Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Wednesday, 29 June 2005 15:41 UK

Skateboarders have sights on new park

Skateboarding in Belfast
The Belfast competition was held on a temporary skate park
Skateboarders in Northern Ireland could be one step closer to their dream of a permanent skate park following the success of Belfast's first ever skate jam.

Almost 4,000 people turned out to watch 250 skaters compete on in the competition held on a temporary park at the Ozone Leisure centre.

Despite the huge popularity of the sport in Northern Ireland, a facility specifically designed for the sport has yet to be opened in the province.

Event organiser Neil O'Brien said he first came up with the idea for the event after receiving a letter from a 14-year-old boy complaining about the lack of skating facilities in Northern Ireland.

"He'd written into say there are so many hockey pitches, rugby pitches and leisure centres, but we have to skate in the streets," Neil said.

Although already recognised as a sport in its own right in England, Wales and Scotland, skateboarding is yet to be afforded the same status in Northern Ireland.

"There are 27 parks in Scotland, none in Northern Ireland, so we wanted to market it to find out should we have a permanent park here.

Lester Manley
Lester Manley: "Skateboarding is a positive youth culture"
"But we know the council won't give us the money until we test it first," he said.

"So having Skate Jam and actually testing the demand means we can then move forward with the right information."

Lester Manley, who works for community youth organisation Globalclub, said he believed skateboarding was a positive pursuit for young people to get involved in.

"Skateboarding is a positive youth culture - it's not a negative youth culture," he said.

"I have been involved in youth work all my life and I have never experienced a more positive group of young people.

"The talent of a skateboarder is huge. We see snooker, we see football, we see other things but any of them couldn't take on a skateboarder's skill set.

"They are like cats jumping off a roof - it is special. It is so watchable it's a real spectator sport."

Competition judge Matt Sharper, a skater from Nashville, Tennessee in the United States, said a permanent skate-boarding facility was needed in Northern Ireland to help children practise their sport in a safe environment.

Matt Sharer
Matt Sharer, one of the judges at the Belfast event
"Kids definitely need a skate park to learn how to skateboard in. That's what parks are for - it is a safer place for them to test themselves on a skateboard," he said.

Belfast skater 'Popey' said a permanent park in Northern Ireland would help give the province's budding Tony Hawke the chance to practice and start winning competitions.

He said: "It's like a small training facility - you get your local guys, you could train them and then they start winning comps and it just makes it more enjoyable."

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