Inside Trenton’s free-for-all Freedom Skate Park

“This place means a lot to me, and showed me who I really wanted to be in life, which is a skateboarder. I’ve been here so many years and I don’t get sick of it.”

Freedom Skate Park founder Jake McNichol fell in love with skateboarding at a young age and particularly enjoyed the freedom that pushing wood provided him. 

“I liked that skating wasn’t competitive and that I was able to use my body to do what I wanted to do,” McNichol says. “I could think creatively and there wasn’t any court that I had to be on to skate and there wasn’t a specific time I had to show up to practice.”

The love of skateboarding followed McNichol all throughout his life, including when he moved to Trenton. McNichol realized there was a skate community in Trenton, but not a ton of places to skate and that would leave skaters going to Philly or New York.

“I started Freedom because I was living in Trenton and I have been volunteering here doing skateboard giveaways with Homefront and the Boys & Girls Club. I realized there was a group of kids in Trenton who wanted to learn how to skate and had nowhere to go. At the same time I was a skateboarder and realized that Trenton is a skateboarding destination and there are a lot of famous street spots, but people would leave and not stay. Freedom was an opportunity for the local skate community, and the skate community in general, to benefit.”

Freedom was made possible with help from the city’s recreation department and donations. The indoor skate park is located at the old Roebling Wire Works building and has been a boon for the local Trenton skateboarding community, including Angel Torres, a Trenton native and skateboarder. 

“This place means a lot to me, and showed me who I really wanted to be in life, which is a skateboarder,” says Torres. “I’ve been here so many years and I don’t get sick of it.”

Through the years, Torres has broken his fair share of boards here, but also has learned a ton of life lessons from skateboarding. 

Credit: Kyle Nardine

“Nothing is gonna come easy and I might skate everyday and have consistent tricks, but there will be days where you don’t land those consistent tricks.”

In a world where sports are becoming more expensive to participate in, skateboarding is still relatively cheap and is diverse. Go to any skate park and you’ll see people from all classes, genders, races and ages. Before the open skate sessions on Saturday mornings in winter, Freedom hosts an event for nonbinary skaters. One of the goals that McNichol had in mind when he started Freedom was to promote diversity within skating. 

“It’s a real key part of what we worked on as an organization,” says McNichol. “There was a perception in the past­—and there still kind of is—that skateboarding is just for white guys and that is no longer the case. Skateboarding is a connector and no matter what you look like or where you’re from or no matter what you do for work, people will come together and connect over skateboarding. “

Skateboarding also brings together regions as well—folks from PA and South Jersey travel to skate at Freedom, like Ethan Todt of Moorestown. Todt fell in love with skating at the Moorestown Mall. Now relegated to South Jersey folklore, the Moorestown Mall had an indoor skatepark called Black Diamond Skatepark similar to Freedom. Not counting skateparks in the City of Brotherly Love, Freedom is now the closest indoor skatepark for South Jersey skaters. 

“At 6 years old I was allowed in at the skatepark in the Moorestown Mall,” recalls Todt. “After that, I would be going there a couple times a week for like five or six hours a day. Skating is very freeing and something that I found to be really fun. As the years went on I became faster on the board and more comfortable with it. It was tough work, but I loved skating from the start.”

An indoor skate park is something that Trenton area skaters such as Tyler Lamb of Hopewell would have liked growing up. 

“The Trenton skate community means a lot to me because where I come from skateboarding isn’t that popular, so I had to leave Hopewell to go to Ewing, Trenton and Philly to skate. I felt a sense of community and somewhere that I belonged. The Trenton skate scene helped me find all my friends.’’

It doesn’t matter if you learn to skate indoors, outdoors, or next to a Boscovs, the values and lessons you learn are the same: “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, you can still get back up and try again,” says Lamb.

Freedom provides a chance for younger skaters to learn the basics. One of those younger skaters is Nick Delacruz; he and his dad come from nearby Bensalem, PA to skate in Trenton.

“I got into skateboarding because I saw someone playing a video game that involved skateboarding, and I thought it was cool. I like that skateboarding is creative,” Nick says.

“We come here during the winter,’’ says Ray Delacruz. “It’s a nice park and has a nice atmosphere. Everyone here is really supportive.”

Younger skaters like Nick are entering a society that is more accepting of skateboarders. During the ’90s and early 2000s, skateboarding was viewed negatively by a large part of the public, skateboarders would be harassed by law enforcement, and many cities passed ordinances that banned skateboarding. Michael Haggerty, a skater from Southampton remembers those days fondly and not so fondly.

“Skateboarding was not that accepted when I started in the mid-’90s,” says Haggerty. “There weren’t many skaters in schools and if you were, you were an outcast. Over the 30 years I’ve been doing this it has become more socially acceptable.”

Haggerty is a veteran skater but enjoys going to Freedom and learning from skaters younger than him. He brings his camera to record himself skating as a present to his future self. 

“As an older skater to come here, it’s a good place to network,” says Haggerty. “In the past three or four years I’ve been going here I’ve made some great friends. They are younger, but age doesn’t matter in skateboarding. We share the same common activity. 

“When I was younger, I was sponsored, and now that I’m older skating is something that I can look back on. Like damn I was doing this at 40? And then I was doing this at almost 50? It’s a time capsule for me.”

For now, McNichol’s focus is making sure that Freedom is around for a while. Currently the park is only open on Saturdays during the winter and on first Fridays during the summer. 

“The biggest challenge always is keeping the lights on and the doors open,” explains McNichol. “We’re really lucky that we are in a partnership with the city and they help us with access to this space. We are a nonprofit volunteer organization, and we run off of donations from the community. The biggest challenge is keeping it going and when you are running a free skatepark, you’re not bringing in money. We gotta keep the ramps in good shape, add new obstacles, and do board giveaways. We can always use community support.”

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