By Mechele Stolar
Receiving guests from far away lands is always exciting for the staff at Lake Cunningham Regional Skate Park (LCRSP). Hearing the accents, learning about other cultures and listening to stories, are things we thoroughly enjoy. With the Park’s growing popularity, the number of foreign zip codes has been increasing. Israel, Europe, and China have been the farthest and it has been quite exciting to learn people are hearing about LCRSP from such a distance.
Typically, international guests are either families who are visiting on business or followers of BMX and skateboarding. They come here to enhance their skills or test them by carving down the world’s largest Full Pipe, shredding up and down the tallest Vert Wall or attempting an over-vert inside the largest Cradle. Getting a glimpse of our local legends Steve Caballero, Jeff “Ffej” Hedges and Ron Wilkerson rippin’ it up with their friends and family, doing what they love most in the Skull bowl, is a major bonus.
So it was quite a fun surprise for us at LCRSP when four happy, hyper, California summer weather loving children rode in speaking with accents from yet another foreign land. As their waivers were filled out we learned just how far they had come. This time, it was not just far away. It was not even far, far away. It was faaaaaaaaaaaaaar away, where lions roar, zebras run, and hippopotamuses snort. In some areas the sun blazes hotter than one hundred and twenty degrees without mercy, and whining is not allowed. Black mambas, spitting giraffes and the six-eyed sand spider are considered friendly locals. The ever alluring, immortalized land of secrets, adventures and heartache, is their home. Africa.
Very quickly we realized we were experiencing something special. None of them had ever skated before, but all four knew how to ride a bike. Their parents found LCRSP on the internet and, on a whim they signed them up for lessons. But it was their silliness, effort and constant energy that won the staff over.
Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Africa, is where Domilola (Domi) (9), Tobi, and Mitchel live. They gathered for a family vacation in San Jose, California, home to Josh (7), a cousin from their father’s side. Domi and Tobi are siblings, while Mitchel is a cousin from their mother’s side of the family. Domi, is a very direct, fearless, lioness, who is clearly the boss in any given situation. Her quick wit and sharp tongue kept her brother and cousins in line all week as they learned to BMX and skateboard under the direction of Nick Valencia and Skate Park Supervisor, Andrew Helms. Tobi, her younger brother, is the tough one, probably from practice of having such a feisty older sister. Josh, is the not-so-tough one who needed constant encouragement and a few hugs every time he fell. Mitchel is the mediator, always trying to make things calm when young tempers flared.
Eager to learn and never still, they tore through LCRSP like they owned the place, and as Recreation Leader, Nick Valencia, puts it, “They’re their own little Nigerian skate team,” as they learned to carve, drop-in to the mini bowls and bunny hop around the park. “They have fantastic athleticism,” Recreation Leader, Benjamin Little, remarked as they learned tricks quickly. Josh accidentally managed to do a Rock-to-Fakie, originally intending to drop-in. Tobi, fell several times, once landing hard on his stomach. Not a tear was shed, nor did he complain. Instead he gave us a “thumbs up” sign, showing he was fine.
The family also managed to rename a few things. The world’s largest Full Pipe was newly titled “The Cave”. Andrew can now add the moniker, Coach, to his list of Drew, Dude and Bro nicknames. Personally, I think their best addition is their use of the term “person”. Instead of saying “Look out, step up,” or “Yo Dude, I’m going,” this foursome used the term “PERSON!” which they yelled loud enough for the geese across the lake to hear. When it is shouted by a three-foot-two Nigerian boy, it’s a bit like “Coach, move outtada way, I’m going down da Cave now, PERSON!!!” and the towering six-foot-four Coach, kindly obliged with a grin on his face.
Lunch was an awesome way to get to know the kids, as Myles Solanoy, a fellow camper learned. “They eat a lot of different rice.” Between turning Coach into a massaging chair and bites of their hot dogs, we learned what they love to eat.
One dish in particular is Domi’s favorite. With her accent it sounded like she was saying, Jell-O-fries, which when repeated back to her, she burst into laughter. “Jell-O fries? What are Jell-O fries? Would Jell-O and fries even taste good?” After spelling it for us, we learned it is Jollof Rice, a scrumptious sounding spicy and orange-colored chicken and rice dish. As for the boys, Mitchel’s favorite food is hot dogs, Josh likes bacon and sausage and, Tobi, well, he apparently loves pancakes. He jumped up and down about them. They all share a hankering for citrus, their favorite drinks are Fanta, Sunny D, and Pink Lemonade. No one owns an exotic pet. No cobras exist in their bedrooms or hyenas in the back yard. They do, however, like to play pranks on each other. They don’t like putting toys away. They eat as fast as they can because the last person has to clean the table. They now know who Tony Hawk is because “he is on the poster,” referring to the one from the Birdhouse Tour.
“They are funny kids from halfway around the world, ripping and shredding. It’s fun to have some kids from a completely different world at the park. I’ve learned a lot from them.” Nicely put, Coach.
It is indeed incredibly endearing to watch a group of kids who know nothing about the skateboarding or BMX culture, come to LCRSP and fully immerse themselves into it, making it their own. Moments like this make LCRSP a special place. We get to meet extraordinary people every day and have fun at the same time. The nearest skate park in Port Harcourt is about half an hour away from where Domi, Tobi, and Mitchel, live. They do plan to continue skating, once they can agree on a board.