Skateparks: Skatepark Evolution
The 'New' Concrete Skatepark
By Jim Moss
kateboarding has experienced many changes over the past 60 years. In the beginning, no one really knew how advanced and complicated the riders' maneuvers would become when they were simply standing on a board that was rolling down the street. However, as the tricks became more complex, so did the need for better equipment. The long, pointed skateboards with wide wheels used when the sport began have given way to faster, lighter, better balanced boards with many available options, from board width to wheel size. Unrelated industries' rapidly increasing technology in the areas of product materials and engineering have brought skateboarding along for the ride.
However, the skateboards themselves were only part of the sport's evolution. The skateparks on which they were ridden also had a long way to go in order to keep pace with the ever-increasing level of rider expertise. Empty concrete swimming pools, stormwater drains, and city sidewalks and ledges were, by default, the first skateparks. Obviously, none of these skateable locations were specifically designed or built to be skated. Nevertheless, the creativity for which skaters have become known made just about any concrete surface they could find a great place to skate.
Later, as skateboarding popularity grew, actual concrete skateparks were designed and built, using the only available methods of the time, which were to pour in place or use shotcrete. Most of the time, local contractors were used to perform the work, which was unlike their typical flatwork construction projects, making the park construction a very long and costly process. Furthermore, in many cases, the results were wavy transitions, incorrectly placed coping, and ready-mix concrete that did not have the necessary strength to withstand the day-to-day abuse of skateboards, let alone BMX bikes. Although definitely an improvement over the swimming pools and drains that preceded them, the lacking precision and strength of these cast-in-place parks left much room for improvement.
Since those early skating days, concrete has made tremendous advancements in how it is made as well as the applications for which it is made. Perhaps the greatest leap forward has been the development of precast concrete. Like pre-manufactured homes, precast concrete is made in a factory-controlled environment, which increases quality and maximizes efficiency. In short, it provides production-line quality in a compressed time frame.
Precast concrete was developed, in large part, for very large construction items. Bridges, overpasses, office buildings and stadiums are now constructed of precast panels, some of which are more than 300 feet in length. The advantages of using precast concrete are very simple: superior precision, greater strength and quicker completion. Although this new technology was not developed specifically for building skateparks, it has addressed the issues of quality, maintenance and lead time that have been drawbacks for pour-in-place skateparks for many years.
Superior quality in precast ramps is achieved by using precision-cut molds, which guarantee a perfect radius on every ramp and create completely smooth riding surfaces with no hand finishing. These molds also ensure perfect coping placement. Precasting the ramps allows all of the difficult elements of a concrete skatepark to be formed in the factory, leaving only flatwork to be done on site.
The strength of precast concrete ramps usually exceeds 8,000 psi versus the 3,500 to 4,000 psi that is typical for ready-mix concrete. This increased strength is attained through higher cement content than ready-mix, as well as chemical additives that only work well in a controlled precast environment. Silica fume is used to dramatically increase the strength and life span of the ramps. Micro-air is used to regulate the air content of the concrete, which allows the moisture room to expand and contract through freeze-thaw cycles without cracking. Concrete this strong is ideal to withstand the punishment of skateboard trucks and bike pegs. Due to this kind of durability, precast ramps come with a 15-year warranty, which is simply not offered by any pour-in-place contractors.
Construction lead time for traditional pour-in-place concrete skateparks is measured in months. Precise excavation work is required to make the terrain itself the shape of the ramps. The rebar must be fabricated on site and set throughout the park before the pouring begins. The pours themselves require time-consuming hand finishing. Three to six months of on-site construction is the norm. On the other hand, precast concrete construction time is measured in weeks instead of months. This, again, is possible because the precast molds take care of the precision ramp forming. With the precast ramps, ledges and retaining walls being delivered to the site, setting the ramps and pouring the flatwork can literally be completed in one to two weeks.
Precasting has revolutionized the concrete construction industry, and now skateboarding is taking advantage of this technology. Clearly precast is the future of concrete skateparks, offering a better quality product that will be constructed in much less time, yet last much longer.
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