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Feature Article - February 2007

Ramp It Up

New-generation skateparks appeals to skaters young and old

By Emily Tipping


F
rom the X Games to neighborhood kids mastering their first ollie, there's no denying the increasing popularity of skateboarding. It would be a stretch—and an unwelcome one to skaters—to say that skating has gone "mainstream," but there have been many discussions over the past few years about making skateboarding an Olympic sport. And what's more mainstream than that? Skating icon Tony Hawk responded to the idea of skateboarding as an Olympic sport in an interview with Time in May 2005, saying that "the Olympics needs skateboarding more than skateboarding needs the Olympics," citing skating's ability to bring in younger viewers through its "cool" factor.

But whatever your view of skating—in your neighborhood or in the Olympics—you can't avoid skateboarding's increasing sway among people of all ages. In their ongoing attempts to lure more students with the recreational activities they're looking for, even universities have started adding skateparks.

According to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), between 1995 and 2000, the number of boys between 7 and 17 years old who skateboard increased by 129 percent. The same time period saw decreases in participation in baseball, football and basketball. There are more than 12 million skateboarders in the United States, according to market research form BoardTrac.

You can find a baseball diamond, a football field and a basketball court in most communities, but not every community provides local skaters with a place to show off their athletic skill, or challenge themselves with new tricks and terrain. This is changing, as more and more communities realize that it's better to provide kids with a safe place to skate than to have them skating on the street and in public places like downtown districts—dangerous for skaters and not always welcome to local businesses.

"According to www.spausa.org, skateparks are the number-one choice for teens when polled by local park and recreation departments," said the team at SITE Design Group, a landscape architecture firm that offers site planning, public facilitation, design, construction documentation and construction management, and is led by Mike McIntyre, who has been skating for more than 20 years.

They also mentioned that the Skate Park Association of the United States of America (SPAUSA) has emphasized that in the 6-to-18 age bracket, skateboarding is one of the most popular sports nationwide. "With such a young population utilizing skate facilities, it makes sense that by providing additional facilities, communities can provide safe places for users to go and take part in constructive activities," they added.

The Skaters for Public Skateparks (SPS) Web site reminds us that skateboarding is an athletic pursuit, and with an obesity epidemic threatening our children, we have to acknowledge skateboarding as a pastime that gets them out from in front of the screen. "Skateboarding builds confidence, fosters discipline and teaches youth the health benefit of staying in shape for life," SPS states.

If you haven't yet added a skatepark to your community, you're likely considering it. And if you've already got a skatepark, you might be looking for ways to increase participation and create new challenges for your skaters. Let's take a look at some of the trends and challenges associated with skatepark planning, design, construction and maintenance.