Skateboarding On Display

What would the history of skateboarding look like in a museum? There are several ways to go, but I have some ideas that I think would show the significant aspects of the history behind skateboarding and its cultural influences in society.

A major transition in skateboarding occurred with the introduction of polyurethane wheels. Before Frank Nasworthy’s invention of urethane wheels for skateboards in 1972, most skate boards were simply boards with roller skate wheels, usually made of clay, fastened to the bottom. These were hard to control and dangerous to ride. Nasworthy’s wheels transformed the sport by giving skateboards more control over their boards and allowing for the low, smooth ride that has been dominate in skateboarding ever since.

A tactile display showing difference between the original clay wheels and the newer polyurethane ones would be interesting. People could actually touch the wheels and get an understanding of why the newer wheels were able to grip the ground better, giving the skaters better control.

Original wheels

Polyurethane wheels

As the sport itself matured, skateboards evolved, changing to reflect what was going on in the sport. Another interesting display could show the different evolutions of the boards along with a description of the major influences in skating when that board evolution was popular.

The evolution of skateboards.

Much of the success of the sport of skateboarding has been attributed to a few specific people, namely Zephyr and his skate team -> the most famous of which were Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta and Jay Adams. A display that gives a brief description of the dogtown boys and the Zephyr skate team as well as their contribution to the sport would be a must in a museum exhibit dedicated to skateboarding.

Through the years different types of skateboards have come about. There are shorter boards that allow for more control and are used mainly for tricks. There are also long boards that are used more for speed instead of tricks. An interesting display could have each different type of board with a video display showing how that board is used.

A lot of this blog has covered the interplay between skateboarding and parks. A museum exhibit could easily cross into that by giving a section over to “the perception of space.” This could not only cover the role parks have played for skateboarders, but it could also brave showing the general public the skateboarders’ interpretation of space and architecture. It was mentioned earlier, in another blog, that Iain Borden, author of Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body, said “Skateboarders…first understood space as a pre-existent natural phenomenon…skaters responded to urban space in a more deliberate and substantive manner,” in reference to found public space. Borden’s views as well as many other views from within the skateboarding world could be included to create a unique perspective of space and how to interact with it. The contrast between “found space,” such as parking lots, town plazas or other public areas, and “constructed space,” such as skate parks, skate plazas, and private skate arenas, could be included in the display. Skater views concerning what the differences are and what their preferences are could be a great contribution.

I believe that the entire display should have a chronological order to it. As you walk in, you are introduced to the beginnings of skateboarding and how it became popular. From there you move on to the different evolutions of skateboards and what eras they belonged to. James Davis, author of Skateboarding Is Not A Crime: 50 Years of Street Culture, told of how the music of skateboarding evolved along with the sport. A background soundtrack that reflects the era in skate culture that Davis was talking about could help to bring that evolution home to that audience.

Just like in the last post, I’m sure there are a lot of people who have a lot of good ideas for something like this. If you have any ideas for a project of this sort, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas 🙂


The Means Behind the Madness

So far we’ve covered a lot. From the beginning of parks to modern day skate parks. What does this all mean? Iain Borden explained how skaters have perceived space and architecture differently from other other people. He said that “This is one of skateboarding’s central features, adopting and exploiting a given terrain,” and using it for their own distinct purposes. As parks began to take on a more utilitarian role in society and people started to control park landscapes more, the inevitability of skate culture intertwining with the evolution of parks was being solidified. Skaters rely on architecture to challenge themselves in their sport. Parks came to create unique architecture that would provide such challenges.

