Feature Article - February 2012
Find a printable version here

Bring On the Action!

Easy Steps to Introduce Action Sports to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Provide a Venue

Much of what has given skateboarding and other action sports their scary safety reputation is the fact that they're sometimes practiced in the streets—especially when there's no other venue available as an alternative. "Thirty-eight kids were killed on skateboards in 2008," said ASK's Donelon. "And they were all on the street." In 2006 one child was killed after suffering a head injury at a skatepark, "but considering that 10 million kids a year ride in a skatepark, the safety statistics are overwhelming," he said.

Donelon added that once a skatepark is installed, illegal skateboarding decreases in the area by 80 to 90 percent. "Many cities have anxiety about kids skating in public places," he said. "[A skatepark] won't stop that completely, but the reduction is unbelievable."

And if you're still not completely sold on the expense of creating a permanent skatepark, you can even ease into a venue. Rothschild has recommended smaller kits of collapsible skateboarding elements to several of the camps he consults with for the American Camp Association. "The temporary [setups] are good because they can be put away in the winter, and if it's a rainy day, you can set the ramps up in an indoor gym." They're very easy to use and move around, but they're also strong and durable, he said. "Some camps have had them for two or three years and they're still doing great."

Once you are ready for a permanent facility, move forward carefully. Masciocchi said that "working with a professional skatepark design/build firm is critical to the success of facilities."

Other factors to consider include the amount of space you have available and whether your town would most benefit from one larger action sports venue or several smaller ones. With Masciocchi as project manager, Silver Spring, Md,, built the Woodside Skatespot, which is just smaller than 5,000 square feet, within Woodside Urban Park. It was the only space available and had originally been intended for another recreational use, Masciocchi explained. But, after a very popular private skatepark in the area had to close, the Commission received many requests to provide a skateboarding venue in downtown Silver Spring.

Despite the fact that the location was chosen out of necessity, Masciocchi and the skaters in Silver Spring have been pleased with the result. "These smaller skate areas known as 'skatespots' are an option for urban areas with limited space for growth," she said. "Constructing a larger number of smaller parks also helps to distribute skate areas throughout a community."

She explained that many of those who will use an action sports venue are middle-schoolers who can't drive, and she believes they should be the target population considered when planning a community action sports facility. "Older skaters have more options to drive to larger facilities," she said. "In my experience, meetings held to obtain skater input can be dominated by older skaters," she added. "It's important to hear from the middle-school-age group because they can be the bulk of your users."

When planning your venue, it's also important to consider how it will be used. Skateboarders are the poster children for action sports, but once you've built a skatepark, good luck keeping out the BMX bikes, rollerblades and scooters. Unless you have a fantastic budget and can build a separate facility for the BMXers, it's probably best to build a park that can handle all types of wheeled vehicles. This means harder concrete and tougher metal copings, Wixon said. And it's also important to consider the size and spacing of the elements involved, Travis added. "When you build, there are three sizes of ramps and transitions. Smaller and tighter are better for skateboards, and sweeping transitions are better for bikes. If you use something in the middle, what most people do, then everyone can use it."