The central challenge for skatepark advocates is to influence the process of hiring a skatepark vendor that will produce the best skatepark possible. Skatepark quality is a difficult thing to describe. Skaters know that the line between a perfect ledge and one that is unskateable is very thin, and hiring a skatepark vendor that isn’t sensitive to the nuances of skateparks and skateboarding will probably end up delivering something that looks like a miniature X-Games skatepark from 1998 but with more flaws.
A risk that all skatepark advocates are aware of is that unqualified skatepark vendors fail to understand how flaws in skatepark design and construction can impact the usability of a facility. Hundreds of skateparks across the nation do not perform as well as they might due to flaws in the design or construction that are, by most accounts, easily avoided.
Common mistakes by inexperienced skatepark vendors:
Bulges and slumps
Subtle undulations in the skating surface are “tripping hazards” for skateboarders. Variances that are invisible to the eye affect the moving skateboard as abrupt speed changes and can easily throw the rider off the board.
Coping, the raised lip at the top of quarterpipes and “roundwall,” provides the skater with tactile feedback. A broad array of tricks are based on the skateboard’s interaction with the coping. When the coping is set incorrectly—either too much coping is revealed or not enough—it changes the character and usability of the structure that it’s connected to. An experienced skatepark vendor knows instinctively how much coping reveal is appropriate for each area of the park.
Insensitive Park Layout
The design and construction of the structures is as important as how those structures orient to each other. Inexperienced skatepark vendors frequently fail to position elements in a way that provides maximum usability and enjoyment from the structures.
Inappropriate Scales and Sizes
Inexperienced skatepark vendors often perpetuate the misunderstanding that smaller structures are easier to interact with than larger ones. In general the opposite is true. Small rails and quarterpipes are, for the most part, more difficult to learn on (much less do tricks on) than the same types of structures that are larger.
Most of these decisions are not the result of intentional deceit but rather of a genuine desire to provide the best skatepark possible. It’s important that advocates understand that preventing unqualified companies from being involved in the skatepark is not an issue over “desire” to produce an excellent skatepark, but rather of the company’s capacity to consistently deliver excellent results. If a company is eager to excuse or apologize for their past work (“oh, we don’t do things that way anymore”), it’s a pretty good sign that they’re willing to learn how to do skateparks at a community’s expense.
These are some of the reasons that preventing inexperienced skatepark vendors from designing or building the skatepark is a source of anxiety for most skatepark advocates. It is often one of the first topics discussed by a core group. Understanding the vendor-hiring process is the first step in ensuring that your new park is designed and built by only qualified companies.
Methods for Ensuring Quality Vendors
There is no guarantee that the skatepark you’ve worked so hard for will turn out as good as or better than you expected, but there are lots of things you can do as an advocate or an administrator that will improve those odds significantly.
1. Lead the Discussion
Some advocacy groups are led by their city administrators. They perform those activities that are asked of them, but leave the planning to the City. A better arrangement is a peer relationship with the City where the advocates lead the way. The responsibility of achieving this kind of partnership lies with the advocates. As an advocate, you must continue to increase your knowledge of skatepark development and be aware of trends in the industry. A great way to do this is to reach out to other skatepark advocates across the nation and share your observations. They, in turn, will share theirs and you’ll pick up valuable tips on how to reaffirm your role as community leaders.
When an advocacy group researches skatepark development and are able to approach their city leaders with a schedule, cost estimates, and strategy for gathering community support, the city leaders should respond accordingly. Conversely, when an advocacy group approaches the city with a list of desires and needs, and no plan for achieving those things, the city leaders see the skatepark project as a burden.
2. Warn of Approaching Obstacles
No skatepark was ever built expecting to be a failure, yet failed skateparks happen. They fail when advocates and planners fail to recognize critical developmental decisions.
Recognizing and anticipating the risks in skatepark development provides an enormous value to the effort. Most advocates soon realize that city administrators do not have the time to investigate the pitfalls in skatepark development and, as a result, may blindly walk into them. The advocate can help by warning of approaching risks to the park’s quality and prioritize the local skateboarding community’s interests accordingly.
Some common risks include (in order of frequency):
- Enlisting a skatepark vendor’s assistance in planning and preliminary design
- Wholly trusting non-skateboarders with critical developmental decisions
- Basing critical development decisions on baseless community fears
- Putting the size of a facility over its quality
- Publicly discussing skatepark locations prematurely
- Failing to establish positive relationships with other community organizations
- Not plotting a diverse and sustained fundraising program
3. Be Engaged in Selection Process
At some point in the process, skatepark advocates and city administrators must have a conversation that starts with “How do we ensure that we hire the most qualified skatepark builders for our project?”
There are several ways to reduce the risk of unqualified skatepark vendors from bidding on your project. Advocates will need to work directly with their city administrators to ensure that all priorities are agreed upon and aligned.
One way is to establish a requirement for certain qualifications from all bidders. Those qualifications might include:
- References from the company’s previous three skatepark projects
- Evaluation of the bidder’s proposal will take into account project approach, vendor experience, and quality of previous projects
These two items allow the review board to assess the company proposals based NOT just on the proposed price but also on qualities that are critical to skateboarders’ interests.
There will likely be other methods that provide greater control over whom is hired to design and build your skatepark. Finding those opportunities is the result of open communication with your city leaders about the risks inherent in skatepark development.
All three of these strategies for ensuring quality work require that the skatepark advocates are a trusted, respected presence at all discussions pertaining to the skatepark. For advocates, this is the “sweet spot” of their involvement. Almost all problems that emerge in skatepark development are ultimately the result of the skateboarding community not being involved in the decision-making process.