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.

Skater Speak/Board Talk

Street style versus transitional. Snakerun bowls versus rails. These are just a few of the terrain options skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX bikers look for:

Bank: an elevated surface that's a more urban form of a ramp

Bowl: similar to a swimming pool in terms of shape and sometimes size but leave out the water; a half sphere with a diameter of 8 to 9 feet

Cradle: can be helmet-shaped where skaters can attempt a 180; a quarter sphere dome inverted

Empty space: pertaining mostly to street-style parks to have some flat open space for the skateboarder to express creativity and use it wisely

Flat rail: a low steel beam that's built into a flat concrete surface at a specific height, also known as grind rail

Full-pipe: typically constructed of wood or cement, this ramp is shaped like a large pipe

Funbox: this artificial street platform features banked sides with either a ledge or handrail; combines features of a pyramid, hubba ledge, ledge and rail into one structure

Half-pipe: this half of a full-pipe features a flat piece at the bottom and the top sides of both ramps have metal pipes attached

Handrail: take a flat rail and make it more advanced by making it steeper and setting it next to a set of stairs

Hip: set two ramps next to each other at a specific angle

Hubba: this wider ledge looks like a concrete banister at an entrance to a building and is a popular street obstacle

Kicker: this wooden plate has one side set higher than the other

Ledges: these blocks on concrete are typically straight, flat and long but can ascend or descend and have curves

Manual pad: a simple slab of concrete found in almost every skatepark; can extend over declines or stairs, or have rails attached; very versatile

Quarter-pipe: this quarter of a full-pipe is found in street skateboarding; its bottom includes a metal piece to make it smoother and its top has metal pipes attached

Pool: think swimming pool all the way down to shape, size, varying depth and décor; it's the place for advanced skaters to tear it up

Pyramid: can be approached from any direction, height can vary depending on the space and speed available; this versatile structure with a flat top requires opposing flat banks to build speed

Ramp: designed to skate on and can be made of cement or wood

Snakerun: banked sides run along a downhill path

Spine: construct by putting two ramps together with facing back sides

Stairsets: typically found next to a ledge, hubba ledge or rails and can have three stairs, five stairs or more to create advanced tricks

Street: contains objects skateboarders typically find on the street like curbs, kickers and grindrails

Wallride: taking a skateboard onto a vertical wall

SOURCE: www.how2skate.com and Skaters for Public Skateparks, www.skatersforpublicskateparks.org

Skateparks for the skate stranger

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.

Bike Versus Board

Even with an estimated 12 million skateboarders in the United States, according to BoardTrac, many skateparks open their gates for other wheels as well. Not only will a skatepark see its fair share of skateboard traffic, but some allow the use of inline skates and BMX bikes. According to the BMX Riders Organization, BMX has a foundation in skateboarding, and for park-style riding BMX bikers utilize ramps and skateparks. The BRO Web site states that "because the terrain in skateparks is so unique, it is the favored discipline of many riders."

Yet while some park districts and cities are building multi-use facilities for all, others are barring BMX riders from their parks. Take Corpus Christi, Texas, where the Parks and Recreation Department announced in March 2007 that it was banning BMX bikes from its new skatepark because the bikes caused damage to the metal pegs in the park's concrete. The park opened in February 2007, first with a rule stating that bicycles could only use the Corpus Christi Skatepark on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, then a sign posted that bicycles are only allowed on the ramps on Wednesdays. As reported by local TV station KRIS, skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX riders used the facility on what was technically a bike-only day. With the ban, the bike riders switched to skateboards or the street to get in their riding experience.

At the Grayson Skatepark in Charlotte, N.C., a schedule is set for when bikes can be in use at the facility. As posted on the skatepark's Web site, Sunday is a BMX-only day, Saturday is for skateboards only, and mixed usage is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

BRO explains that the reason for the schedule for bikes and skateboards at the skateparks is not so much one of preventing use or mixing vehicles but of crowding. "It is no surprise that public skateparks are sometimes crowded: Bikes, boards and blades are popular with kids today," BRO said. "If a park is too crowded, separate hours can be set aside for BMX riders."

