February 27, 2024/ & / ARTICLES/ Comments: 7

Since opening in 1993, the Skatepark of Tampa has slowly grown from some guys with a vert ramp in a warehouse into a skateboarding institution. It’s survived several of the industry’s notorious boom and bust cycles, outlasting hundreds of other skateparks and shops.

The Tampa Am and Tampa Pro contests have become annual traditions since 1994, and while contests in skateboarding have always been a hotly debated topic, the events in Tampa have stayed a widely-praised exception.

Just as the art world flocks to Miami for Art Basel and Major League Baseball hits Florida for spring training, the skateboard industry descends on Tampa’s Ybor City twice a year for sun and parties.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of SPoT, so we cracked open the history books and hefty archives of park mainstays Brian Schaefer, Paul Zitzer, Bill Weiss and more.

Originally appearing in Jenkem Vol. 3, the history of SPoT starts in Brian’s warehouse a year before it opened, when Paul talked his parents into giving him money to build a vert ramp…

Paul Zitzer: I was living in Florida, and I was a total vert guy. I somehow convinced my parents [who have owned Phase II skate shop in Wisconsin since 1985] that I could almost turn a warehouse into a mini skatepark. “You pay for the ramp, we’ll build it, and there’s enough vert skaters here that everybody will be paying to skate it, pitching in every month. It’ll fund itself, no big deal.” We found a warehouse, the perfect size for a vert ramp, $1000 a month.

Bill Weiss: When all the skateparks there went away, in the early 90s, it’s almost like vert just disappeared. As soon as we heard that Paul rented a warehouse just to have a ramp, we were out the door. It was like a migration out to Florida.

PZ: We had a one-year lease; it worked well for about a month. Brian was good with coming up with the $40, but no one else could ever seem to find $40 a month to skate this perfect vert ramp. By about month two I was like, this thing’s going to last a year if we’re lucky. I kept having to call my parents, “Hey, I’m a little short on rent this month.”

Rent was only part of the problem.

PZ: One day I went to open up the warehouse and the cops came. A guy at the gas station on the corner was murdered, and they wanted to see if I knew anything about it. I’m like, “I didn’t know anything about it until just now.” They gave me their card and said to call if I hear of anything, or remember anything. A couple days later they came out to my house. They’re like, “So, we know that skaters did it. And we’re pretty sure it was either you or you know who did it.” I was like, “Excuse me? What makes you think I did it? Like, me?” They said he had a skateboard wheel stuck in his head. I knew they were just lying. A skateboard wheel stuck in his head? That doesn’t even make any sense: Did it come off the board and stay in his head? They left, I never heard from them again.

A couple days later the locals posse’d up and came to the ramp with shovels and baseball bats and rakes and chains. They were like, “We know you killed our friend,” and tried to burn down the whole warehouse. It was the final nail in the coffin.

The summer before PZ’s ramp came down, Schaefer and a few friends went out to California. At the San Jose skatepark, they made friends with a few locals who lived at the park.

Brian Schaefer: I think that was the biggest awakening. We were like, holy shit, maybe we can move Paul Zitzer’s ramp into a warehouse like that, and we could live there too.

BW: There was not a thought to anything past just having a place to skate. Everything was done blue collar, hard work style.

BS: We didn’t have a master plan, it was all based on: we’re skateboarders, we’re barely 21, we have cheap rent, barely a kitchen, barely a shower, but we have running water, a place to skate, and a vert ramp. We didn’t have the best skills, but everybody was determined to help and keep building. Or they were like, “Hey man, we stole this bench. Can we put that in here?”

Mike Sinclair: I thought it was the biggest warehouse I’d ever seen. It was amazing. Me and a couple of my friends drove down there and just stayed for a couple months. Slept on top of the vert ramp, underneath the vert ramp, in the hallway.

“We didn’t have the best skills, but everybody was determined to help and keep building.”

