Construction of a brand new Montauk skatepark is nearing completion, and it will be here sooner than one might think.
The Early Days of Montauk Skateboarding
Montauk is famous around the world for its surfing, but just inland from the sandy beaches and consistent breaks, the region’s easternmost hamlet has been home to a dedicated culture of skateboarding. For decades, local skaters made the most of the town’s few skate-able spots. They cobbled together plywood backyard ramps or bombed The End’s long, steep hills, dodging the rare passing car in the offseason and risking life and limb as they tried not to get hung up on craggy asphalt or slip in sand.
Then, in 1999, New York City skate legend Andy Kessler, of Zoo York fame, designed and built Montauk’s first skatepark, and suddenly the kids who had to make do and be creative for so long finally had something truly magnificent — a first-rate concrete playground where they could hone their skills and do the things many had only seen in Thrasher magazine or their favorite skate videos.
It was an exciting time, and over the next 20-plus years, many area skaters grew up with the park, continuing to skate there while making do-it-yourself additions and adapting to its ever-advancing state of decay. During its lifetime, the park survived a period where membership cards were required for entry, and its creator, Andy Kessler, died in 2009 after succumbing to an allergic reaction to a wasp sting while he was in Montauk. Some efforts were made to improve the Montauk skatepark, but little was accomplished beyond adding some new fences and an area of flat asphalt.
Still, the locals skated the now graffiti-covered pool, bowls and uneven transitions, in spite of what novices and outsiders would deem as harsh conditions.
A New Vision for the Montauk Skatepark
Then, in 2020, COVID-19 changed everything. Former summer residents came east in droves, escaping their Manhattan apartments and the crowded city streets in favor of spending lockdown in the Hamptons. And, as local skaters tell it, these “pandemic parents” began efforts to make the park more welcoming for their kids and the community as a whole. They launched the nonprofit Montauk Skatepark Coalition and accomplished everything they set out to do and much more, within an amazingly short period of time for a project of this scope.
After just a year and a half, from idea to construction, including gaining East Hampton Town’s support, a completely rebuilt, top-of-the-line skatepark is due for completion by the end of summer, and locals and second homeowners (who have since returned to NYC) should be overjoyed at the result.
The key figure in this monumental effort, Montauk Skatepark Coalition president John Britton says it started with his kids. “As my kids have grown up, they started to use the skatepark more. My kids skate in New York (City) and basically, when we were skating in Montauk, it was just a brutal park. It was very rough; it was obviously aged. If you fell, it was like a cheese grater — it was not very hospitable for people who were younger or learning. It was kind of an expert-level park that was in a pretty advanced state of decay,” Britton explains, though he was also aware of the park’s “incredible lineage and heritage,” especially Kessler’s involvement.
“I started asking questions. How come the park is this way? Is there money to improve it?” he says, noting that his inquiries led him to meet with East Hampton Town Councilman David Lys, Trustee Tim Garneau and Kessler’s friend JJ Veronis, a NYC artist who helped spearhead past efforts to improve the park.
“We sat down and started talking about a very modest vision to put in some kind of improvements,” Britton says, recalling that he initially imagined adding to the asphalt area or putting in some wooden ramps. “We started with a very modest vision, like for $150,000, what could we get for that? Could we resurface the old park? Could we do something on the asphalt that was there?”
But as he explored various ideas, and spoke with more people, Britton saw “a groundswell of community interest” and the potential for something bigger. “I met dozens of people over time, and then suddenly the New York skateboard community started to get involved because a lot of those people knew Andy Kessler and they knew the heritage and legacy of this park, and they were interested in seeing something get done largely to honor Andy’s legacy,” he says. “We started to fundraise for it and we just kept going.”
With Britton, an investor and artist with a background in finance, leading the charge, the Montauk Skatepark Coalition raised more than $1.5 million, including $95,000 from a benefit art auction. They also received $280,000 from East Hampton Town, thanks in large part to Lys, a lifelong resident who Britton called an “amazing partner” with a keen interest in supporting recreational facilities.
