BETHEL — The debut competition at the grand opening of the Bethel Skateboard Park on Saturday attracted more than 100 people of all ages.
Under a sunny sky with temperatures approaching 80 degrees, many attended the Bethel Skatepark Mania Rock ‘n Roll BBQ benefit to watch about 30 kids — ages 5 to mid-40s — show off their riding prowess on jumps, rails, a figure 8 bowl and a mini-halfpipe.
“It’s great,” Nate Clukey said, watching the crowd enjoy the park he helped design and have built. “I’ve been involved and fighting for skateboarding in this town for 22 years, so this is like a second home to me. I’m thrilled. There’s a lot of new people out here today.”
Clukey, of Bryant Pond, and SKATE Shop owner Greg Kennagh, 19, of Bethel, organized the event to raise money needed to complete the park, finish paying for work completed last summer and fall by area contractors and to get lighting for night riding.
“This is the world to me,” said Kennagh, a Bethel native who has been skateboarding since the age of 10. “It’s what I’ve been doing for years.”
Although unfinished, the park opened this past Halloween.
“When I grew up, there was a skate park here, but it was nowhere near this good, and now I want to help them appreciate it,” Kennagh said. “It’s such a nice park. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Through free lessons, youngsters learned some new tricks during the morning, and then spent the noon hour practicing as Clukey’s rock band, The Goofy Footers, provided live music prior to a jam-style competition and a “high ollie” contest.
An ollie is popping a skateboard into the air and jumping with it. It’s one of the first tricks skateboarders learn, because it is used to do more complex tricks.
In the 14 and under jam, wherein riders perform as many tricks as they can within an allotted time, Trenton Virgin took first place, Tyler Giambattista won second and Matt Bragdon took third.
In the 15 and older jam, Eric Eramo won first place, Kain Harris took second and Chris Lee won third. First-place finishers won a new skateboard from The SKATE Shop. The top three finishers also won certificates for free tacos from Bethel eatery Hot Taco.
Chip Proulx of Bethel won the high ollie event, jumping over six skateboards stacked on their sides, one atop the other.
For many youngsters, the park was the main attraction.
Mohammed Alzubadid, 13, who moved to America three years ago from Baghdad, Iraq, and is staying with friends in Bethel while his parents are in North Carolina, praised both Kennagh and Clukey and the Bethel community itself.
“I give thanks to Greg and his friends that made this skate park for us,” Alzubadid said in fluent English.
Since moving here, he said he’s made many friends.
“That’s why I’m here almost every day,” he said of the skate park. “Today, I learned the kick flip and ollie. Oh wait, I knew how to ollie before. And to keep my weight forward a little bit more.”
He demonstrated a kick flip by leaping up while flipping the skateboard 360 degrees and landing on it as its wheels hit the pavement.
Nearby, Matt Chiasson, 10, of Bethel, said he could do 26 skateboard tricks. Mitchell Bragdon, 10, of Bethel, who watched Alzubadid practice ollies and did some of his own, said he loved the park.
“It’s really fun,” he said.
“This is an awesome area,” said Lisa Daley of Boston, who came up for the weekend with friends and family. “It’s nice to have a big park like this.”