By Rich Bockmann
Shops like Jamaica’s Bellitte Bicycles and ADT Bike & Skate Shop in Richmond Hill buzz with the energy of southeast Queens’ freestyle sport culture, but when BMX riders, skateboarders, in-line skaters and scooter freestylers want to leave those enclaves and put the rubber to the road, they find a less-hospitable environment.
“They can end up getting tickets from anywhere from $100 to $500 for trespassing, vandalism or destruction of private property,” said Darryl Montgomery, a community activist who was a pro-BMX rider in the sport’s early years.
Montgomery is trying to make the greater Jamaica area a destination for freestyle sports, with plans that could include smaller facilities in places like Roy Wilkins and Laurelton parks, as well as a world-class park in downtown Jamaica.
His vision goes beyond recreation: He sees this as an opportunity to develop the community.
The idea for a freestyle park came out of a workshop that Montgomery, 47, ran called the Purpose Lounge, which encourages youth to get involved in community and social participation through arts, history and social and media literacy.
He said he challenged the workshop’s members to come up with an idea for a community initiative, and they came back to him with the idea of the sports park. That was the first time he showed them a photo of himself as a young BMX rider.
“They were like, ‘Whoa! That’s really you? That’s sick air!’” he recalled.
Montgomery said the Jamaica Freestyling project has the support of the two big bike stores, and his partner, Greg Mays, of A Better Jamaica Inc., has been working on getting elected officials on board.
Because there are no coaches in freestyle sports, Montgomery said they are great in that they force the athletes to teach themselves about determination and persistence.
He said cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland have built world-class freestyle parks, which can have enormous economic impact on local businesses. Moreover, he said, the project would serve to teach youngsters in the area an important lesson about being proactive in building the community around them.
On a sunny afternoon last week, Montgomery stood inside Howard Van Dohlen Playground, on Archer Avenue, a spot he said would be perfect for a top-of-the-line, destination park.
As he spoke, three young boys were playing basketball, a mother was exercising with her young daughter and three adult men were sleeping on the park benches.
He pointed to what he saw and said it was a perfect example of what the project was attempting to change.
“If we don’t teach these kids about community development, they’ll grow up thinking it’s a single basketball rim without a net,” he said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.