The major convergence between parks and skate culture began to happen in the mid 1960s. In 1966 a skatepark opened in Carlsbad, CA, but it only had some shallow concrete hills and did not provide much of a challenge. A couple of other skateparks opened in other parts of the country that same year. Another wave of skateparks opened up in the early 1970s. This one was directed toward commercial skaters. By the late 1970s, skateparks were popping up all over the place. (Borden)

Because parks have been seen as places to relax, many times there has been opposition from community members when skateparks were proposed in an area. People didn’t like the idea of having their parks used by teens for “active” recreation. This type of thinking has created obstacles for people like Lou Andrade from the Hayward Area Recreation and Parks District (H.A.R.D.) to overcome. According to Andrade, this attitude extends beyond skating and into any youth activity that people can perceive as threatening. He told me about an incident in a park where a fight from the basketball court spilled out into the playground. The neighbors freaked out and had the courts shut down. They wanted them shut down permanently, but some local homeowners, guys in their 20s and 30s who played basketball, didn’t like that idea. They got together and raised some money to have the basketball courts moved away from the playground. Some of the neighbors still threw a fit, but the project went through and there weren’t any more problems. According to Andrade, this kind of public attitude exists toward teens in general. Most people think that any teens who are engaging in recreation without some sort of strict structure enforced are up to no good. That just isn’t true, plain and simple.

Here in the Bay Area, especially in the Hayward Area, a lot of effort has been made to bridge this gap…to educate people concerning the importance of unstructured recreation, especially for older adolescents. The majority of park systems all over the place focus on young children and older generations. Almost any park you go to will have a playground, benches, maybe a grill or two, a place to feed the birds and just enjoy the beauty of the place. Sometimes there are ball fields or volleyball nets, but there is rarely anywhere for adolescents to engage in singular activity. Skateparks change that. One kid with a skateboard can come into a skatepark and engage in activity without having to form a team. This opens more possibilities for kids. If there are more kids at the park, they can work together and trade tricks. If not, the kid can practice alone. Either way, the activity is not contingent upon having people there to play with. Lou Andrade said he wished there were more sports other than skateboarding and basketball that provided this kind of individuality that he could program for.

This is an ongoing, developing story. Not everyone in the Bay Area is as receptive or accepting of skate culture as Hayward is. In Pleasanton there seems to be a general sentiment that skateboarding is detrimental to the kids’ mental health. The opposition to the skatepark addition in Golden Gate Park shows that San Francisco has its own issues with skate culture. (SF Examiner) This is further exemplified by the strict rules concerning skateboard enforced by San Francisco State University.

How this all will play out is a mystery. There is a lot left to look into. I’ve looked at how parks evolved into skateparks, but there is a lot of evolution concerning skateparks themselves. I touched a little bit on the transition from traditional parks into skate plazas, but there is a lot to cover in between. If we ignore the nuances over seas and just stick to California and the Bay Area, skate parks differ in many ways.

Skatepark in Escondido, CA.

The above ground structures, like the one in Escondido, CA feature mostly ramps and rails. Depending on the types of ramps used, they are often considered to be beginner or intermediate parks. Some of these parks can feature some challenging ramps for advanced skaters. Every once in a while you’ll see one that also features pipes, but usually those come with integrated above ground and in ground parks.

There are also quite a few in ground versions, mostly meant to imitate pools, like the one in Etnies Skatepark of Lake Forest, CA.

Proposed park in San Luis Obispo.

More elaborate parks have come about as well, like the one in Anaheim, CA and a similar proposed one in San Luis Obispo. The unique channels and bowls of this type of park set it apart.

The evolution of these parks seems to reflect Iain Borden’s interpretation of skaters seeing space and architecture from a unique perspective. As the unique space of these parks evolves, perhaps that perspective can gradually begin to permeate into other aspects of society. Until society understands the attraction skaters have to certain types of architecture, we will not understand the evolution of the architectural aspects of parks into skate parks, nor will we understand the divergent paths of different types of skateparks. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, and a lot of areas left open for discussion. I’m sure there are many things that I have not covered here that someone else would be able to see as a potential off-shoot from this topic. Feel free to pursue any subject that interests you…you have my permission 🙂

Back to Park History

It seems that California Urban developers were seeing the importance of urban park space around the turn of the twentieth century. In the San Francisco Call on May 7, 1891 an article talks about park evolution in England. It refers to parks first being reserved for the elite, then being opened for public use. It goes to talk about the beauty of parks. The title of the article is “Urban Oasis” so it makes sense that beauty would be a theme. The article seemed to be aimed at arousing public interest in creating parks in San Francisco.

