JAMES CITY COUNTY — For well over a decade now, on an often times sweltering Saturday in late July, skateboarders have been meeting up to celebrate and remember a friend by taking part in a sport he loved in a place that he loved to be.
Since the day that the James City County Skate Park opened in the early 2000s, Tommy Karafa and his social circle became fixtures at the park affectionately called the “Rec” by local skateboarders.
Tragically, Tommy was killed in a car accident in July of 2008. The loss felt not only by his family, but by his community was massive. As a way to honor Tommy’s memory his friends held a skate day event called “Tommy K. Day”
“It started off just as a way to remember him,” said Robi Haas, Tommy’s friend and event organizer. “Even though he was someone I can never forget, but it was a way for us to remember the good times.”
What started as a way for a group of skaters to honor their friend and process their grief, has since grown into a highly anticipated philanthropic event, that brings the Williamsburg skateboard community together and helps build its facilities.
For the first ten years of the event, it was put on by Tommy’s close friends. Robi said that in the first years the event would attract well over 100 skaters. As time passed, and Tommy’s friends began to spread out, and organizing the event began to fall heavily on people who had stayed in the area, namely Robi.
“The original organizers still do some things behind the scenes,” Robi says. “They send funds, help get sponsorships and t-shirt ideas. But with everyone out of state it was just me and it was a lot for one person to do.”
Between filing the proper paperwork with the county to reserve the facility, getting the necessary insurance, and getting a bare minimum of publicity out, there were a few years where the event risked cancelation.
Enter the Triangle Skateboard Alliance (TSA), a local non-profit dedicated to bolstering local skate culture and expanding facilities, came in to assist. Suddenly the event that was pieced together every year had the clerical and logistical support it needed.
Triangle Skate Board Alliance
TSA was started by Max Pfannebecker in 2017 in an effort to help expand the Rec skatepark facility after Rec regulars endeared themselves to him by welcoming and mentoring his then 8-year-old son who had just picked up the sport.
“The older kids at the park were good to him,” Max remembers. “They taught him to skate and they were patient with him as he learned.”
Soon Max and his son were fixtures at the Rec. In the time he spent at the park he listened to the skaters talk about how the existing skate park needed an update and to expand and how they doubted that James City County would never support such a renovation. It was then that Max saw how he could help these kids get organized for the common good.
“In a grown up moment I said to them, ‘Well guys why don’t you clean up your park, and go to a board of supervisors meetings.” Max said that the skaters had the will to get things done, but not the leadership. With that, the Triangle Skateboard Alliance was born.
“Part of our goal at the beginning was if we are going to go to county meetings with our hands out, expecting someone to give us something, the we needed to do something first,” Max said. “Whether it’s cleaning up the park, teaching kids to skate, food drives or some other kind of community service, we wanted to be a creator of goodwill. Not just a a receiver of goodwill.”
One of the ways the TSA raises funds for skatepark improvements is by putting on events. Since helping with Tommy K Day, TSA has been able to streamline the clerical side the skate day. They have also helped secure sponsorships from skateboard companies and local vendors around the Historic Triangle.
Max, who never met Tommy, is quick to point out that the event is put on by Tommy’s family and friends and the TSA simply presents the skate day.
“I hope we have done a good job with it,” Max said. “It’s really important that we honor someone who skated that park since the day it was built, and to do a good job of keeping his memory alive. That is why I say it is hosted by his friends and family and presented by Triangle Skateboard Alliance.”
This year “Tommy K Day” or TK ’21 is scheduled for Saturday, July 24 at 12 p.m. There will be several competitions for skaters of all skill levels, as well as a best trick contests for scooters. With the event and its originators getting older and more experienced, this year there will be a separate competition for skaters 35-years and older.
As well as the skate festivities, there will be a D.J. and refreshments available for purchase.
Admission to the event is $6 for competitors and $3 for spectators, with the proceeds going to support the expansion of the park. In the event of bad weather, the event will be rescheduled for July 31.