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 🙂