‘Turtle Ditch’, Downtown Tampa’s Iconic Skate Spot, Is Dead | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

Click to enlarge

Justin Garcia

A demolition crew brought a tractor to Turtle Ditch on Friday to continue dismantling the old skate spot.

What was once an empty ditch in downtown Tampa has become a street skater’s paradise over the past 20 years. Now it is being demolished.

Turtle Ditch, a meandering concrete pathway that begins at 1015 E Whiting St. and winds its way to the train tracks that separate Channelside and Downtown, is in ruins. A construction company removed most of the ledges, transitions and ramps skaters built on the property. Debris and chunks of concrete lie on top of the remaining graffiti on sections of the ditch.

The city has not confirmed who purchased the property, but site wreckers have speculated that a private company purchased it.

Over the past two decades, Turtle Ditch had become an iconic venue frequented by local skaters. And sometimes the pros, including some from the Nike SB team, went there to sample Tampa street skating.

Rob Meronek, local skateboarder and co-owner of The Boardr Skateboarding and BMX Events Company, remembers going there in the early 2000s to skate with friends. His team and other skaters started making small adjustments to it.

One of the first additions he remembers being added to Turtle Ditch was a concrete transition through a round manhole cover that protrudes from the side of the ditch. The manhole is the origin of the name turtle ditch because it is shaped like a turtle shell.

Click to enlarge The manhole cover that looks like a turtle shell at Turtle Ditch - JUSTIN GARCIA

Justin Garcia

The manhole cover that looks like a turtle shell at Turtle Ditch

Other skaters also got involved and built small ledges to grind on. But the city often removed these additions within days.

“We were like, ‘Holy shit, do people really care about this?'” Meronek told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Nonetheless, they continued to make the ditch more fun, and at one point even installed a satellite dish on the side of the ditch they were skating on.

Meronek has lots of fond memories with friends at Turtle Ditch, “It was perfect for old guys like me, or young, badass guys,” he said. But on “Go Skating Day” in 2006, the Tampa Police Department rained on their parade.

Photos from that day show Meronek and two of his fellow skaters in handcuffs sitting in the ditch, with police watching. He said the police told them they were in violation and put them in shackles. A photo shows a police officer with what Meronek said was “either a taser or a gun” fired at his side as all the skaters were on the ground.

Click to enlarge TPD officers approach Morenek and other skaters at Turtle Ditch.  - PHOTO C/O ROB MORENEK

Photo c/o Rob Morenek

TPD officers approach Morenek and other skaters at Turtle Ditch.

They were fined for trespassing and released. Meronek had to go to court, which he documented with a digital camera and uploaded to youtube. He had to pay a $600 fine. He skated to and from court and “wore a shirt with a big blunt on it in the courtroom,” he said.

Over the years since Meronek started skating there, the spot has changed. It has earned an official location on Google Maps called “Turtle Ditch DIY Skatepark”. And it grew.

Larger ledges and smaller bowls were added to the edges of the ditch. Eventually, it became a full-fledged underground mini-skatepark.

“Last year, a group of locals who love DIY construction went bankrupt,” Meronek said.

One such local who has built a slew of new additions is local skater Scott Bentley, whose day job is to run the Bentley saloon, which he owns. He and members of his “Seminole Heights Motherfucker” skate team, along with folks from the 10×30 Skate Shop, spent hundreds of hours building the site into what it was before the start of the demolition.

“It was beyond a bunch of punks building something out of challenge,” Bentley told CL. “It’s about taking a wasteland and creating something useful and beautiful,” he said.

Bentley has spent decades skating in Tampa and building DIY skate spots out of wayward places, including slaughterhouses. He had been skating at Turtle Ditch for around the same time as Meronek, but had always thought it was “a bit lame”. Last year he saw that something more could be built in the area.

Before building anything, they had to clear needles, beer cans, underwear, and other debris from the area. They’ve spent hundreds of hours since last March doing the hard work of construction, sometimes spending 13 hours volunteering to add new features to the skatepark.

Click to enlarge A cornice being built on the edge of Turtle Ditch.  - SCOTT BENTLEY

Scott Bentley

A cornice being built on the edge of Turtle Ditch.

“It became a place where families came to skate, and we even had people seeing the place for the first time donating to help build it,” Bentley said. He estimated that about $10,000 had been invested in Turtle Ditch over the past year; Bentley only had to contribute a few hundred dollars, the rest was donated.

Bentley said he had a very different interaction than Meronek with law enforcement when he was caught building at Turtle Ditch last year.

“I explained what we were doing and what a positive impact it was having on the community, and he let me go,” he said.

He pointed out that this interaction shows how public attitudes have changed towards skaters since Meronek’s arrest in 2006.

Despite Bentley’s positive interactions over the past year, Turtle Ditch is on the verge of extinction as construction crews continue with demolition.

People across the country and around the world lamented the destruction on his Instagram post about it, but he said the biggest hurt was his own son’s sadness at the loss of Turtle Ditch.

He plans to approach the city council to ask for a public and free skatepark similar to the famous skatepark Lot 11 Skatepark In Miami.

There are other DIY skate spots emerging around Tampa, but the skaters CL spoke to weren’t keen on putting them in the spotlight after the recent destruction of the iconic Turtle Ditch.

Since Turtle Ditch’s inception, skating has evolved from underdog to more mainstream, with the sport making its Olympic debut in 2020. Still, Meronek believes skating continues to make its way into mainstream society.

“Even after all these years, it’s still not as accepted as other sports,” Meronek said. “But DIY skate spots will never go away, they will always find a place to exist.”

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