Ride the New Wave
Skatepark Terrain for the 21st Century
By Kate Bongiovanni
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.
Skateparks across the country offer a variety of features that can appease the skateboarder, as well as the non-skateboarder.
"Terrain means something different to a designer and a skateboarder," Bracali said.
But some of the common terms all skateboarders toss around the park fall into three categories according to Site Design Group, a company specializing in skatepark design and construction:
- Street terrain: curbs, ledges, planters, stairs and handrails
- Street course: pyramids, banks, ledges and quarter-pipes
- Vertical transitional: vert walls, pools and bowls
While Bracali's design is for a street-style park, he said there is a 50-50 split between street and transition-style parks. "The transition style skatepark is growing again," he explained.
Skate plazas utilize real urban architecture like benches, railings and public spaces to meet the needs of skateboarders as well as pedestrians. Until skateboarders were banned from the space in 2002, Love Park in Philadelphia served as an urban plaza for skateboarders.
Flow courses have terrain available for all styles, ages and abilities of skaters with terrain defined as street, street course and vertical transitional. The terrain ranges in style and degree of difficulty.
Concrete skateparks tend to be built in the ground and are the most popular constructed today because of durability for less maintenance and a smooth finish for a better ride.
Hybrids combine features of both above- and below-ground concrete structures (bowls) with modular structures (street courses, mini or vert ramps). Hybrids can also be a combination of flow and street parks, which is deemed ideal to make all users happy. Skaters for Public Skateparks recommends that park terrain be distributed 60 percent street and 40 percent transition depending on the size of the park but says on its Web site that "skaters will enjoy access to a wide variety of terrain types."
Modular parks include above-ground equipment where one can catalog shop for parts to install in a space and either purchase separately or as a set with a preferred layout.
Custom-made parks place a concrete slab and then add above-ground equipment that is specifically designed for that space with the needs of the customer and end-user experience in mind.
Don't let the weather halt the building process of a skatepark. While skateparks can be used year long thanks to durable surfaces and low maintenance requirements, it's possible to build a park in the winter to have it set for primetime when the ground thaws.
Take the skatepark being built at Pine Hill Recreation Area in Washington Township, Penn., for example. While temperatures hovered around freezing, park construction didn't need to stop. In December, workers were installing the concrete structures that will comprise the park by using blowtorches to melt the ice in sub-freezing weather and hauling in pre-manufactured pieces. In this case, five trucks of parts were unloaded for the Pine Hill park, according to Jerry Zeigler, Washington Township Code Enforcement Officer.
Not only does the precast method keep production in full swing, but it also can help cut down on costs. The Pine Hill project is expected to cost approximately $218,000 with funds donated mostly by local residents, and concrete skatepark structures are typically more expensive than other options.
When it comes to building a skatepark, you'll tend to see three types of prevalent materials: concrete, wood and steel. Factors such as budget, mobility, maintenance and skater experience all come into play.
As Skaters for Public Skateparks explains, the indestructible nature and warranty promise of steel ramps make them popular with city officials but leave skateboarders unhappy due to heated surfaces that cause burns, sharp edges and dulling surfaces. Wood can be used for mobile parks, especially to serve as a park when a permanent structure is being built. And the most prevalent material that skateboarders ride is concrete, seen in pop culture magazines and videos and simulating a ride in the streets.
"As far as maintenance, concrete—custom or modular concrete—generally requires the least amount of maintenance or repair, while modular equipment has many individual parts that are held together by fasteners, nuts and bolts, that need to be checked regularly," Vukovich said. "If the skatepark is outdoors and its ramps are wooden, the maintenance will be much more of an issue than with concrete."
For the Tony Hawk Foundation, its grants help fund skatepark projects across the country, giving citizens in underserved areas the opportunity to enjoy a skatepark. Since the foundation's inception in 2002, more than $2 million has been awarded to 365 communities in the United States, and 200 of those skateparks are already open. Vukovich said the foundation's technical assistance program helps review grant applications while providing guidance and feedback to those building public skateparks.
"Skateparks accomplish a number of goals for a community," Vukovich said. "First and foremost, they serve an underserved population of active teens primarily who are forced to skate on the streets where they compete for space with automobiles, or in front of area businesses whose owners kick them out. Skateparks address the shift in focus among young Americans from traditional team sports to individual sports—skateboarding has grown exponentially over the past five or six years while traditional sports are actually losing participants. So communities are making that shift in their resources to address the skaters' needs."
The Paine's Park project in Philadelphia stemmed from the popularity of skateboarding in Love Park—where it's not legal to skate. "The goal initially of the project was to create a free outdoor space skateboarders could use," Bracali said. Bracali became interested in the project after seeing skateboarders on television explain skateboarding in a downtown setting, which helped him see the sport in a setting beyond competition style like the X Games.
Whether it's a street-style plaza that invites skaters and pedestrians alike or a concrete wonder that invites hard-core skaters, skaters will thank you for working with them to create a place to skate legally, and safely.
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