Feature Article - January/February 2002
Find a printable version here

Rolling Ahead

New skate parks and inline facilities learn from past mistakes

By Stacy St. Clair


To thwart what he considered sub-par parks, the skating star started the Hawk Foundation. The charity provides grants to groups trying to build skate parks—provided they have a proper design and builder.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ATHLETICA

The foundation's first award went to the city of Philadelphia. And there are plans to help some in inner-city schoolyards in Los Angeles, says Lemmon, who often works with the foundation.

"We give grants on the basis that they use people that are experienced and know what they're doing to design the park and build it," Hawk told Big Brother.

If you're still wondering who Hawk is, perhaps a little background is needed on the sport. And, yes, it is a sport. In fact, skate boarding and inline skating are the fastest growing sports in the country.

There are more than 11 million active skaters nationwide, most of them between the ages of 7 and 17. Roughly 80 percent are boys, though the number of girls is growing as more parks are built, and they have more exposure to the sport.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF HUNA DESIGNS
Not just for skaters: BMXers
are calling these facilities home, too.
Ramps should be tough enough to
take on BMX use. The ride surface
should hold up to scrapes from pegs
(at the axles), and the structure
should be solid enough to take the
extra impact a bike can deliver.

"It's only a matter of time," one park designer says. "It's not going to take a federal lawsuit and an entire generation for girls to have accessibility to parks."

The numbers are growing as exponentially each year, industry data shows, as the sport gets more exposure on television and in video games. NBC and FOX occasionally air competitions. Then there's ESPN2, which has made X-Games and skating the cornerstone of its programming.

"It's not a fad," Lemmon says. "The children are our future, and we have to pay attention to them."

The future also holds a major motion picture about Tony Hawk's life. Disney—which owns ESPN—has bought the rights to his life story, meaning we can expect tons of hype and probably a promotional tie-in with some fast-food chain.

Still, naysayers love to compare skate parks and inline hockey rinks to their dearly departed ancestor, the roller-skating rink. Many remember a time when roller rinks were jammed on weekend nights, and it didn't seemed anyone could ever meet the demand.

Then, quicker than you can say "all-skate-change-direction," they disappeared. Done in by waning interest and passing fancy, no one seemed to mourn their extinction.

Around the same time, skateboard parks nationwide began shuttering after enjoying intense popularity in the late 1970s in warmer states. The sudden—and unexpected—closings were directly related to problems with liability insurance, an issue that still haunts skating enthusiasts today.

The "liability excuse" is cited most often today as the reason park districts and municipalities don't want to build parks. Coverage, however, is available, and it's not as expensive as some think. The insurance industry knows the facts: A basketball player is three times more likely than a skater to sustain a major injury. A football player is five times more likely.

The people who use liability or passing fad as an excuse are either don't know the truth or don't want to acknowledge, Lemmon says.

"The people who say that are the ones who don't want to build the parks no matter what," she says.