BW: I stayed there for months at a time. Everyone did what they could to help out with rent. There were four or five people that had legitimate rooms with locks on the door. Some of the other rooms were get-in-where-you-fit-in. The higher up the totem pole, the better the accommodation. For newbies, you might be honored to sleep on the quarter pipe. You’d wake up and there’s people in sleeping bags under the ramps, on the ramps. There was also a VCR that had pornos, so that was like a luxury if you could, uh, get time.

MS: We would point those big industrial fans at us and lay on the floor, sleeping in sweat. It was fucking gross. We would shower, and then drive to Dairy Queen and just sit there for like 3 hours to get air conditioning for the day.

PZ: I’m so glad I didn’t have to live there. It would have been fun, but it was just super sketchy. Filthy. You’d hear rats constantly running around in the walls. There were stories of rats falling out of the ceiling at night. I would have gone crazy.

MS: Rats? I’ve never seen a rat there. The older you get, the more you pay attention to shit. If a rat crawled in my mouth, I wouldn’t have known it back then. I was just thinking about skating and going to Dairy Queen. A rat never entered my mind.

BS: We didn’t really have a bunch of babes but any of the babes that were there were super down with skating.

BW: It was a young person’s dream. Nonstop fucking chaos. Every night there would be boxing matches. One night people were shooting guns and trying to hit boards behind the vert ramp, and the next day we woke up and there were holes through the vert ramp on both sides.

PZ: With all those people living there, we all knew people from all over. Dan Wolfe started filming Eastern Exposure 3. He came down to Tampa of all places. Now if you’re making an East Coast skate video you’re probably not going to Tampa. But it was like, “It’s warm down there, we can skate the skatepark every day, we know people there, we can stay at the skatepark.” So he and Kerry Getz and Bam and Maldonado would come down. All the dudes from North Carolina, like Kenny Hughes and Mike Sinclair. Weiss and all the dudes from Toronto would come down every year and stay for months. It got to be known as this place to go and have fun for days on end. Nobody had any money, but you didn’t have to stay in a hotel or anything. The fact that it was being run by a dude who was 21, that’s a huge difference. Half the time people weren’t even skating. There was a basketball hoop in there, people would be gambling, playing dice constantly. Bands would play in there. I feel like there was a party every night. It was a great scene. For a good ten years, it was nonstop.

“It was a young person’s dream. Nonstop fucking chaos.”

BW: I remember one time they had burning garbage cans to keep everyone warm at night. Someone taped like ten cans of spray paint with duct tape and threw it in there. It blew up like a literal 150-foot mushroom cloud. Cops came because it looked like a bomb went off and Brian was really pissed.

PZ: It was fun to be around there all the time. I wish it didn’t have to change. It’s great now of course, but there’s nothing like the ‘90s.

BW: Besides all the crazy shit that went on, the sessions were real every day. People were putting in eight-hour days.

PZ: When Tom Penny came, he had a broken hand. He didn’t get a cast or anything; his hand was like 4” thick. It was during the days of the beanie with the little brim on it. As soon as he’d get on the course, everybody would sit down and watch him skate. I swear he cruised around for 30 minutes, he wouldn’t even try a trick. You’re just like, “What is he doing?” And then he’d break out the Tom Penny magic. That was when he was doing the switch backslide lipslides down the handrail. Frontside flip the pyramid. Switch flip the pyramid. Switch frontside flip the pyramid. Everything, every try. I have no memory of him falling on any trick ever inside that building. Just doing everything and blowing people’s minds. He was doing switch frontside wallrides on the bank-to-wall, right at the top. Who would picture Penny doing a switch frontside wall ride? I don’t even know if he knew he could do that trick.

“Besides all the crazy shit that went on, the sessions were real every day. People were putting in eight-hour days.”

BW: The vert sessions were as gnarly as it gets. Tas Pappas, the line he did there for the Mad Circle video is all the gnarliest flip tricks at the time, but in a row. Back then, one would have been your ender. He did that on mushrooms, high as fuck, which is pretty fucking incredible. It was almost fake how gnarly the line was.

