As the echoes of lectures die down and professors head home, skateboarders slip into St Salvator’s Quad to flip, grind and shred. That is — until security shows up.
But after years of illicitly skating in secluded spots on the University’s campus, St Andrews’ skaters don’t need to sneak around anymore.
Two weeks ago, Spider Park Skatepark opened on Pipeland Road for BMXers, scooterists, and roller skaters to practise their skills. Its construction is the culmination of six years of the skateboarding community’s relentless advocacy efforts, which began when the Fife Council dismantled the town’s former skate park in 2017.
The skateboarding scene in St Andrews is largely upheld by those who have grown up local to the area. Central to this community are brothers Harris Potter-Dobson,18, and Lewis Potter-Dobson, 22, who — alongside fellow local skater Sean Mcgilly — have been instrumental in the getting Spider Park built.
Harris Potter-Dobson picked up my Zoom call in a beanie hat and hoodie. Behind him, his bedroom wall was adorned with an array of colourful skateboard decks.
“I’ve only been skating for two years and I’d say it’s been the best two years of my life”, Harris said. “I jumped on a skateboard during the second lockdown and through that I ended up making a massive social network and meeting some of my best friends.”
Although he only started skateboarding in 2020, Harris has been immersed in the skateboarding community in St Andrews since childhood. His brother, Lewis, has been skating since he was only 10 years old.
“Back in the day we used to have a really really bad skatepark. It was a couple of metal ramps and then like two rails and that was it”, Harris said. “It got taken out by the council and they promised to put in a new park.”
When the council’s promises to replace the old skatepark remained unfulfilled months later, Harris’ friends and family took matters into their own hands. His mother, Iona, and Sean Mcgilly’s mother initiated a committee that sought to raise funds for the park, a project that would cost roughly £200,000.
Determined for the project to succeed, the committee secured £125,000 from the council and £10,000 from the bowling club. However, the project then slowed down as it started to face its share of challenges.
“Sean’s mum sadly passed away and so that just left my mum, and she has four kids. So doing that and trying to build a skatepark was a little bit too much for her I think”, Harris said.
The passing of Sean’s mum, along with the pandemic, meant that the project lost traction and temporarily fell through. But then during the second lockdown in November 2020, Harris, Lewis and Sean acquired several wooden ramps.
They were tired of not having anywhere to skate. St Andrews is an “impossible” place to skateboard, Harris said. University security doesn’t make that any easier.
“We literally had nothing”, Harris said.
These five wooden ramps ended up being a lifeline for the skating community, bringing back a sense of community that had been absent for far too long.
“Before it was just a barren bit of concrete , with a fence and a really terrible playground. And just those five wooden ramps almost made a community again,” he tells me.
It reminded Harris of his childhood, when he would go down to the skatepark and there would always be a friend there for him to play with.
“Seeing that community again, and now seeing it again but properly, almost brought a tear to my eye”, Harris said. “It’s something that I haven’t seen in so long.”
With the community united once again, support for a new skatepark was stronger than ever and so fundraising for Spider Park resumed — full speed ahead.
In March 2022, when Harris was in his final year of high school, he organised a skate jam at the New Madras School with one of his friends. The event raised £350, which although a relatively small sum to Harris in hindsight, was an immense achievement to both teenagers at the time.
“We were pretty chuffed with ourselves”, Harris said.
The University also ended up donating some money towards the project. Perhaps, he muses, because they were so fed up with them skating in Sallies Quad.
When enough money was raised in August 2023, construction of the park began. On the October 12 just after noon, Harris received a message from McGilly while he was at work. The park had opened.
Spider Park’s opening day surpassed all of Harris’ expectations. The air was filled with music, laughter and excitement as around 30 to 40 skaters filed in over the course of the afternoon, wheels in hand and eager to hit the slopes.
“I’ve never seen that many skateboards, scooters, BMXs in St Andrews before”, Harris said.
He noted how the community has become more diverse since Spider Park’s opening, with more student, female and older skaters embracing the scene. Harris described how amidst the bustle of skaters at the park’s opening, he had spotted a girl skating alongside her parents, her father cruising along a skateboard and her mother riding a BMX bike.
In recent weeks, Spider Park has also been the recipient of a range of visitors from all over Scotland.
“It’s been years since we’ve seen this and I mean that’s the best part for me. Seeing people travel from everywhere just to come skate at our park”, Harris said. “Two of the best skaters, I’d say in the whole of Scotland, came down. They were absolutely shredding it.”
Skateboarding’s debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has helped bring in even more fans and solidified its status as sport. That has also distanced it from its associations with crime, drugs and drinking, Harris said, though he admitted that there still is a stigma.
“Down by the skatepark there’s a sign with the code of conduct and stuff. And there in big letters it says, no use of drugs or alcohol”, said Harris. “If you know nothing about skating and you see that sign you think, there must be drug users here and there must be alcohol.”
Harris does not deny the existence of this subculture, however he emphasised that he and his friends don’t partake in it. He skates because he loves it.
“I would love to become professional, that is my childhood dream”, Harris said, though he said he grounds his aspirations in reality. “Now that I have skated for two to three years I realise that I’m not at a level to be professional.”
But Harris has other plans. He has already achieved his goal of securing a skate shop sponsorship, and now he has plans for an upcoming jam, complete with live music, prizes and sponsored brands. Harris and his brother are also soon to take over the Spider Park Instagram to encourage more people to join the skating community.
“Just come and skate, that’s all I’m saying. Come and skate”, Harris said.
While Spider Park occupies St Andrews’ skateboarders, the University security guards might be looking ahead to a quiet campus. But perhaps they shouldn’t get ahead of themselvs.
“I would say 100 per cent we will defo be back at Sallies, but not anytime soon”, Harris said. “Now, we’ve got something to play with.”
Photo: 58° North Media