January 4, 2020

Wolfe’s Pond Park Hockey Rink

On a misty day in January, I visited Wolfe's Pond to photograph one of the last remaining public roller hockey rinks in New York City.

Wolfe’s Pond is the last public roller hockey rink on Staten Island, NY. Growing up I would play at the South Beach rink, which was larger, had a bench area (if no actual benches), and was a 2 minutes downhill skate. The surface, a gravelly asphalt, was terrible compared to Wolfe’s Pond, but I didn’t care all that much. After snowstorms, my friends and I would go to South Beach and shovel the rink out to be able to play the next morning. 

I always hated playing at Wolfe’s Pond. It was a serviceable rink, but it was too small to play a meaningful game. 3-on-3 felt crowded. Breakaways were rare. It was always filled with debris and packed with players waiting for their turn. It was also a 30 minute drive.

It wasn’t until I was older that I would appreciate Wolfe’s Pond. The city more or less neglects it, so the regular players care for the rink, much like I had cared for South Beach. What eventually turned me around on Wolfe’s Pond was two-fold. First of all, it’s beautiful location, tucked in a wooded area between the beach and a pond. Secondly, it’s the camaraderie that develops while everyone stands around waiting to play.

You’ll always hear chatter about which New Jersey league had a fight last week, or how many goals someone scored during their High School game at the Pavillion. Before each day’s pick-up sessions, you’ll have the old-timers sweeping out the corners and repairing the netting. The youngsters (usually eager to show off new gear,) chirp the older guys for still using quads (usually custom built at Wonderland). The older guys then detail their revenge along the boards if the two meet on the rink.

Hockey, in my mid-30s, means a lot more than skating hard and scoring. It’s about the bond between players. Teammate or opponent, you belonged to something. Wolfe’s Pond somehow compressed the playing surface, while simultaneously expanding the capacity to relate to one another. Playing is fun at this rink. It’s light and fast paced. You play with and against everyone during a 4 hour period. You make friends and rivals. You play the game.

Wolfe’s Pond seems to boil down the game to what I played in the driveway as a kid. You, a puck, a stick, and just enough room to skate, but not too much room where you need to worry about the less-fun stuff. (I’m always in position at this rink.) Play becomes creative and less technical. It becomes play.