Harrison County

DIY: Skateboarders find a little slab of perfection in downtown Gulfport

GULFPORT -- Skaters gonna skate.

Finding a place to skateboard is tougher with the Harrison County Skate Park closed. Skateboarders have improvised ramps, rails and even what they call a "pole jam" for skating on a Gulfport slab downtown. They call it The DIY, as in Do It Yourself.

It's become a popular spot where kids in their teens and 20s meet up after school or work and on weekends. Impromptu meet-ups are easy to organize on the Gulf Coast Sk8rs Facebook page.

The property's owner, who lives in Texas, has been amenable to letting the skaters use the slab. Parents, grandparents and an area business owner are rallying around the young skaters to secure insurance and possibly even pay taxes as token rent on the property.

The DIY is a beautiful spot. It sits across from Gulfport's harbor. Skaters have a view of the water and a constant, cool breeze. Food and drinks are only a short walk away at downtown businesses.

But the DIY is not a forever thing. Ten years out from Hurricane Katrina, the city has ordered all slabs removed. And the premium property's for sale.

Dan Wittmann, owner of Wut Sup Paddle & Skate in Orange Grove, knows what it's like to be without a place to skate. He grew up in the Gulfport area and was a skateboarder on the streets in the 1980s and '90s.

He's working to help secure insurance, and sponsors who can provide skating obstacles and other support for The DIY. He thinks a skate club would be the best route for more-permanent funding and support. Ideally, he said, skateboarders should have a permanent home in a public skate park like the one in Pascagoula.

The DIY operates on the honor system. The skateboarders try to be respectful of the property. They pick up trash, keep the grass mowed and add to the obstacles when they can.

Andrew Buras, 16, of Gulfport, said, "If we can find some wood and some screws, and someone's got a screw driver or drill, we can make something out of it."

Louis Latimer has been skateboarding at The DIY for years. He and other skaters enjoyed Harrison County's skate park on the Gulfport-Biloxi line until it closed in 2014 after 15 years in business.

"That was a bummer," Latimer said. Skateboarders are always looking for sweet spots in Gulfport and Biloxi, but the fun never seems to last like it has at The DIY.

"Pretty much every place you skate here, you get run off," said Andrew Lawson, 22, who was skating at The DIY on a recent sunny afternoon.

Realtor Claudia Keyes, who specializes in commercial property in downtown Gulfport, is trying to help. She recently organized a meeting about The DIY, and contacted the property's owner, who was sympathetic, she said.

"Skateboarding is a sport," said Keyes, the grandmother of Andrew Buras. "It's an outdoor activity and it's not sitting in front of a video game all the time. Skateboarders are passionate. They're fearless. They just want to do trick after trick. Because it's a passion for Andrew, it just automatically becomes my passion."