Bro Bowl: A Brief History

The 1970s were, no doubt, a special time for the skateboarding. In fact, it was the era that gave birth to modern skateboarding. Thanks to the numerous technological advancements and riding maneuvers that were created during this period, skateboarding took off in leaps and bounds. This explosion began in 1973 with the introduction of the urethane wheel. By 1975 the sport had mushroomed and the foundation had certainly been set. So many things were being done for the first time. Another innovation from this period was the “skateboard park,” a specialized facility designed made for skating. The first skateparks were revolutionary as well as architectural wonders. Because of this, the mid- to late 70s became known as the "skatepark era." Ranging from 1976 to 1982, this was a time when over 200 skateparks were built in the U.S. alone—and quite tragically, almost all of these parks were closed and/or destroyed within that same period. In the end, the Bro Bowl in Tampa, along with Kona in Jacksonville, Florida, and Derby in Santa Cruz, California, stand as three of the era’s survivors. Representative architecturally, historically, and culturally of the places where modern skateboarding was formed during the 1970s, and where the roots of American skateboard culture itself was shaped, they are significant landmarks that should be preserved. Of these three skateparks, it should be noted that the Bro Bowl is the only one that remains completely intact in its original form when it opened its doors in 1978.

The Bro Bowl was conceived of in 1975 by a City of Tampa employee, Joel Jackson, and remarkably before any skateparks had even been built. Jackson saw that skateboarding was exploding and he envisioned a free, public skateboarding facility that would serve the community, especially children and inner city teens. Initially, there had been some doubts about the idea from the Tampa City Council, but eventually the go ahead was given. In 1978, the surf style skateboard park was built in a tract of land that was to become the Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa. By that time, numerous other skateparks in the region had been built, but they were all privately owned and a fee was charged to use them. They included the Tampa Skate Wave near the airport, Tampa’s Rainbow Wave near the University of South Florida, and Clearwater Skateboard Park in Clearwater, among others. When the Perry Harvey Skateboard Bowl was constructed in 1978, it broke ground in more ways than one. As the first public skatepark in the state, and one of the first on the East Coast, it was significant.

Following the destruction of most of 1970s skateparks by the early 1980s, only a handful remain. The fact that Florida holds two of the last remaining 70s-era skateparks in the world is no mere coincidence. Florida is a region that is rich with history and innovation. The first skatepark of the era was located in Port Orange, Florida, the Ollie and the 540 McTwist are world famous skateboarding maneuvers that were created by Florida skaters, and skaters such as Rodney Mullen, Alan Gelfand, and Mike McGill, are internationally known legends who have pushed the boundaries of skating and who distinctly progressed it. All three grew up skating and refining their skills in the Florida skateparks of the 1970s.

In total, there were approximately 30 skateparks constructed in Florida during between 1976 and 1978, and they helped advance the sport during this critical time of experimentation and progression. When Skateboard City in Port Orange opened in February 1976 it became the first skatepark in the state, and when the Bro Bowl in Tampa appeared in 1978, it became the last known park to open. Although Skateboard City and many of the nation's other historical skateparks are no longer with us, the Bro Bowl is still here. As such, it is a landmark. It is an undisputed part of skateboarding’s heritage, and represents part of the innovation that took place in a crucial period of skateboarding’s history and culture, as well as a period setting where the roots of modern skating were formed.

The Bro Bowl is indeed a celebrity, appearing in numerous articles over the years, a Tony Hawk video game, the backdrop for a number of industry ads and commercials, skate videos, and the subject of a documentary film. It has become a place of pilgrimage, visited by some of skateboarding’s most famous riders over the years. It was also the site where internationally renowned skateboard manufacturer Paul Schmitt developed his Schmitt Stix brand after every other skatepark in the region closed, and where Cleo Coney, Florida’s first African-American professional skateboarder, refined his riding skills.

Today, the Bro Bowl continues to serve as a center for skaters, BMX riders, and other artists, and a gathering place for families and members of the community. It continues to serve as a place of social, cultural, and racial integration, too. In a day and age where we spend too much of our time on TV or online, the Bro Bowl is truly a healthy outlet that encourages creative physical activity and genuine socialization. Those who use the Bro Bowl are not just teenagers anymore as they were in 1970s, but parents and grandparents who have a history with skating, and who bring their children and grandchildren to the Bowl to share with them its heritage and wonder.
Bro Bowl graffiti art
Bro Bowl Facts
• One of the last 70s-era skateparks in the world
• First public skatepark in Florida
• Second public skatepark on the East Coast
• Historic center of skateboard culture
• Forerunner to the bowls and ramps of today's X Games
• Home skatepark to Cleo Coney, the first African-American pro skater from Florida
• Testing ground for Schmitt Stix, one of the largest skateboard brands in the world during the 1980s
• A historic influence to popular culture
• An important cultural and social center