park, had been involved early on – lobbying and drawing up business plans and feasibility studies. Dougie, on the other hand, is not a BMXer. And he’s not a skateboarder. An office-based worker with a keen sense of there being something more to life, and actually wanting to make sure he got that something more, he started training as a stuntman.The only problem Dougie had with training for his most alternative of careers was a lack of anywhere that was willing to let him train, with gym owners and the like being ultimately reticent when it came to members throwing themselves about with wild abandon. It was then that he hit on the idea of having his own particular space, which he could offer to other people to use, and which, belonging to him, no-one could stop him using for training.
Ken found out about Dougie’s plight, made available all the research he had done on BMX and skateparks and planted the seed. Within a month, the two of them had gone into business, setting up EHX, a company specialising in urban and extreme sports, and with a vague plan of where to go forward.
This was February 2007 and things moved quickly from there with EHX getting involved in a number of extreme sports events, setting up ‘villages’ for demonstrations and where people could try things out. From the Rat Race urban adventure race in Edinburgh, to Gaelforce West, EHX set about building up a brand, and above all some money for the grand scheme.
And it very almost wasn’t in the room I’m standing in. They were literally moments away from signing up for a space on an industrial site when an epiphany struck both the guys, and the people at Ocean Terminal. They had hosted a one week temporary event in this very room, but why not make it permanent, and have the park at a site with good transport links, and somewhere which opens up all sorts of other business opportunities?
The only sticking point was the rent, but a deal was struck, and with all the money they had made, plus personal savings loaded on top, they set about work. And here the BMX community proved itself to be just that.
Work on the park has been done (very) part time, with people working on it in the evenings, even running as late (or early, depending on your point of view) as 2am. And for what? Beer and pizza it would seem. And a simple desire to make something special, something they can be proud of.
With pro rider Dave Sowerby heading up the design aspects, also being the man behind the nearby Penicuik skatepark, this was always going to turn into something which might well be special.
The space has been used to maximum effect, fitting in plenty of nice points to drop-in, slopes to maintain the pace, and, at the far end of the room, a 15 degree wall ride. Occasional rails add to the fun, and as Forbes demonstrated what had been built so far, hitting heights with rather annoying ease, it became clear that, once completed, this is definitely going to be a room to shout about.And it’s not just for regular and experienced skaters and riders. The guys want this to be as wide-ranging an area as possible, so free-running, tricking and breakdancing may all be able to see what they can do with it.
And then there’s the little extra bit for people like me, who normally like to keep their tyres firmly rooted on the ground. A few bikes will be available for hire (as will skateboards) and on top of that there will be lessons. I’m not saying you’ll be able to hit the heights that Forbes was knocking off without a moment’s hesitation, but I’ve always wanted to progress from the bunny hops I taught myself on a BMX when they first made it big.
This is actually another target market for the company and they have already attracted a wide range of ages, expressing an interest on the basis of the sketches produced and displayed on the Transgression Park website. The way is also paved for potential with corporate events or stag nights (the park will be open until 10pm every night), the former serving a wide range of people by being located not far from a health spa within the same shopping centre, the latter satisfying a craving for masculine competitive nonsense.
Certain areas have been created as flat ‘stages’ for a couple of reasons. First among these are platforms for riders and skaters to watch others. It’s a sure fire way to improve your own technique to watch others at play, but it also taps into that camaraderie within these ‘extreme’ sports where particularly good tricks or moves gain a true appreciation from your peers. But also it means that events can be held, with natural stages within the fabric of the park.
With the park opening on 19th January, the hope is that it can attract riders and skaters who are currently in ‘hibernation’ through the winter months. There should then be enough to hold their interest into the summer months as they hone their skills, and, as Ken put it so perfectly, ‘learn how to fall off.’ A park such as this is the perfect place to do that, and is long overdue.
That being the case it can only be hoped that this succeeds in its many aims: that the regular riders take to it, like it, and use it; and that it can bring in people new to the sport and fun, developing new skills and spreading the word.