From movie house to music venue to host of a pop-up skate mecca Aug. 7, Oakland’s Fox Theater has proved itself to be capable of surviving any hiatus with style. After a yearlong pandemic shutdown, the nearly 3,000-seat theater has reopened its doors to the Oakland community, with music lineups already scheduled through October. To celebrate, local art collective Le Vanguard partnered with Red Bull to host a one-day skateboarding block party on Telegraph Avenue outside the Fox.
Le Vanguard managing director Vanessa Nguyen was beaming with pride the day of the event, excited about the unlikely event combination the group put together. “We’re kind of a grassroots-like (organization), so everyone we know is local. We brought a bunch of local stars out here!” she said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “It’s a way to bring revenue to the venue and incorporate that with skateboarding.”
While some non-local skaters such as Jamaica’s Tafari Whittier or Hawaii’s Jaime Reyes drew attention on the floor of the makeshift park, it was the local teenagers landing trick after trick outside of the Fox who were the most stunning. Surrounded by a captivated local audience, some skaters as young as 12 took to the ramps without any stage fright. Older skaters holding boards also gave room on the ramps for those of all ages on roller skates to flaunt their cartwheels and speedy tricks.
To complement Oakland’s skate crowd, some of roller skating’s finest arrived at the scene, even those beyond the Bay Area: Julie Hernandez and Loren Mutch were two of the roller skaters who flew in from Southern California for the event.
“The vibes here in Oakland have been so great,” Mutch said of experiencing the Fox for the first time. “It’s high energy. Everyone’s hyping each other up, but we all have different styles.”
Indeed, the emphasis on inclusion was what made the connection between the skate scene and the Fox Theater, a hub known for artistic diversity, feel most natural.
“Everyone just accepts each other out here and it’s chill,” Nguyen explained. ”We were able to have a girls session or a queer girls/trans session, and it was awesome.”
Not only were queer skaters breezing through the ramps, but they took their skates to the newly reopened theater foyer, dancing smoothly to the tunes of a high-spirited DJ. After resting and sipping cocktails from the Red Bull bar, they’d emerge again, livening up the inner skate circles with their flashy outfits and colorful skates.
“All the dudes respected it,” Nguyen added. “They were like, ‘Hell yeah, ladies first!’ ”
The Fox Theater encouraging not only the participation of roller skaters for the block party, but all femme skaters in general, was a dream come true for some.
“When I first started skating there (were) no girls. I was literally the only girl skateboarding on my whole block,” said Eunice Chang, a 28-year-old who flew in from Los Angeles for the event. “Now, especially with Instagram and social media, I think that’s definitely helped the girl skate community grow, (because) you get to see more people that look like you skating, and say, ‘Oh, if she can do it, then I can do it!’ ”
Female representation shined everywhere, from the powerhouse rollers on ramps to the girls sitting on boards by the food trucks watching excitedly from the sidelines.
“Seeing the community grow, seeing girls just skate down the sidewalk … that’s never happened before and it’s so sick to see!” Chang added. “
“It’s not as competitive, it’s more like a family,” Mutch said about the crowd outside of the Fox, which never ceased its cheers and smiles as skaters switched in and out for hours.
The environment remained supportive for all, even for those who fell during their big moments on the floor.
“Everybody’s hyping each other up instead of being super competitive with each other. We just had a homie break his finger, and he set it back into place, and he landed his next trick,” roller skater Hernandez recalled. “The community here — it’s just rad to see.”
Mutch admitted that while the Oakland community will always lift each other up, finding one’s place in a community of highly talented individuals is not easy.
“It can be hard sometimes,” said Mutch. “It feels like you have to prove yourself, which you shouldn’t have to do,” she said of general skate culture. “The skate park is for everyone. It’s for all genders, any wheels you want to ride — that’s how it should be.”
As for the Fox Theater, the Bay Area hotspot will soon return to serving all kinds of people as both the home for Oakland School of the Arts, an arts-centric charter school, and as a prominent venue for both live concerts and comedy specials.
“It’s cool to be back in here,” Nguyen remarked. “It’s definitely the return.”