Skater-designed, -built, -operated and -maintained, the Washington Street Skatepark in San Diego at West Washington and the Pacific Coast Highway keeps bikers at bay. "Skateboards only, no exceptions," said Thomas Claypool, chief financial officer of the park.

Skaters for Public Skateparks asserts that both bikers and skateboarders seek recreational outlets, so it makes sense for BMX bikers to want to ride in a skatepark. However, the organization recognizes that having riders and boarders in the same facility can be potentially fatal from a safety standpoint, much like mixing dogs and children or cyclists with joggers. SPS says on its Web site, "Recreation personnel must determine what represents a safe mix of bikers and skateboarders within an enclosed and often crowded skateboard park."

But in terms of bikes damaging a skatepark beyond normal wear and tear, materials are available to mitigate damage from bikes, albeit sometimes for an additional cost. SPS explains that coping, high-quality steel edging, can alleviate bike damage, but it costs more to install and can weaken the experience for the skateboarder. Concrete with a higher PSI does stand a chance to withstand the extra pressure of handlebars, pedals and pegs from the bikes. Parks and recreation departments need to weigh these in terms of budget constraints.

Yet skateparks aren't all following the path of shutting out the BMX rider. In Glendale, Ariz., BMX riders fought to have a multi-use facility in operation without all the rules and schedules of other facilities. X-Court opened in October 2007 and allows bikes, skateboards, inline skates and all other non-motorized wheels at all times, plus it's free.


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.

Material possessions

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."

Go Skateboarding Day

Skateboarders of all ages take the skateparks by storm every year on June 21 for Go Skateboarding Day. It's a chance for skateboarders, those who want to try the sport and those inspired by skateboarding to stop everything and pick up a skateboard to go for a ride.

Kids post events at the Go Skateboarding Day Web site, www.goskateboardingday.org, which serves as a general posting site and last year received roughly 800,000 hits on event day and had 600 events posted in 40 countries worldwide, according to John Bernards, executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC). The event also gathers interest through videos posted on YouTube and MySpace, through skateboarding magazines and through skateboard retailers. "We're going to promote it pretty heavily this year," Bernards said. "We're in the business to promote skateboarding and increase participation."

Started in 2004 by the IASC, the event remains on the same date regardless of the day of the week. "We were looking to have a day for kids to skate where they'll actually go out and do it," Bernards said. "It's an individual sport, but kids tend to do it together…get together and have fun."

June 21 falls on a Saturday in 2008, and Bernards believes that the weekend date can only help the event. In 2007, Bernards said approximately 1,000 kids packed into Chicago skateparks to participate, and he recounted kids rolling into skateparks in Costa Mesa and Lake Forest, Calif., after 3 p.m. when school got out. "Kids were skating in from everywhere," he said. "And they skated from store to store to store."

But it's not just for the kids: Retailers see a 25 percent increase in sales because of Go Skateboarding Day and get involved at the local skateparks setting up tents or hosting events. Bernards said that the IASC plans to have contests with retailers around the country this year, offering incentives to stores that produce the best window displays or post pictures of their local events.

For more information about Go Skateboarding Day and past events, visit www.goskateboardingday.org.

Community projects

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.

What You Need to Know

When it comes to skatepark design and development, one resource to consult is The Public Skatepark Development Guide. A collaboration between the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), Skaters for Public Skateparks and the Tony Hawk Foundation, this A-to-Z guidebook to building a skatepark is sent out to 2,500 parks and recreation departments across the country.

John Bernards, the executive director of the IASC, said it serves as an instruction manual to building a skatepark. "It's a guide for how to go about building a park, who to go to in the city, what your steps have to be," he explained.

It also includes detailed information, down to the terrain and the types of cement to use. "It gets very technical when it gets to the building of it," Bernards said.

Free for city officials and skatepark advocates—you only need to cover the cost of shipping—the guide directs you to the proper resources, explains the need for a quality skatepark, and covers industry statistics, building tips and successful ways to open and manage the facility. It's written by top skateboard advocates and provides explanations in an easy-to-follow format, complete with illustrations, pictures, forms and worksheets, for skatepark aficionados of all ages. This guide for skatepark advocates became available for the first time in 2007.

For more information or to order a copy, check out www.skateparkguide.org.

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