As more people started to visit the skatepark, one of the warehouse’s many rooms evolved into a shop.

BS: We had a register and the soda machine and a board rack. It wasn’t our forté but we kind of knew we had to sell products. It was just the evolution of like, one board with a homemade rack and a shitty roll of grip tape.

BW: When I would come out from California with my DC and Droors package, I would just give that shit to Brian to help out with bills. Everyone else was doing the same thing. He would put stuff up in the front room, and it turned into a shop. All the while, there were still like 40 people living behind the door.

MS: I remember being in the shop, watching 411 or something, and this kid’s looking at shit on the wall. Brian announces to the homies that he’s going to get lunch. That’s when I woke up. I said, “Hey man, what are you doing?” He said he was going to get a board. The first thing that entered my mind was, “Why the fuck are you looking for a board in here? I’ve got plenty in my trunk.” I didn’t want to tell him it was an Evol board [Sinclair’s then-sponsor] because nobody wanted an Evol board, so I just said I’ve got some good shit. The dude comes outside and I’m like, “$20.” I don’t know what Schaefer sold boards for. $50? I didn’t even think about keeping it a secret, didn’t think about grip tape, nothing. I remember getting $20 and my whole mood changing, “Fuck yeah, I’ve got $20, I’m straight for the week.” I remember rolling the $20 up and putting it behind my ear like a cigarette. Then Schaefer comes back. The kid’s putting on grip tape, and Schaefer’s like, “Sick, what’d you get?”

BS: He didn’t buy a board, but somehow I’m selling him grip tape to wrap an Evol board. I was like, “Motherfucker. We’re trying to survive here and we’re living and eating ramen and this bitch is selling skateboards in the parking lot out of his trunk.”

MS: He walks straight over to me, put his hand around my throat, one-handed, and jacked me up against the wall. He broke everything down—he had me suspended in the air for at least a minute. “You stupid motherfucker. I let you skate here for free. If your bearing breaks, you’re in there scrubbing around for a fucking bearing. That costs money. Your kingpin fucking broke, you get a free kingpin. You came to me yesterday needing grip tape, I gave you fucking grip tape. You need a ride to the park, I’ll fucking give you a ride to the park. And you shake fucking the vending machine and get the free snacks out of it, goddamnit!” He basically just shook the shit out of me and it made me start thinking the right way. I’m forever thankful that he did that.

BW: Brian was trying to make it a more maintainable environment. If he had his tool belt on you knew he was pissed, so everyone would hide and he would just go around trying to crack heads. He had this big flashlight and we used to say, “He’s got the rectum light.” It was chaos and he dealt with that shit to make it what it is today.

PZ: People would come and pay to skate but it was just super loose. Schaefer started building better street stuff, and realized they’re more likely to come and pay for street stuff than to skate a vert ramp. Slowly it became a legit skatepark.

BW: Someone was joking, “Dude you should do a contest.” Everyone’s like, “Yeah, right.” They did, and this was a time when the industry was sort of nonexistent. Word got out and everyone showed up.

The first Tampa Am and Tampa Pro contests took place in early 1995, and were won by Josh Stewart and Mike Vallely, respectively. While the first event was decidedly low-key, the solid turnout, combined with the fact that there were few other contests happening, earned the events a lot of attention. Earning first place in the Am contest came to be seen as a sure sign that a skater was on the cusp of something big. Past winners include Donny Barley (1996), Caswell Berry (2002), Spanky (2003), and a 10-year-old Nyjah Huston (2005). The Pro Contest’s winners list is filled with repeats and three-peats from guys like Reynolds (1998, 1999), Busenitz (2005, 2011), and Koston (1996, 2002, 2007).

“It’s almost like skateboarding’s real sanctuary for contests.”

PZ: Boom, just like that, Skatepark of Tampa was on the map. It got all the magazine coverage. The contests became annual traditions. That’s what happened to make Skatepark of Tampa the success story it became compared to every other skatepark in the world that went out of business.