March 7, 1909 – the San Francisco Call published a letter from the distinguished landscape artist, Charles Mulford, to Mayor Mott of Oakland. The Mayor had been politically criticized for his establishment of parks and attempts to beautify the city. According to Mulford, “in a political campaign candidates are attacked for all sorts of things, but this work as a cause for attack it is certainly something unique. To me it is almost funny.” He goes on to talk about Mayor Motts progressiveness, then talks about the importance of parks themselves saying, “The value of the parks to the community itself, a value that will continue to grow each year: the pleasure they will bring to all the citizens especially those who cannot afford large gardens and play spaces of their own.”

Creating these urban utopias wasn’t cheap. A lot of times they were part of large urban development projects. August 17, 1912 the San Francisco Call printed an article depicting how the Urban Realty Improvement company was shelling out $1.5 million for a development project that would include homes and parks.

Once the fervor of actually having urban parks started to wear off, the question of “what should we do with them?” began to creep out. One thing a lot of people noticed was how “open” early parks were. April 29, 1922 the Pacific Rural Press put out an article discussing the need for shade and ornamental trees.

Part of the beauty of the parks became the man-made architecture. Not just the placement of shade trees and benches to affect the look and feel of the place, but the strategic placement of monuments, fountains, ornamental walkways and other structures. Parks became large pallets for creative minds. National Park Service sought that “harmony of a building with the landscape” much like any other park district and employed the services of horticulturalist and landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing to achieve their goals.

Today, the beauty of a park comes not from extraordinary architecture. Nor does it come from its roots in nature. The beauty of a park comes from the integration of urban life with the natural environment. The concept of harmonious coexistence gives the parks their timeless charm.

Issues with parks have evolved — they have become more complicated. Urban centers have become more and more crowded. Everyone believes that they are entitled to their own piece of public space, yet there is only so much public space to go around. With huge corporations coming in and buying what little public space is left and destroying the recreational land we have, that space is decreasing while the demand for it is increasing. While talking to the twenty-one year old skater, Ricky a couple of weeks ago, he told me about a grueling battle to save park space that nobody wanted — until it started being used. The concept that somebody else was actually using the land spurred Caltrans to take it away. People who use parks understand that at the peak of the season the parks are usually full. Use of the facilities can be difficult because everyone else is using them, too.

Bordertown - The skatepark that Ricky is fighting to save.

This brings us to the concept of using a park for dangerous sports. In such crowded conditions an already dangerous sport can become even more dangerous. This is where I find stereotypes about skaters being mean and violent inconsistent with the realities of the sport. If these guys didn’t treat each other with respect, there would most likely be a lot more injuries than there are. This also brings up another issue: Street skating.

According to Iain Borden, “Skateboarders…first understood space as a pre-existent natural phenomenon…skaters responded to urban space in a more deliberate and substantive manner.” In other words, the space was there, and they could use it. Borden talks about the skaters creative interpretations of urban architecture, a perspective that is lacking from traditional historic views. He believes that architectural histories tend to revolve around construction rather than the structure’s actual history. “Architecture does…have a meaning. But its meaning is neither fixed nor internalized.” He believes that the architecture of a building or structure is remade over and over throughout its history based on the experiences of those within and around it.

Stereotypes mentioned earlier as well as limited space and confusing laws lead to unpleasant situations. November 26, 2009 the Peninsula Beacon printed a letter to the editor from an unhappy mother. She depicted a situation where her son, a professional skateboarder, was giving lessons at a San Diego skatepark. A police officer came in and kicked everyone out. The reason the officer gave was that they were not wearing protective gear. The issue with that is the law says that the city is not liable for injuries, the city does not have jurisdiction and that the actual facility has to set the rules concerning safety equipment. Since it is a city park, according to the angry mother, the city should simply post a sign that says skate at your own risk and send the police to catch actual criminals rather than harass kids.

