Feature Article - January 2004
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Homes for Boarders and Bikers

Ultimate skate park designs for style, safety and performance

By Kyle Ryan

Park types

SPAUSA lists three different types of parks on its Web site: portable/modular, steel-frame and concrete. According to SPAUSA, portable parks range in price from $3,000 to $100,000, with the average 10,000-square-foot park costing $25,000. The components can be made from numerous materials, and the parks are movable and mostly affordable, though they require regular maintenance. Modular parks like these are also easy to expand if money comes in phases.

Steel-frame parks are permanent and have metal or composite skating surfaces. They require some maintenance and are mostly weather-resistant. They're bolted to the existing concrete, but can be reconfigured if necessary. The average 10,000-square-foot steel-frame park starts at $30,000, according to SPAUSA.

Concrete tends to inspire passion from both sides. Drew Hines, president of a skate park design company, says he "doesn't believe" in concrete. While, one design article in TransWorld Skateboarding Business Magazine said there "is no good reason" not to use it. Although building a concrete park is more expensive and complicated, its proponents claim it's time and money well spent.

Depending on the surrounding environment, building a concrete skate park can cost between $10 and $25 per square foot. That means an average 10,000-square-foot park will set you back about $140,000. You've got to plan for drainage, get the right type of concrete and work with experienced builders to pull it off. If building concrete parks is expensive, repairing mistakes makes them more so. Still, they're permanent, flexible and require little maintenance.

Skating surfaces

Just as important as what type of park you have is what the skating surface will be. The wrong surface can wreck even the most perfect construction.

"The surface of a skate park is critical to the functionality of the park," says Mark DiOrio, who works for a surfacing company. "If a surface is too slick, riders will lose control and not be able to perform to their full potential. If the surface is too rough, it will be slow and dangerous when one falls. Surface durability is important to keep the park operational and to reduce maintenance costs."

The general consensus is to avoid wood, which doesn't last long and can be costly to replace. Nonconcrete parks typically use a composite material or powder-coated steel surface.

While there are all sorts of composite ramp surfaces available, one of the most well-known among them is Skatelite. It's made primarily from paper and is heat-sealed to resist water. Its proponents extol its smoothness, its resistance to heat and its minimal maintenance requirements. Skatelite also self-extinguishes in fires and is unaffected by cleansers used to remove graffiti.

Moss, whose company sells Skatelite, contends the wonder material does have some drawbacks. Screws holding Skatelite panels in place on wood-frame ramps will slowly pull out due to the flex of the ramp, so routine checks are necessary.

Even though Skatelite is weather-resistant, it still absorbs water and can suffer from thermal expansion. Although you can allow for expansion by placing panels 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch apart (unnoticeable to skaters), Moss says Skatelite starts to flake away eventually.

Powder-coated steel is another option, though it has the perception of being hot, slick and loud.

Just about anything exposed to the summer sun is going to get hot, metal especially. The concern with steel is that it could burn skaters who fall. Although temperature varies with color, Moss says powder-coated steel doesn't get dangerously hot. The treatment and material used also help absorb sound and grip skateboard wheels well. Steel is also weatherproof, and water can be removed from its surface by using a squeegee.

Finally, there's the hard stuff. Concrete may be a durable material, but using the wrong type can render a park unskateable. The surface has to be smooth, and special attention should be paid to curing the concrete properly (spraying a synthetic resin with a hardening agent to create a protective outer layer), which will help keep the material durable.