Skatemodo.com got a chance to sit down the owner of Ujamaa Boardhouse here in Durham NC (my home town) 2 days before the big grand opening of the new Durham Skatepark. Nik has been highly involved in the creation of the park, so I thought it would interesting to talk with him.
They (Ujamaa Boardshop) just moved a couple of months ago to 719 N Mangum St. in downtown Durham, just a block away from the park. Their new shop is pretty sick. The coolest thing about it is that they stuck a mini ramp in the back… so it is best that you be nice to Nick and the guys at the shop and hope that they let you skate it. Here is what we talked about:
Skatemodo: How long has the shop been open?
Ujamaa: The shop has been open 2 years, and it has been a beautiful struggle. It has been tough to open a business during a recession.
Skatemodo: What brought you to Durham?
Ujamaa: I’m from Greensboro originally, but I have a lot of family in Durham. I was living down in Orlando and my wife got a Job at Duke, so we decided to move back to North Carolina.
Skatemodo: Did you know you were going to open a shop?
Ujamaa Boardhouse in Durham
Ujamaa: No, I didn’t (laughs). I’ve always wanted a shop and I always thought it would be nice to open a shop one day.
I was working for parks and rec in Orlando, and then I moved back up here, working with my dad, and doing odds and ends around town. But man, there was nothing up here. I couldn’t find a job… what are you gonna do?
I heard of the plans for the skatepark… but it kept getting put on the backburner, but I thought, if they are going to do a skatepark, (and I heard it was going to be a pretty dope one) we’re going to need a shop. So I scraped up some money for the shop, not nearly enough as I should have… but I just wanted to set that foundation in the Durham skate scene and get to know the kids and the scene here in Durham.
I always new Durham had a rich history of skateboarding; we always used to come to the courthouse here in Durham, like when I was 16 (I’m 36 now). You know, with Mike Sinclair being from here, and Ervin my homie that works with me, he’s an old head too so he knows the whole scene. So I knew this was a good scene.
Skatemodo: How did you get involved in the park?
Ujamaa: I heard about the first meeting that they had down at the armory downtown, but after that meeting, it seemed like they kept putting it on the back burner. So I thought man, if I get a shop, I could really light a fire under the city’s ass, and really make sure they go through with it, because you know politics… I just got all the skaters to start blasting the city with emails asking what’s up with the skatepark, And looking at the gang violence in Durham, there just has to be something for the kids to do besides basketball and football. They need something fresh and new.
I thought it was the best thing for the city. The park I worked at in Florida was a low-income neighborhood, and they put that skatepark in there, and we had at least 20 kids that would be in that skatepark every single afternoon. I knew that was keeping them off the streets.
Nik and his daughter
We are now submitting parks and rec and the boys and girls clubs proposals to do summer camps and holiday camps.
I think the scene is nice and big, so there have been talks about having “pocket skate parks” along the tobacco trail. Parks that you would be able to ride your bike from park to park. Just small ones, like with a rail, or a bench… because that is all that skaters really want anyway. We hope to have a bunch of different ones.
A lot of times city and political people think that we want a big x-games type of park, but all we really want is a box, or a rail and nobody hassling us…. That is the main thing, so I think Durham is on the cutting edge with that kind of thing.
My good buddy Chris Sheppard has been spearheading this thing. He’s a skater as well, so that is one of the big reasons why our Durham park has become so dope. He’s been setting up all of the meetings with city hall and really paying attention to what the skaters want.
Ujamaa: Ujamaa is Swahili for community and cooperative economics. We do monthly art shows and music (anything from punk to reggae), and I think that is all intertwined and part of the skate community. Art, music, and skating just go together. We try to embrace that. I was at a Kwanza festival and that was one of the principles of Kwanza.
Ujamaa: Why the Rasta colors?
It’s a symbol for love, unity, and acceptance for all people regardless of race, religion, or anything like that, and I just try to let that shine through the shop and what we do here.
Skatemodo: How do you compete with online retailers?
Ujamaa: We’ve considered doing online, but I think that online doesn’t do anything for the culture of skating. You can go online and buy your CCS or whatever, but what is it doing for the culture of skating in your community? So we just try to support local skating and culture. Last year we did the national “Go Skateboarding Day” on June 21st and we’re building ramps and boxes and supporting music and putting on shows… so we’re just trying to support the local scene. Anybody in the industry knows if you’re into core skateboarding… you’ll never become a millionaire running a shop. But that is why I’ll be the one buying the local brands and local board companies merchandise like EVERYDAY, Metropolis and Pi. But it is a difficult balance because all of the kids want the big brands with big logos on it. If the GIRL logo isn’t big enough, the board won’t sell. I’ve had one GIRL board sitting on my wall for a whole year because the logo isn’t big enough. I try to set them straight, and tell them not to pay attention to the brand names too much. Just go skate.
Skatemodo: Who is on your team?
Ujamaa: Cory Woods aka Dirt Diggler, Steve Stinson, Robert Clark, Chris Hall, Carlos Famania, Kohen Myers and we got a couple of guys that have moved out of town, but they still rep. Dave Henderson, Joe Sabo and Jorge Aguilara. The Team manager is Ervin Ballard.
Skatemodo: When did you get your team together?
Ujamaa: Shortly after we opened the first shop. I just kept my eye out for some of the rippers in Durham and Raleigh.
Skatemodo: What does a kid need to do to get on your team?
Ujamaa: I don’t know man, I pretty much let Ervin deal with that. But really, it is the kid that DOESN’T ask to be on the team… he’s the kid that is out there having a ball but still rippin. He’s the guy that is going to get on the team.
Skatemodo: What is happeing at the grand opening on November 7th?
Ujamaa: We’re going to have the mayor and the city council do the ribbon cutting from 12-12;30.
The toy machine team is coming in and they are just gonna skate with everybody and some of the DC team will be there too. I’m not sure which pro is going to be there from DC, but I think it is Nick DonPierre. All of their Ams will be here. Lots of people from all over are gonna be here to skate that day.
We’ll have music as well. Lila and Mid Grade Lifestyle, The Wigg Report, J.Fatz and Jeff and King. And Ujamaa will be out there bar-b-cueing giving out free sandwiches.
Skatemodo: How did you get Toy Machine to come out?
Ujamaa: My friend Mike Sinclair is the team manager of Tum Yeto, he’s from Durham, and he’s been trying to get Durham a skatepark for years. And Bob Reynolds got the DC guys to come out, he does marketing for DC. If you’ve seen any coverage of N.C. in any magazines or videos Bob probably has something to do with that. He’s the go to guy when pros and ams come to N.C. He’s done a lot for the N.C. skate scene. Good looking Bob!