Pro-Skaters take to the air under phantasmagoric lights
Courtesy of Sunshine Skate Center
Growing up on the Gulf Coast, we didn't have fancy ice skating palaces like our neighbors to the North. No, we had good ol', warehouse sized, roller skating rinks. And the best of these was located right in West Mobile – "Sunshine Skating Rink."
Opened in 1977 by Jim and Linda Campbell, "Sunshine Skate Center," as it read on the sign, was the bright, yellow, epicenter of my childhood.
Your sign may say "skate center," but in the South you will always be called a skating rink
Novus Yearbook (1984), Baker High School
Skating rinks are an interesting phenomena. They occupy that sweet spot of childhood, from ages 5 to 11...and then nothing. But for that brief moment of time, skating rinks are the paragon of a kid's social activity.
They are the places you go to for birthday parties, to hang out with friends, or in Middle School, to meet members of the opposite sex.
From the start, the Campbell's meant for "Sunshine" to be more than just an average skating rink. The facility opened with a dining area, an arcade, a pro-shop, and Mobile's first self-service skate room.
With shoe laces long enough to reach to the moon and back
Novus Yearbook (1984), Baker High School
The look of the rink, was classic 70's. Disco balls and lighting rigs pulsed in the air, carpeted mushrooms blanketed the floor, and a DJ booth cranked out 80's pop tunes between rounds of "Hokey Pokey" and speed skating.
Oh yeah, and the grooviest mural in Mobile
In the course of a visit, kids could fill up on pizza and sodas in the yellow themed dining area, get their arcade fix on "Vanguard," "Major Havoc," "Qix," and "Yie Ar Kung-Fu," and if the mood suited them, skate a couple of rounds on the urethane floor.
Yes, skating was almost beside the point as you got older. Sure, a guy might try to win a speed skating race to get a girl's attention, or "couple skate" to Journey's "Open Arms" having gained said girl's attention. But really, it was more about food, games, and friends.
Surprisingly, the Campbell's leaned into this by adding non-skate activities. One of their cleverest ideas was introducing breakdance battles on Friday nights. This was in 1985, the height of the dance's popularity in Mobile.
I remember traveling to the rink one Friday night to root on "Shockwave" Roberts, the only kid I knew who could perform the windmill with no hands.
It looked a little something like this...
The whole neighborhood dawned their parachute pants and fly shirts, and loaded up in "The Great Matt Houdini's," mini-van to make the short trip to the rink.
There were three breakdancing crews there that night. Each crew took turns under the disco ball, demonstrating their best moves. Sadly, my "backspin" and "centipede" did not warrant a place for me on the floor. So I observed from a nearby mushroom.
Our friend, "Shockwave," opened the battle with his King-Tut, followed by some inspired locking, before dropping into his no handed windmill. His crew would win for sure.
But it was not to be. There was one move that trumped the no handed windmill – a move so dangerous, none of us dared attempt it: the no handed head spin. "Shockwave's" crew took a close second place and cemented Roberts' place as a neighborhood legend.
The original grand opening ad
Mobile Press Register
As adolescence approached, my weekly visits grew further and further apart until one day I quit going all together. The last time I visited the skate center was on graduation night in 1992. My high school sweet heart and I took a spin on the rink, experiencing our last moment of childhood. The next week I'd leave for college only returning to Mobile occasionally over the years for visits. To this day, seeing it on the way to the airport brings a smile to my face.
After 40 years, Sunshine Skate Center remains a Mobile landmark. For more information, visit their website at http://www.sunshineskate.com/.
It's a wonder my whole generation doesn't have skin cancer. Eight hours in the sun with minimal sun protection was the perfect day when I was a kid. And there was no nicer place to be outside than at STYX, RIVER, WATER WORLD. I'm shouting it out just like they use to in the TV ads.
For most kids in the 80's, Styx was the name of a band that ruled the charts with that cheezy song, "Mr. Roboto." But for kids growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Styx was the place to be on a summer's day. The short drive from Mobile made it a favorite destination of families, churches and day cares throughout the area.
Approaching the park, a series of statues greeted you, including a cowboy, an Indian (um Native American), and a dairy cow. Looking more like over-sized miniature golf fixtures than water park attractions, for my generation, they signaled the beginning of an awesome adventure.
Let's face it...People outside of Alabama tend to think we all talk the same - like hicks. But growing up in Mobile, the dialects and expressions were as varied as the people themselves. You had urban dialects and rural dialects and skater dialects and yes for a time in the 80's, even a valley girl dialect.
Yep, Mobile, Al was like a city wide "Breakfast Club"
Vespidae Yearbook (1983), McGill-Toolen
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