Story and photos by Tommy Berlin
On February 23rd, the Ninetimes crew traded in the cold Canadian winter for the warmth of Houston, Texas. While many of us had an image of what to expect, I don't think any of us were correct. Houston strayed from the stereotypes of cowboys, country music and barbecue. One thing stayed true, however. Everything is bigger in Texas. Houston is a massive place and everyone was shocked by how each day felt like we were in a different city. We had a joke that everything was a 20-minute drive away, which proved surprisingly accurate. Luckily we had the help of some very nice locals who were more than happy to show us around and share spots.
^ Tom Nelner - Frontside Kickflip
When people plan skate trips, Houston can easily be overlooked, as the draw of Europe, L.A., and New York pull all the attention. The draws to those places are obvious, but Houston may be a dark horse in the skate world. As the largest city by area in the U.S., there is absolutely no lack of spots to skate. Although the sheer number of spots and size of the city was shocking, what really came as a surprise was the rich culture that Houston contains. During our stay, we found out that artists such as Beyoncé, Slim Thug, DJ Screw and many more were from Houston.
^ Quinton David - Backside 50-50 Hippie Jump
We also learned that the theatre district is home to some of the best ballets and operas in the country, that Houston is home to the Johnson Space Centre where NASA’s astronauts train, and that it has a world-renowned medical district. The medical district stood out, as not only did it have amazing skate spots, but with over 60 medical institutions, it is on the cutting edge of research and provides great patient care. Unfortunately, we had to put their services to the test when Scott took an awkward slam and lacerated his kidney. While it luckily turned out not to be too serious, it didn't stop him from tricking all of us into thinking he needed a kidney transplant. While nobody wants to get hurt on a trip, this might have been one of the best places for it to happen.
^ Tom Nelner - 5-0
On September 8, 1900, a devastating hurricane struck the coastal city of Galveston. At the time, Houston was mainly a residential city, with Galveston being one of Texas’s main business hubs. Due to this tragedy, Galveston was no longer able to conduct business, forcing Houston to pick up the slack. By the time Galveston was rebuilt, Houston had developed a bustling downtown and replaced the business city Galveston once was. Today, Houston has not one but two downtowns and is home to some of the most successful businesses in the world.
^ Scotty Balkwill - Frontside Pivot
As the downtown expanded, it brought rise to a seemingly endless variety of skate spots. However, it also brought rise to an endless amount of tight security. It was a rarity for us to get much time to skate a spot, as all buildings have 24-hour security, with some even having robot security guards. This meant that many places could really only be skated at night. So, we fell into a routine of hitting a couple of spots in more residential and industrial areas before finding ourselves downtown as the sun was starting to set.
^ Tom Nelner - Frontside Feeble
The number of spots we came across was shocking, and it only became more shocking after we realized we had only explored about one square block. In a way, this quickly became an issue, because it was easy to get stuck in this small area when we knew there were more spots elsewhere. As the week progressed we explored more and more, finding ourselves surprised each day as the spots and downtown seemed to go on endlessly. Although we found ourselves out past midnight every day, it became clear that we would not be able to explore all of what downtown had to offer during our short visit.
^ Levi Wawryk - Nosegrind
When most people think of Houston, there's a good chance they don't associate it with flooding. While this may be overlooked by outsiders, residents face this very real issue. Due to a flat landscape and urban sprawl, the rain has nowhere to go other than the vast circuit of drainage ditches. While they may have been adequate when they were built, today, an increase in heavy rainfall has proven these ditches insufficient, playing a significant part in creating floods in Houston. Although the ditches may be less-than-adequate as a storm management system, they were more than okay for skating.
One that stood out was located underneath a strip mall and shared a close resemblance to a full pipe. While it proved harder than expected to skate, nobody was going to give up on their trick, as we would probably never see a spot like this again. Although the fear of losing a board to the flowing water that resided at the bottom of most of the ditches was in the back of everyone’s mind, these skatepark-like ditches were too good to leave alone.
^ Riley Boland, Ollie
When we first arrived in Houston we were wondering, “Why this city?” Compared to all the places we could have gone, why here? It soon all made sense though: the city has a lot to offer. From endless places to skate to super-friendly locals, a rich history and culture, Houston was welcoming and soon grew on all of us. Although our initial questions answered themselves, it only led to a bigger question: Why has a city that is so good for skating been continually overlooked?