BS: It was like, “This is cool, Airwalk gave us like $5000 and we were able to have a $1000 pro purse.” We were all still living at the skatepark. We were just skateboarders—it sounds so kooky, sorry—we just kept trucking and things got a little better.

MS: I probably skated in the first Tampa Am but didn’t know I was in Tampa Am, because it wasn’t a thing yet. I blew my knee out skating in ’96, and Schaefer asked if I wanted to come judge. At the end of the weekend, he gave me a check, and I was like, “What’s this for?” He’s like, “You judged the contest. We pay for that.” I judged contests for the next 20 years.

“The actual skateboarding is part of this, but of no small importance is all the dumb fun.”

BW: Imagine working there and the amount of shit you have to ask people not to do on a regular basis. “Could you put that joint down? My daughter’s trying to buy a lemonade.” The cool thing about the event is you see all these people of different generations. A family with kids who skate, or someone who skates and brought their kids to see it. It’s almost cooler seeing those people than the skaters themselves. It’s such a rad, massive gathering on all levels. You see the skaters from every generation that show up. It’s just like, to honor that place. It’s almost like skateboarding’s real sanctuary for contests. It’s definitely got a special place in my heart. And then of course I’ve got the state of Florida tattooed on my ass with Brian’s name.

Tampa Am and Tampa Pro are two of the most respected traditions in skateboarding. The actual skateboarding is part of this, but of no small importance is all the dumb fun. Perhaps the best example of this dichotomy happened in 2001, when they set up a loop in the backyard at Tampa Pro. Bob Burnquist made skate history by becoming the first person to do the loop switch, minutes after Brian Schaefer nearly got himself killed.

BS: Jim Thiebaud was the one that said, “You should just do an open session on the loop.” I was like, “Dude, that’s the craziest, raddest idea I’ve ever heard.” I don’t want to blame him; it was super rad. Even though my poor mom, if I mention the loop she’s like, “Don’t ever say that word again, I was right there when you almost died.”

MS: I interviewed him while he was putting on the pads. I go “Brian, who’s going to be the first to make the loop?” He’s like “Bob” or “Jake.” I go, “Who’s going to be the first to die?” “Me.”

“Only a rare breed of skater will ever qualify for Tampa. For everyone else, there’s the moat.”

BS: I was like, “I’m gonna fucking do the loop. I’m either gonna eat shit or I’m gonna make it.” Jake Brown made it. And then Peter Hewitt made it. Lance Mountain and Remy Stratton—it was just a session, it was so cool. And then here comes my stupid ass… I remember everything until just going, “Oh shit, I over-pumped.” Next thing you know I’m in the hospital.

MS: It was like in driver’s ed when they show you the world’s worst car wrecks. I was like oh my god I just filmed his death. I remember turning the camera off, walking out of the park, talking to my friends, and we went to go eat. Everybody was sad. People were like, let me see; I’m like dude, I’m throwing the tape away. Then we found out that he basically just broke his thumb. So we all watched the tape and made fun of him after that.

Of course, only a rare breed of skater will ever qualify for Tampa. For everyone else, there’s the moat.

BS: It’s such a sketchy deal when we’re like OK, I guess we’re going to the moat race. It’s never calm, the crowd’s restless, eggs start flying into traffic, people start walking into traffic, then the streetside people with eggs start egging the people at the skatepark. Then the moat race starts and it’s like flour, pee bags, eggs.

“It was pretty incredible. It was wretched. Don’t undermine the power of the product toss.”

BW: The moat race spawned from me and Sal Barbier. Sal’s like, “Dude, we gotta get these kids to run through that for boards.” I’m like, “Dude, no one’s going in that shit.” He’s like, “They’ll do it for sure, but we have to make it a little more challenging. I think we should make them eat a pickled pig’s foot when they get out.” I said they’ve gotta have something to drink: a chocolate Yoo-hoo. These kids jumping in this condom and syringe-filled shithole and then trudging out and pounding the pig’s foot followed by a Yoohoo—it was pretty incredible. It was wretched. Don’t undermine the power of the product toss.

