NY Times Article on 5050 Skatepark

NY Times 6For the skaters of New York, winter was particularly cruel: Gray snow forming crust on skateable surfaces, railings glazed by ice. And all that wetness just destroys your bearings.

The savvier skateboarders and scooter riders, or at least those who want to practice their tricks in a more hospitable climate, might head to Stapleton, on Staten Island, where 5050 Skatepark opens early and closes late. It’s just over 8,000 square feet of ramps, rails and obstacles under one roof.

On a Saturday not long ago, a gaggle of boys in candy-colored helmets scootered past a lurid mural of Miley Cyrus, her tongue replaced by an octopus tentacle. Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” was blasting from speakers overhead, and as they ground rails and spun off the ramps, they sang along.

Most of 5050’s patrons are on BMX bikes or scooters. But these aren’t just toy-store scooters. They are scooters with Phoenix, Proto and Tilt parts, and they can cost $500.

At most skate parks in New York, scooter riders seem to be in a somewhat lower caste, usually tolerated grudgingly. But at 5050, scooter culture rules among the younger set, and there are many levels of mastery. Some work on their hops and twirls (“You can only hop!” is an insult on the floor); others are more advanced.

Take Peter Piccolino, 13, who has been riding his scooter for about two years. “I’m actually really well known around here,” he said. “If you ask anyone around here, they’ll tell you how good I am.”

Peter comes to 5050 with his own videographer, a friend who records him doing difficult tricks, including a kickless rewind to a 360 bar rewind, which happens too fast for the uninitiated to fully comprehend. When he wipes out and scrapes his arm, the videographer goes in for a close-up of the wound — it might have YouTube potential.

Nonetheless, most 5050 patrons will attest that the atmosphere is noncompetitive. Joe Iovino, 13, has been a scooter rider for six months and has learned “never to give up.” At 5050, other riders are always helping him with tricks, he said. And when he falls? “People help me up.”

The skate park was opened in July 2012 by Angelica Popolano, 25, and her boyfriend, Ed Pollio, 32. Mr. Pollio, who owns a construction business, builds all the ramps; Ms. Popolano handles the business side. The name 5050 refers to a classic skateboard trick. It also signifies equality, Ms. Popolano said, since she and Mr. Pollio each own half of the business. (Ms. Popolano was a women’s studies major at the College of Staten Island.)

Ms. Popolano is clearly the doyenne of 5050. Young men on scooters whizzing past salute her: “Hi, Angelica!” She knows everyone’s name.

The couple set out to open 5050 after Staten Island’s Ben Soto Skatepark, named after a fallen Marine and friend of Mr. Pollio’s, was closed by the city parks department in 2011. (A greatly reduced version reopened later that year.) It took Ms. Popolano and Mr. Pollio eight months to find a spot to lease, and as soon as they signed, they started building ramps. Apart from the required helmets, there aren’t many rules at 5050. Use of foul language is discouraged. A full-day, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, 3 to 9 p.m. on school days, costs from $12 to $20. Ms. Popolano prefers that everyone hang up their coats.

Hannah Lonergan, 14, recently started helping out at 5050, assisting at the front desk and with birthday parties. In addition to Ms. Popolano, she is one of the few female presences in the building, and she says the atmosphere is sometimes intimidating.

Still, she said 5050 is like a family to her. “I’d be in a bad mood and I’d come here and be so much happier,” she said. “I think it’s the same with a lot of kids here. They can just ride and be free.”

“It’s like our second home,” she added. “Except it’s really cold sometimes. And dusty.”

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