This Is What It Looks Like When Skateboarders Take Over An Abandoned Airport
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was reaching its peak as one of the most popular video games of its time when the third installment was released in 2001. Among the 13 levels that players could race through and through was an airport , the familiar kind of semi-public space. that tempts skaters by being incredibly out of bounds. For over 20 years, skateboarders and gamers have dreamed of making this level a reality and turning an airport into a skate park, and earlier this month Red Bull’s Terminal Takeover event made it possible for the second consecutive year. Southeast skate teams recently joined a group of skate influencers at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans to see what kind of tricks they could pull off at an airport that is no longer in operation but who still looks and feels like he did when he last flew off just before the pandemic. This oddly abandoned space meant it was part Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and part Walking Deadbut also utterly brilliant, while showing how, unlike most cities, New Orleans doesn’t rush to tear down something beautiful just because it no longer serves its original purpose.
Like everything in New Orleans, the former Louis Armstrong airport terminal has a story. For 60 years it welcomed visitors to Crescent City, the first and last sights of which would be the terminal’s distinctive parabolic concourse and a nearly 10-foot-tall statue of Louis Armstrong himself, horn pressed to lips and pointed to the sky. Since its opening in 1959, the terminal has been expanded and updated several times over the decades, hosting airlines such as Delta, American, United, etc., and handling hundreds of millions of passengers. It was part of the fabric of New Orleans, the distinct way only airports can be. And then, on November 5, 2019, after a final British Airways flight left New Orleans for London, it all came to a halt, with a brand new airport opening just down the road the next morning.
The Atrium Lounge and Dooky Chase Airport Outpost may have closed over two years ago, but you still see their menus and names on the wall when you visit the terminal today. You can still see Delta signs throughout the terminal and throughout baggage claim, with luggage tags and emergency documents lying around in drawers at check-in counters. That arched parabolic roof and elaborate window remain to be seen, and Louis still plays the trumpet nearby. To its credit, New Orleans likes to preserve its architecture, and instead of demolishing this terminal as soon as the new one was ready, they kept it in shape while trying to sell it to a company that would use its beautiful concourse. Amazon was reportedly a suitor before pulling out.
Its future is unknown, but the airport still occasionally receives guests. You may have seen it recently in a movie or TV show; it is often used as a filming location. Twice now, Red Bull and their platoon of skaters have been around the airport for several days, trying out incredible skating feats while filming video for the Terminal Takeover contest. The images will make their way to Red Bull Terminal Takeover Website in mid-May, where viewers can vote to determine which team made the best video; the winning city’s skate scene takes home a $5,000 prize.
I am a travel writer. I’m always in airports. However, I’ve never seen skaters go past me before, or try to curve up the baggage carousel like it’s the edge of an empty pool. Terminal Takeover must be a skateboarder’s dream come true, but even for someone like me, who is petrified at the thought of getting on a board, it was a dreamlike sight. He transformed the unique but ultimately mundane setting of an airport into an absurd playground, resulting in a surreal and unforgettable experience.
Skaters brushed the edge of baggage claim conveyor belts and did kickflips over an airport golf cart. A BMX rider slid down an escalator ramp, got air on a small floor ramp, then hit a nearby higher ramp where he spun his bike through the sky like a propeller . Some skaters were allowed to skate where planes used to ride, even skating on an abandoned skywalk still attached to a gate and on the tarmac below. A skater brought three empty newspaper boxes together in hopes of crushing them; after 20 failed attempts, sometimes losing his board when hitting the boxes, sometimes nailing the grind but crashing on the exit, he was finally successful, to excited cheers from skaters and reporters who followed the entire event.
At the center of it all was this parabolic hall with this oversized Satchmo standing nearby. Overlooking a small skate park that had been erected in the middle of the room were two large escalators. They were both covered with a flat surface and transformed into two particularly high and steep descent ramps. It was the first thing every skateboarder wanted to hit upon entering the building, although its height made some nervous.
Yazmeen “Yaz” Wilkerson couldn’t wait to try these escalators. She credited them as the perfect start to an action-packed day. “Your heart is racing, your adrenaline is rushing, it kinda warmed me up,” she said, between runs in a near-empty Delta terminal.
Another skater, Eunice Chang, was initially apprehensive about escalators, noting that very high ramps aren’t usually her thing. She was surprised by the actual feel, however. “It’s a lot sweeter than it looks,” she said. “Coming down was the easiest part. Going up the other ramp was a lot scarier. Chris Chann, a skateboarder from Los Angeles, noted that it looked like Disneyland. “It’s like a roller coaster. When you get to the bottom you feel the kick,” he said, immediately after sliding down one of the ramps. “You can never skate an escalator like that,” he noted.
These two ramps may have garnered the most attention, but Chang and Wilkerson called Delta Terminal their favorite of the four spaces they skated on that day. This long straight corridor was filled with rails and small ramps that the skaters could use, allowing them to chain sequences as if they were playing Tony Hawk. “The ground is so smooth and it just feels like you’re sliding or ice skating,” Chang said. You could tell how much fun everyone was having, and even as a declared non-skateboarder, that joy was contagious.
Wilkerson succinctly summed up how Terminal Takeover felt about her – and, presumably, skateboarders in general – in two words: “Sick fucking.” After a pause, she widens a little. “It’s a thrill,” she said. “Anyone can identify with an airport. It’s sick to see this space being used in a different way. Skateboarding is always about reclaiming public spaces, and when you think of an airport, it looks more like a private building, so just the fact that we can change it with the help of Red Bull is crazy.
The next day I was at the new airport next door, waiting for my flight home. Without even realizing it, I found myself scanning the busy terminal for ramps or ersatz rails for skaters to do tricks on. Recovering an abandoned airport was apparently not enough; now I had thoughts of grinding and kickflipping through a swarm of travelers stuck in my head like a song I just couldn’t shake. I may not skate, but I know what looks cool, and few things I’ve ever seen look cooler than a group of skateboarders walking through an airport that still seems to be regularly welcoming people. flights. If New Orleans can’t find a buyer for its old airport that will retain its one-of-a-kind architecture, they could always turn it into an official skate park.
If you want to see Terminal Takeover for yourself, keep an eye out for the Red Bull website for the release of the videos in May.
Editor Garrett Martin writes about video games, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything that gets in his way. He is also on Twitter @grmartin.