Walking into Southsea skatepark brings back memories of careering down hill at breakneck speed, proudly displaying grazed knees and the indescribable joy of landing your first trick.
One person who certainly hasn’t forgotten that youthful thrill is Effraim Catlow,
As a two-time world champion and five-time X-Games medallist in BMX, Effraim has taken his childhood passion and made a living out of it.
‘I’ve travelled around the world and earned a living from BMX. I’ve been to Japan, America and Europe,’ says Effraim.
‘My life wouldn’t have been the same without BMX. What I’m trying to do now is to give something back.’
Effraim took over the management of Southsea skatepark in 2011 and is keen to encourage new local talent in the same way that he was supported as a child.
‘I started riding when I was 11 years old. John Thirsten was the owner of Southsea skatepark then. He took me to some regional and national competitions and then I went international,’ says Effraim.
‘When you start riding you don’t think you’ll be the world’s best. You have fun with it and then you progress. A trick is fun at first, but the next week you want to learn something else.’
‘Landing a new trick is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. To have an idea and finally get to the finished result really feels like an achievement.’
In order to nurture the sports stars of tomorrow, Effraim has focused on creating a safe and family-friendly environment for people to develop their skills.
He says: ‘I took over the park so that I could give something back to the community and I feel like we’re starting to do this more and more.
‘The skate park really helps to push young local talent. It’s a safe environment to come and learn new tricks. The park is well-maintained and all of our staff are first aid-trained.
‘They also ride themselves so they can give advice to people trying new tricks and we offer coaching lessons for BMX, skating and scooters.’
One development that has proved popular is the inclusion of a covered café area which gives parents somewhere to relax whilst their kids enjoy the park.
Effraim says: ‘The café is brilliant. It means you can sit, read the paper and have a drink without breathing down the kids’ necks,’ says Abi Procop, 41, a Portsmouth City Council foster carer from Copnor.
‘I think the skate park is a valuable facility for the community. I would rather that kids were outdoors and the park means they can avoid skating in the wrong places. There are people making sure they’re wearing helmets and they have first aid cover here.’
More than 100 people a day visit Southsea skatepark, and although it is a popular family attraction it receives visitors of all ages.
‘We have anyone from four years old up to 40. We once had a 60-year-old on a skateboard. I thought he was just coming in to watch but he did all right!’ says Effraim.
The park also attracts talented UK riders such as Mark Webb and even international visitors for its annual King of Concrete competition, being held this weekend.
The famous BMX contest used to draw visitors from around the world in its heyday, but was last held at Southsea skatepark in 2007.
This year, Effraim is bringing the competition back with thousands of pounds in prize money and an international cast of BMX talent.
He explains: ‘King of Concrete used to be one of the world’s best BMX competitions. This is the first time in six years that the competition has been run and as soon as I mentioned that we were putting it on the sponsors were interested.
‘We have world champions and riders coming from Canada, France and other parts of Europe. The level of riding is going to be great for locals to see. We are going to have some of the best riders in the world here.’
The King of Concrete is a multi-discipline event covering all aspects of BMX riding, from street and ramp tricks to the artistic style of flatland where riders perform technical balancing manoeuvres without using ramps.
In order to win the coveted title King of Concrete, riders must have the highest overall score totalled from each of the separate disciplines. With total prize money exceeding £2,000 and individual prizes for the winner of each event, hosting the competition is a big commitment for Effraim and the skatepark team.
But the manager has literally put his money where his mouth is.
He says: ‘I’ve put £1,000 of my own money into the event. We need events like this to keep local interest alive in competition.’
The King of Concrete started yesterday and runs until 6pm tomorrow night.
For more information go to southseaskatepark.com.
‘SENSE OF COMMUNITY’
Reece Hadley, 26, from Copnor and Rob Pettit, 25, from Southsea first visited the skatepark as children.
‘There is a nice sense of community here, anyone can talk to anyone, we all get along. It’s the first time I have been here in a while but they have everything you need here, they have made a lot of improvements, ’ says Reece.
Rob adds: ‘I’ve got memories of when I was a kid here. There is a nice community at the park and a a lot of talent coming out of here.’
‘WE CALL IT BREAKDANCING’
Mark Kuhlmann, 28, is a Canadian flatland rider who is visiting Portsmouth to compete in the flatland section of the King of Concrete competition.
‘The park looks like a lot of fun,’ says Mark.
‘I think it‘s going to be a tough competition, I’ve seen the list of riders that are coming and it’s going to be hard.’
He adds: ‘People call flatland ballet on a bike, but we refer to it as breakdancing!’
Mark Webb, 28, from Southsea, is a professional BMX rider and five-times world champion who grew up riding in Southsea.
He isn’t taking part this weekend because of a knee injury.
He says: ‘I’d love to be competing. Southsea has been my place since I was little.
‘I used to work at the skatepark, picking up the bins at the end of the session.
‘I got in for free so that really helped my riding.’