MTM court finds new life as DIY skatepark

WORKING: No ball game every night, but the bleachers are still packed with skaters across the island who have made the Mongmong basketball court their home town. Contributed photo

In the village of Mongmong-Toto-Maite, as in most villages on Guam, residents have been unable to shoot hoops at their neighborhood court for much of the last year.

Mayor Rudy Paco had to shut down the facility at the start of the pandemic in order to comply with Government of Guam restrictions on contact sports. But that doesn’t mean the court has been empty — it’s found new life in the most unlikely of circumstances, after a group of enterprising skateboarders decided to convert it into MTM’s first and only skatepark.

Now, there’s a wooden ramp sitting at the free-throw line, rails at half-court, and various other obstacles scattered around for the skaters to maneuver their boards on. There are no more Thursday night pickup games, but you’re liable to find hardcore riders doing gap-to-grinds on a ledge at 11 p.m. on a Monday.

Repurposing the court wasn’t planned or even sanctioned by the mayor’s office, said Mayor Paco, but a DIY project that the skaters came together on.

“It just came together with the kids. Now that they can’t play basket(ball), I removed all the rims. But skateboarding is not body contact, so I told them ‘For now, you can be using the basket court for your skatepark.’”

A few residents came to him with concerns, after youths starting gluing objects to the ground to make them more stable, but with the village receiving a recent grant and a renovation for the court on the way, he said he’s decided to look the other way. Paco added he is just glad to see them keeping busy, given all the limitations that the last year has put on young people.

“I don’t see a problem with that,” he said. “I’d rather see them out here than out in the streets.”

Dan Ganacias is one of the skaters who makes it down to the new MTM "park" almost every day and, along with a group of friends, he’s helped make it into a kind of second home.

“So everything that’s here, pretty much everyone contributed to build or buy,” he said. The crew of working 20-somethings patched together ledges out of plywood, and contributed their own rails which had been lying unused at home.

Ganacias and friends turned the sleeping court into a lively street-skate playground, but even they aren’t quite sure who first began the conversion.

According to Daniel "Chino" Lanquin, the skaters started hanging out there after they heard a rumor that someone had stolen the rails from the Tamuning Skate Park and brought them to MTM.

“We came here to take it back, and then we were like, ‘dude we should skate here to show them what’s up,’ and then we ended up making this, like, our local skate park.”

The skaters have even hosted their own events, such as a premiere for a skate video they put together, "GU 1000," and the "Can Jam," where skaters showed up to bust out their sickest tricks over a trash can someone had dragged along to the park.

Jonah Cruz, one of the guys who hangs out at the park regularly, says that Mayor Paco has been mostly friendly toward their shenanigans.

“(He) even came out here to give us his blessing, he was like, ‘you know, I’m not a blind man, I see what you guys are doing here,’ but he was pretty cool about it. He didn’t give us any problems,” Cruz said.

“I don’t bother them,” Paco said, adding, “even one of the kids said, ‘Mayor, can you turn off the lights at 9 o'clock, we’re doing a video project’ — I try to accommodate them.”

As understanding as Mayor Paco has been, he’s still slightly bewildered by the skaters who have been turning up from all over the island, and at odd hours of the day.

“I don’t understand why they can’t use the Dededo Skate Park,” he said, adding one night he stopped by and met skaters from Dededo and Agat.

The relatively low-key location, and the ability to modify the park to meet their riding styles is probably what attracts riders from north to south. Skaters are known to keep their favorite spots secret to keep them from getting crowded or to prevent them from turning into kick-outs.

Ultimately, Paco said, he has no issues provided the skaters keep their area clean.

“I don’t care who comes here to skate. As long as they take care of the place, they don’t cause trouble and they respect the area — we’re all good.”

He’s even stated that he’s looking to find a permanent location for them once the basketball court renovation forces them out.

“I’m going, ‘where can I find a park for these kids?’ ... I even called up the airport to find out who owns that property across from San Jose,” he said.

Until then, however, the skaters will be ripping it up out on the court, seven days a week.