This incident brings up a big question: If kids are being harassed by police for skating in the parks designed for them to skate in, where are they supposed to skate? They get in trouble for skating on sidewalks, on streets, in parking lots — now they are being harassed for skating the parks that are designed for them to skate in. For some reason I have visions of Footloose in my head. The idea of taking fun from kids because of irrational fears is ludicrous to me. In Footloose, dancing was banned because it would lead to drinking, sex and wild behavior. In this case people are afraid that skating will lead to violence and I don’t know what else. Like Footloose, the fears about skating are unfounded. Some communities seem to be realizing that. I hope that others follow suit.

H.A.R.D. and Ghosts

I was finishing up some business I had with one of the directors of the Hayward Area Recreation and Parks District, Lou Andrade, when he mentioned that H.A.R.D. had put out a historical brochure a couple of years ago. I decided to head over to the main office and see if I could check it out. The brochure is pretty interesting. Covering the time spanning from its inception in 1944 until the turn of the twenty-first century, it gives a brief description of how H.A.R.D. came to be and what it does for the community.

Hayward Area Recreation and Park District: A Brief History 1944 - 2000

The third page of this booklet gives the H.A.R.D. mission statement which “is dedicated to improving the quality of life for citizens of all ages by providing a variety of recreational activities, special events, facilities, and services that encourage life-long learning fitness and fun.” This shows a commitment to the community that has been embedded from the start.

H.A.R.D. solidified through a community effort out of a number of other organizations, including the W.P.A. Members of the community went to the Hayward City Council with a report in 1941. They wanted a study to establish “an ongoing recreation and park program.” December 11, 1944 – The Park District was created after the residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of it.

The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District is considered a “special district.” This means that in the eyes of the state of California, it is its own governmental body in a specifically defined space. The Wright Act of 1887 allowed communities to establish special districts which elected or appointed board members who would govern independently within the limits given by the state’s constitution and laws. Special districts can tax, decide what types of services to provide, sell bonds, and create their own administrative structures. Special recreation and parks districts have shown that they can satisfy the needs of their communities by cooperating with government to avoid duplicating services.

H.A.R.D. offers a wealth of programs and services to people of all ages. From Senior programs and programs for the disabled to the Youth Enrichment Program, this booklet gives a brief description of just about everything H.A.R.D. offers. In the back of the brochure there is a map showing the different parks and facilities run by H.A.R.D.

Map of H.A.R.D. Locations

Run by H.A.R.D. is Mervin Morris Park, across from Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo. A feature of this park is Cameron’s Skate Area. I spoke to Lou Andrade about the history behind this. The concept of adding a skate element had already been considered. The idea was put aside because of lack of support, even though the location was ideal. The park offered excellent visibility. The proximity to the high school also made it attractive for a positive alternative for teen recreation. The idea was revived when a home-schooled young man approached H.A.R.D. wanting to know what needed to be done to get a skatepark. The boy and his mother suggested the Mervin Morris site. The Board recommended that they get community support and to raise some money for the project. He was able to gain support from the home owner’s association and even raise $5000. This project allowed the playground to be moved closer to the bathrooms, which a lot of people found to be positive. The skate area was named for the boy who made it all happen.

I find it interesting that in San Francisco skaters are trying to find community support to expand facilities on the the southeastern side of Golden Gate Park. It seems that the community may not be as receptive as the one in Hayward, though the park service is still considering the expansion. I hope that they go through with it. Parks and recreation services all over spend so much time focusing on the needs of small children and the elderly that they neglect the needs of everyone else in between. Places like skate parks and dog parks make up that difference.

On a side note, while looking through things having to do with skating I found some interesting things online. It seems that there are some skaters haunting places in California. In Merced there is said to be a headless skater who haunts the Applegate Skate Park. There is also apparently a little boy in Simi Valley with scraped up arms and face who will skate away on his skateboard at unimaginable speed when somebody tries to help him.