BS: One time the guys from Pharmacy were like, can we build an obstacle course out there in the moat? “No problem.” At night, they took the Zumiez couch out of the courtyard, threw it in the middle of the moat, and spray painted “Pharmacy” on it. And then they put these sketchy pallets as a roadblock. I was like dude, that’s got nails sticking out of it, that’s got to go, but we can leave the couch. Zumiez was our sponsor, they’d give us $5000. They were like, “Hey Brian, really? Our couch in the moat?”

Navigating the core-corporate line isn’t always easy…

BS: Back in the day Red Bull had brought down a vert ramp for us for free, which was amazing. It was different, man. That’s when those brands were like, “Here we are, we are an energy drink brand and we just moved into skateboarding.” One morning before the contest, Max Schaaf graffitied over the Red Bull logo and put “Shred Butt”, an “sh” and a “t” across the two ls. It was the shittiest, strongest paint that didn’t come off the ramp. Of course, everyone’s looking at us like “What happened? Where’s your security?”

But through a little trial and error, the skatepark has managed to strike a healthy balance.

BS: We almost blew it… We let the contest kids in when Jagger Eaton won (2018), and we were like dude, we’ve got to tighten this up. There’s like five contest kids in there with no pro models. You’re in this weird purgatory. For us, we always try to fine-tune. Last year, we really just stuck it out: If you don’t really have a pro model on a legit board company, you cannot enter. It bummed a lot of people out — we didn’t let Jake Ilardi and Jagger Eaton enter, even though he entered before. Paul and I had to talk to his dad and then call Jagger and be like, listen, man, this isn’t personal.

I think the surroundings and doing it year after year makes it still fun. There’s still the best trick, there’s still the contest, it’s loose enough to sit on the decks and have a beer. It’s still intimate with the spectator. No matter how kooky these contests get, those dudes are making a lot of money off prize money. I’m still here grinding, Paul’s still here grinding, we’re doing everything from the bottom up, for skateboarders, by skateboarders.

I would take a Skittles sponsorship any day, just to pay the bills, for the record.

Related Posts


  1. Dude

    February 27, 2024 3:32 pm

    Great oral history, this is the kind of journalism Jenkem does well. Keep it up. Well done

  2. Old man Rob

    February 27, 2024 8:49 pm

    I was there from 93 til 2000, traveling from Atlanta 2 to 4 times a year. We stay in the hotel closer to gas station for 2 times until someone asked where we were staying , we told them , they were “hell nah” someone got killed there last week. We quickly moved to the La Quinta down the street. The one , 2 story one , down the street, just looking at it was a Hell no from my crew , but probably the majority of skaters stay there. Skater wise , Justin Bokma , Clyde , Andrew , Josh Stewart, Allen Russell, Elissa , back when the vert ramp was there as you exited the hallway. Especially what pissed me was that fucking white bench , folks would paid to heelflip over it for 5 hours , dumbass . We skated both sessions , 2 to 3 hours on and off, dinner at Wendy’s for the pasta all you can eat , me grab some beers and a 52 oz plastic cup , let the food settle , get a good buzz on , Round 2 til 11 .. The crew most of the time always stuck in for the 5 to 11 , until Brian Schaefer put me aside , “hey man , I believe you may have paid but those other 3 didn’t” i paid the $5 , and told my friends to do the same. Brian walked out with 4 Skatepark of Tampa shirts for us (OG ones with the 2 inch bar with name , address on it , Vanilla color only) . Lastly I watch Brian at Damn Am here in Atlanta , He smile and talk to me like a old friend, honest shocked not he is an incredible person but he did remember me , probably by face only , but gave me business card with his number, and told me to use it if I ever came down to the park. Maybe his personal number aint there , but the other part is True.
    Mad respect to Skatepark of Tampa , especially Brian on making it 30 years

  3. Ben

    March 3, 2024 6:08 pm

    That was fuckin dope

  4. Matt

    March 4, 2024 9:52 am


Leave a comment