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- Luke Awtry
- Filmmaker Kevin Barry at Talent Skatepark
As a professional skateboarder, Jordan Maxham has traveled to big cities around the world, doing massive frontside flips and jaw-dropping rail slides. But Maxham grew up in Barre and rose through the ranks of Vermont's skateboarding scene, cutting his teeth on the half-pipe at South Burlington's Talent indoor skate park.
"Ever since I was 11 years old, [Talent] was the spot," Maxham declares in a new documentary about the local skateboarding mecca, now located in Burlington. "I would be begging my mom to drive 45 minutes through the snow so I could skate. It was heaven. It was warm. You could get snacks. All the homies were always there."
Vergennes filmmaker Kevin Barry's 28-minute documentary, "Talent," premiered on January 21 and chronicles the rise, fall and rebirth of the local skating landmark. The doc features interviews with Talent co-owners and married couple Hannah Deene Wood and David Wood; pro skateboarders such as Maxham, Collin Hale and Chris "Cookie" Colbourn; and other members of the greater Talent community. Though skateboarding is an individual sport, the interviewees highlight a sense of belonging at the park. "Talent" is the story of a skate park — and the community that rallied to preserve it.
The film also captures an era of Vermont skateboarding history through archival fish-eye video of skaters doing tricks all across the Queen City: inside the former B-Side skate shop, on sidewalks, in parks and even within the old Burlington Square Mall. Kickflips and 180s are soundtracked to songs by local punk-rock band Rough Francis, as well as cuts by their drummer, Urian Hackney, who is interviewed in the film.
The Woods opened the first Talent Skatepark & Shop in 2001 on Williston Road. The South Burlington location featured a retail shop and a 12,000-square-foot indoor skate park; it offered clinics, summer camps and open skate time. After riding high for years, the park hit a speed bump during the 2008 recession and never fully recovered. The couple hung on for a decade but finally closed up shop in 2018, much to the dismay of skaters and their families.
Barry is a Burlington native who grew up skating at Talent. He was living in Brooklyn when he heard about the park closing. Even from afar, he was impressed by the outpouring of support for Talent that followed.
"This was clearly more than just a place to skateboard inside," Barry said in an interview with Seven Days. "It was a community that was facilitated by Hannah ... over the span of 17 years, which in the skateboard world is like an eternity."
In the film, pro skater Colbourn reveals that he was a socially awkward kid. But Talent "really took me out of my shell," he says. "It's just a whole indoor space of people trying to figure life out, like me." He and others in the film speak about skateboarding as a way to expend their energy and find a place to fit in.
"Skateboarding is an incredible, welcoming, loving community," Hannah Deene Wood told Seven Days. "I think for a lot of kids, Talent is their second home. We're a safe place."
Barry and his wife, Seven Days food writer Jordan Barry, had just moved back to Burlington when he heard that a group of parents was attempting to reopen the park as a nonprofit. Despite the perception of skateboarding as a dangerous sport, parents always felt comfortable dropping off their kids to skate for hours at Talent. Those families felt the void when the park closed.
"I have been told that I run the strictest skate park in the United States by people who don't like the helmet rule or whatever," Wood said. "There's a reason that the community rallied to reopen me. I worked really hard to get that love and trust from our community."
As the nonprofit took shape, Kevin Barry, whose day job is in multimedia production, began work on the film to document Talent's history and importance in the Burlington skate scene.
Archival skating footage from the early aughts is a key component of "Talent." The film features dozens of shots of skaters doing flip tricks and grinds in backyards, area parks and, of course, at the original Talent with its signature baby blue ramps. In those scenes, both the skaters and the original videographers are credited on-screen.
That wealth of footage exists because shooting video is essential to the sport and culture of skateboarding, Barry said. He explained that skateboarding has a "pics or it didn't happen" ethos. He thought it was important to credit the people who captured what was a generational change in Vermont skateboarding.
"[Video] was really, like, legitimizing Vermont skateboarding," Barry said, adding that some of the pro skaters in his film used those videos to get sponsorship deals and start their careers.
While the film centers on Talent, Barry said producing it was also a chance to explore what was interesting to him about skateboarding in the first place.
"It's this focused activity," he said. "Whatever you're going through, positive or negative, you can just focus that energy on something that you can progress at."
Before its premiere, Barry brought the film to Talent for a private screening with Wood.
"It was super emotional for me," she said. "It's really a beautiful story, but there's a lot of sorrow and a lot of heartache."
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- Courtesy Of Kevin Barry/Danny Hopkins
- Pro skateboarder Collin Hale in "Talent"
The documentary touches on serious issues, including the traumatic brain injury that Wood suffered while building the original Talent location. She said she still struggles with its negative effects two decades later.
The film also delves into the lives that have been lost over the years, particularly that of skateboarder Sean Stem, who died of a drug overdose in 2016 at age 26. Wood was especially close with Stem and noted that several skateboarders of his generation have also died in recent years.
"It doesn't ever stop hurting," she said of those losses. "Even if I haven't seen a kid in 15 years, it was still one of my little buddies."
While much of the film focuses on Talent's history, it also brings viewers up to the present day. Talent reopened as a nonprofit in February 2020 on the Burton Snowboards campus in Burlington. A month later, the pandemic hit and Wood was forced to close again. Talent has slowly come back to life and now offers open skating for newbies and veterans, lessons by the hour, and summer camps.
The January film premiere was part of the Slam Bam Talent Jam, a third-anniversary celebration. The all-day event also featured skateboard contests and free pizza and ice cream.
David Wood said the jam was the first time it felt like "everyone" was there at the new facility. Barry added that he was happy to see Talent's community have "the grand reopening that they deserve, finally, three years into it."
Jaime Karnes of South Burlington attended the screening with her 8-year-old daughter, Greta, who began taking lessons at Talent during the pandemic.
"People tend to think negatively about skateboarding when it really couldn't be further from the truth," Karnes said. "The Talent family and skateboarding community fosters so many positives: the sense of community, confidence, persistence. And I've seen my daughter become a more compassionate little person."
Hannah Deene Wood has high hopes and big plans for Talent's future. She opens certain nights to in-line skaters who skate in circles and practice their dance moves. She's got a roller disco party on the books and said she's not above painting some lines on the floor and offering her favorite new sport: pickleball.
Most of all, she intends for Talent to continue serving as a second home for young skaters. Especially in the social media age, she believes it's important for kids to have a place to spend time offline and build confidence and community. In that regard, there might not be a better testimonial for the skate park's impact in Burlington than Barry's film.
As she spoke with Seven Days in her office, Wood pulled up an email from a man in Ballston Spa, N.Y., who had watched "Talent" online and hoped to open a similar skate park in his town. She read from the email: "I was hooked on the idea of having a place for our kids to express themselves, learn more tricks on a skateboard and just try to figure themselves out at the same time."
Thursday, February 23: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Hannah Deene Wood's last name.