Skaters Speak

While digging through the history of Bay Area skaters, it is inevitable that I’d come across Thrasher Magazine. Eric Swenson, Craig Stecyk, and Fausto Vitello, founders of the magazine, started it in the Bay Area. The most prominent thing skaters talk about is…skating: how to skate, new moves, who is performing the latest moves, and most importantly–where are the best places to skate. Thrasher Magazine put out a special edition called, “Epic Spots: The Places You Must Skate Before You Die.” This covers the most epic skate spots around the world. Believe it or not, California carries a lot of space on the list of epic spots. The Bay Area holds its own as well. The book shows detailed pictures of street spots and certain intersections that offer skaters a wide range of challenges. Each picture is accompanied by a short description of what and where it is. Many of the spots listed are public domain, therefore they are subject to local laws–if skateboarding is illegal in that area, people could be ticketed or worse for doing so. Others are private facilities, such as the Pink Motel in Los Angeles. According to Thrasher, “this mellow, whale-shaped pool is skateable only to those with money to spend.”

Bay Area places to skate are changing–shifting. The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District has been increasing the number of skateparks in their district. According to one of the directors, youth activities, including skateboarding, are important to the Park District. Of course while the Park District increases the amount of skateparks they have, they also increase the amount of control they have over the sport. Ricky, a twenty-one year old local skater, has been involved in trying to create independent places to skate for many years now. Bordertown and Wasteland were built and run by skaters. These locations were well off the beaten path–away from people so the skaters could practice their sport without the fear of harming anyone else. According to Ricky, Caltrans had no interest in the land the skaters used until after they used it. At the Wasteland site, Caltrans made a deal with them to move their skate facility away from the support beams and they would not destroy it. The skaters, complied, moving it into an empty field away from the beams. A few weeks later Caltrans went ahead with the demolition. At this point Caltrans is wanting to demolish the other skater built park, Bordertown. Ricky expressed his exasperation and acceptance that he is probably on the losing end of the battle, but he still wants his voice heard. He only wishes he could have free reign to build his own park, without the politics and without interference from others. He also said that he’s like to be able to sit down with Caltrans and work things out in an equitable manner. If only the big companies were interested in being equitable…

Beyond needing a place to skate, there is a general perception that skaters are troublemakers. This perception has led to anti-skating laws and skaters being arrested simply for skating which precipitates the perception of troublemaking. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s interesting to note the varied responses concerning this cycle and views on authority from skaters themselves. Much like many other aspects of life, skating becomes a part of you. For some people, that need feel a board beneath their feet is simply part of who they are. Rudy Bazorda tells a story about going to Trader Joe’s during its busy time and having to take several passes around the parking lot on his board because of the crowd before reaching the object of his desire–a curb at the edge of the lot. He drew a lot of attention in the process, and could imagine their thoughts all along. Bazorda asks, “Why is it criminal to view architecture and public property as open to creative interpretation, especially when there is no property damage or measurable problem?” That is a very interesting question indeed.

Public perception can shape the direction of a subculture or community. As Albert Camarillo points out in his article, “Cities of Color: The New Racial Frontier in California’s Minority-Majority Cities,” outside perception concerning what happens inside a neighborhood affects what actually does happen sometimes. When the rest of the world sees the neighborhood as low-class, crime-ridden and laden with drugs, it will affect property values as well as who wants to live there. The same is true for a sub-culture. If the outside world views it as undesirable, those views can affect how that sub-culture will react and who will want to be laden with that stigma by becoming a member.

Satva Leung tells an epic story of mistaken intentions. He was building speed for a trick, a cop thought Satva was trying to run from him. The outcome was less than ideal. According to Satva, “A lot of cops are on some power trip when they arrest kids for skateboarding. They say we don’t have anything better to do than destroy public property.” He thinks the cops should find something better to do than harass kids for having fun. Garet O’keefe expresses that this may be the product of a clash of two separate subcultures. He claims to be “a good white boy who never got in much trouble with John Q. Law” for skateboarding. O’keefe believes that non-skating officers may not be able to understand the emotions involved when a skater creates. On the flip-side, when confronted by the officer, a skater may challenge his/her authority and/or fail to recognize the officer’s ignorance or even jealousy. “At that intersection of two subcultures, conflicts inevitably arise because of myopia in both directions.”