With that budget and a ton of input from the skateboard community, a design team led by Tito Porrata of Pivot Skateparks (and now Platform Group) created an incredible park that’s approachable, challenging and unique to Montauk all at once. “We went from that very rudimentary initial meeting to actually having concrete poured on what is going to end up being, I think, one of the best parks certainly on Long Island, possibly in the whole tri-state region when it’s done,” Britton says. ” It’s going to be approachable for girls and beginners, and teenage boys and old people who’d given up skating because it was too sketchy in the old park. It’s going to be an amazing resource for a much broader set of the community.”
The brand new, smooth concrete features include a “snake run” with mellow transitions for beginners and longboarders to enjoy an almost surf-like experience, as well as bowls (complete with two wave-like structures and natural boulders), a pool and a street course. And to top it off, Britton says they’ve clear cut the hill below the park and had it regraded and planted, integrating it with the nearby baseball fields. This opened an epic view of Fort Pond and created an excellent sledding spot between South Essex and South Edgemere Streets during the winter.
“There’s no question that it’s a very attractive place to hang out, and it wasn’t that way before,” Britton says. “You can see the ocean from up there. You can look down at the ballfields, you can sit there with food and look out at the sunset or fireworks — it’s going to be an amazing vista and hangout up there, and that’s all just part of an added bonus to the project,” he explains.
“I can’t tell you how many people I talked to when we were fundraising who weren’t even aware Montauk had a skatepark because the view of that was obscured by this little scrubby forest,” Britton continues. “Now that we’ve taken it down, it’s going to be one integrated recreation area that is abundantly obvious to everybody who walks out there. I think it’s going to be a really attractive change.”
Local Skaters Discuss the Montauk Skatepark, Old & New
“Not a lot of people in Montauk know what’s even happening at the skatepark,” local skater Pat Lane says, pointing out that the park needs more exposure and community awareness.
Lane and fellow skater Bartholomew Schwarz, who say they helped ensure the park design met the desires of Montauk’s skateboarders, are thrilled with the new facility and say it would never have happened without help from the part-time residents and their well-heeled network of friends and contacts.
Both men, now in their 30s, skated the old park as teens when it was built, and Schwarz even worked there. “We’ve been carrying the torch for (Montauk) skateboarding this whole time,” Lane says, noting that he, Schwarz — a filmmaker and photographer — and their friends have filmed several skate videos locally, including plenty of footage in the old park.
“It was never perfectly smooth, it was like a sandpaper kind of concrete, but they did a great job. When they first built it, it was up to date for what was going on in skating at that point,” Schwarz says, though he admits Kessler and the others who built the first park didn’t have the expertise of Porrata and his team, so it had many imperfections. “But it was good. It was fun. If you were good at skating, you could rip that park.”
“It made you good. It was very East Coast,” Lane says, noting that the new Montauk skatepark will have something for all level of skater.
“The snake run will be user-friendly, the bowl is bigger than we had before, which is definitely not user-friendly for anybody who’s a novice. And the street course is going to have handrails, big jumps and everything — big banks,” Schwarz continues, adding later, “These kids, they’re going to progress so fast.”
Lane points to the park as part of an overall upgrade happening in Montauk, including the library expansion and the lighthouse revetment project. “When everything is all done, it seems like the community is going to be a lot nicer of a place,” he adds. “I think they’re underestimating how many people are going to be coming out specifically just to skate the park and buy stuff when they’re out here. It will be good for the economy for sure.”
“We’re very excited. Hopefully we’ll have a finished park by the end of the summer,” Britton says. “The whole thing has had such incredibly positive energy around it, and hopefully it will come to a good conclusion.”
Montauk Skatepark Benefit Art Auction
Before the park opens, the Montauk Skatepark Coalition is hosting one final fundraising push with a special benefit art auction this Friday, June 10 from 5-9 p.m. at the Montauk Beach House (55 South Elmwood Avenue). The event will celebrate the achievement of this dream park and honor Andy Kessler’s memory with artist skate decks up for auction and DJ sets from Jack Luber and Marbles (Cassius Luber + Cosmo Hamada).
Proceeds from the auction will help pay for beautification of the new Montauk skatepark’s surroundings, and to create programs for the community such as clinics, instruction and more, possibly in the form of after-school or broader community activities. Learn more at thembh.com.
Find the Montauk Skatepark Coalition to connect and donate at montaukskateparkcoalition.org.