Feature Article - February 2008
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Ride the New Wave

Skatepark Terrain for the 21st Century

By Kate Bongiovanni

kateboarding isn't all about ollies, bunnyhops, grabs and grinds anymore. Just as the tricks are fascinating to the eye, so are the designs of the parks housing the urban and suburban tricksters.

With skateboarding on the constant rise—12 million skateboarders and counting in a $2.8 billion industry according to 2006 survey results from BoardTrac—skateparks are springing up to accommodate the sport's growth. John Bernards, executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), said that there are about 2,500 skateparks with more to come because they can be used yearlong and require little upkeep compared to a Little League ballpark that might cost $5,000 a month to maintain yearlong but is not in use each month.

And while most of the skateboarding population is made up of kids, adults are catching on to the craze. Market research in 2006 from BoardTrac found that 94.8 percent of skateboarders were male with 47 percent ages 12 to 15 and 22.8 percent ages 16 to 19. Bernards said that the IASC is seeing a regeneration of skateboarding among 30-year-olds. "After kids go through college, start having kids, parents are out with their kids," he said. It also helps that there's talk of putting skateboarding in the Olympics—not to mention the large following garnered by the X Games.

With all the skateboarders rolling through the streets—77 percent of skateboarders skate in the street according to a 2005 report, Bernards said—many cities have recognized a need to build skateparks. Yet these skateparks aren't one in the same. Each incorporates the needs of the skateboarder while considering the community's needs as well.


What would a skatepark be without the input of the skateboarder? Miki Vukovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, which helps create free, quality public skateparks in low-income areas, said that skateboarders' involvement helps build more parks. "We consider a city's skatepark the first of many," he said. "We're convinced that local leaders only need to build the first one, at whatever size, the right way, in the right place, with skaters involved to be sure it's what they want to skate, and the success of that park will encourage them to build the next."

Chief Financial Officer of the Washington Street Skatepark in San Diego Thomas Claypool said the park is "skater-designed, -built, -operated and -maintained." Skaters built the park when no skateparks existed in San Diego, then fought to keep the park legally by forming a nonprofit organization to administer the park and having blueprints approved. Claypool said the park was designed very carefully and has all the terrain options you could want if you are creative.

Much like Washington Street, Philadelphia's Paine's Park project along the Schuylkill River, a city park with urban features that will be skateable, also has a nonprofit organization fueling its progress. Anthony Bracali, principal at Friday Architects/Planners, lead design firm for the project, explained that his firm had a contract to design the skatepark for the city of Philadelphia, with the nonprofit acting as a consultant.

Bracali spent two years working with skateboarders through community meetings, questionnaires and design work to develop a feasible design for the space, creating an urban space with skateable elements. While the idea of Paine's Park was to create a legal space to skateboard (unlike Love Park, which has been a popular skating destination), Bracali said he tried not to replicate anything. "We were trying to create a design unique to its site and context," he said.

At the same time, the design process had to change to make the park comfortable for all. "The way most skateparks are being designed, the whole process for designing them is a flawed process because they're being designed around a model that's all about skating terrain," Bracali said. "They don't deal at all with the kinds of other amenities skateboarders need in a skatepark to be comfortable. And that was one of the reasons that Love Park was so attractive to skateboarders."

Bracali explained that Love Park had the terrain skateboarders sought, but also the amenities and attractions that made it a design for the people—like places to sit, shaded areas, a water feature, connections to the neighborhood around it and great views of the surrounding area. "Those were things we tried to address with the project we did here," he said.