As the frozen clutches of winter began to grip the North East, I recently drove from Pennsylvania down to Florida to find some warmth and new spots to skate. While making it a point to hit as many of the world class Team Pain parks as possible, I found myself at the St. Petersburg park located on the Gulf Coast, just south of Tampa. After a few hours of skating I met OG Florida skate soldier, Dave Patch, and was offered one of the greatest gifts a traveling skater can be given; and invite to a private DIY.
I was a little confused about what the spot was because he mentioned it was at his friend’s house, but also kept calling it a ditch. When I pulled up to the address it turned out the spot was right on side of the street in front of a house. Almost every skater at one point has seen a grassy drainage basin that’s made them think, “If only that thing was concrete”. I quickly realized that this place was that exact thought brought into reality, so I decided almost immediately that I wanted to come back, shoot some photos with Zoli, and get more of the story on this spot from the owner.
Evan Breder @lankybull at the Shop Ditch • Filmed / edited by @zolidelphia
E- “Let’s start by having you tell the readers your name and where we are”
C- “My name’s Chris, and we’re at The Shop Ditch on the west side of St Petersburg, Florida”
E- “Can you give us a little background about yourself and the spot?”
C- “I was born and raised on this block. My parents still live right here, and I now own the property across from the ditch and I use that space as a work shop. That’s where the name of the spot comes from. I don’t think this kind of spot would fly everywhere, but we’re on a dead end street. There were certain eras where this block was like the Wild West. There were shootouts and sketchy things happening a lot. No one that lives on this street anymore is too worried about a little partying and skateboarding”
E- “Have you been building stuff to skate your whole life?”
C- “To be completely honest this was the first and only thing I poured to skate. I skated as a kid, but as a teenager I got more into dirt bikes, and stopped skating for over 20 years. I didn’t have much of a chance to build earlier in life because of that.”
E- “What brought you back to skating after all that time?”
C- “I don’t mean to sound cliche because I know a lot of people say skating saved their life, but I really think it did for me. I had been on a pretty bad path for a while before I decided to start skating again in 2015. Skating started keeping me out of trouble, and almost as soon as I started again I was dreaming of filling in the ditch.”
E- “So when did the spot officially begin”
C- “In a way The Shop Ditch started in 2015 because thats when we started talking about it, but the first pour didn’t happen until 2017. I need to give a major shout out to my brother Mike for bringing over some chicken wire to set up the first pour. That’s really what sparked off the build. Without him bringin that first bit of material we might still just be dreaming about it over some beers.”
E- “Did you guys build the ditch in sections?”
C- “Oh absolutely! I couldn’t even tell you how many, but you can see a bunch of different pours just by looking. I would get out of work, buy any ripped bags of concrete the store had, and head home to start mixing. I had a hand mixer that could only hold two 80 pound bags of crete, so it was always just a little at a time. The mixer really should have only held one bag, but we maxed that thing out.”
C- “The first section was only a small strip that would let you go in, turn around and come right back out. For awhile there was only a small bit of metal coping made out of a boat railing, and the rest was just raw concrete at the top. When the pocket went up there wasn’t a deck at first, so if someone fell off the other side they would have landed five feet down into the gully behind it. Somehow that never happened.”
E- “I’m always a big fan of brick coping, what made you decide to put that on eventually instead of pool block, or another type of coping?”
C- “That actually wasn’t my decision at all. I just came home one day and my friend Dan-Dan was in the process of laying it down. I was stoked on it so we just continued until everything that was missing coping had brick on top.”
E- “So it sounds like you had some committed helpers through the process. Anyone you want to thank?”
C- “So many people helped that I couldn’t name all of them, but a few of the big ones were Patch, Dan-Dan, my brother Mike, Tony Elliot, my kids, and my wife Anita”
E- “Oh damn your wife helped you pour it?”
C- “Hell yeah! She was one of my biggest helpers. She’s mixed with me, helped me tear old stuff out to re-do it, and even huddled under tarps and poured during rain storms.”
Chris’s wife later came out and laughed about a time where they laid a giant sheet of bubble wrap in the ditch and threw a hose in it, so they could have a makeshift roadside swimming pool.
C- “I also want to say that building this thing made me the man I am. I don’t feel like I became a man until I was 40 years old. That’s hard to admit, but this project gave me a lot of what I needed. It gave me time to clear my head, and gave me something to be proud of. It feels good to think that one day when I’m gone these things will still be here. I got to skate this thing with my kids, and I hope one day my grandkids will be riding in it too.”
E- “If someone was considering building something at their house, what advice would you give them?”
C- “Check your city ordinances, and find out what your home insurance is like! Some insurances will drop you immediately for something like this, and I have a friend that had to rip out years of work because the city found out and forced him to remove it. Other than that though, I would say do it! Even if youre not sure what you’re doing. You’ll learn in the process. If you mess it up, just rip it out and do it again like we did.”
I want to thank Chris and Anita for having me over to skate, and sharing some of their lives with me. Getting to meet other people that love skating and roll around on stuff that they poured their sweat and blood into building is always an honor. I also want to give a big thank you to Patch for giving me my first invite here, and putting me in touch with Chris for the article. It’s always a nod of the souls to have a passionate skater recognize you share the fire. Thank you to Zoli for taking the time to come document this unique spot. Long live The Shop Ditch.