Skatepark design as a whole can be broken into two main categories. There is usability, how the park is used by skaters, and functionality, how the park is used by the broader public and skaters when they’re not physically rolling around the facility.
- Visibility (within the skating area)
- Stylistic discipline
- Visibility (into and around the park)
- Safety and Drainage
- Aesthetic Appeal, Landscaping
- Spatial and budgetary constraints/opportunities
- Security, Operations, and Maintenance
When these two considerations are addressed professionally and work together, the facility succeeds. Flaws and shortcomings emerge in almost every skatepark design. Sometimes it takes a few weeks after a skatepark’s Grand Opening before the missed opportunities are fully understood. Few skateparks, if any, are absolutely perfect…and the world’s best ones combine the most appeal with the fewest flaws. By comparison, the poorest skateparks exhibit the highest number of flaws.
Not Your Average Tennis Court
A skatepark should be designed using the same approach as other active recreational spaces. The facility will attract a lot of people and will, particularly during peak hours (after school and on nice summer days), be at or over capacity. This is a design challenge that must be taken seriously if the skatepark hopes to succeed.
Many parks administrators claim that their skateparks are their most popular recreational facilities. Skaters will use the skatepark every day, often for hours at a time. The skatepark will have lots of people in it for long periods of time. This is very important to consider, as most recreational attractions don’t need to consider this. Sports fields, by comparison, enjoy periods of activity and are typically empty between games. The skatepark, even during non-peak hours, might have a handful of people using it. In regions with warmer climates, popular skateparks are used from dawn until dusk.
Because skaters’ needs are unlike those of other athletes’—as far as the frequency and duration of their visits to their facility—special usability demands must be considered. Remember: usability concerns exist above and beyond the arrangement of skateboarding obstacles in the space.
Parts of the Skatepark
Skateparks can be considered like houses. A house is divided into different rooms, each with a particular purpose. The capacity of the different rooms varies according to how many people are expected to use it at once. Bathrooms and closets are smallest because only one person needs them at a time, while dining and living rooms are the largest. Kitchens, patios, and bedrooms fall somewhere in between. Rooms are usually connected by hallways, but sometimes they’re not (garages and tool sheds).
Skateparks have rooms, too. Some skateparks have one big room that everyone shares. Other skateparks have rooms that skaters can use when the others are full. In general, the more rooms a skatepark has, the more simultaneous users it can accommodate. Skateparks with too few rooms for the number of users it attracts are sometimes called “crash-up derbies.”
Consider a 4,000 square foot skatepark with two big rooms. One person can use each room at a time, so the capacity of simultaneous users is two, though the skatepark capacity may be up to 30 users. While two people skate, each in their separate area, the other 28 wait their turn or are relaxing nearby.
“Simultaneous users” refers to the number of people skating through the space at the same time. There may be loads of skaters sharing the skatepark, but a majority of them won’t be moving at any given moment. Most will be preparing to take their turn. They are waiting until the person that is currently skating is done so that they can go without risking a collision, or waiting for their turn to go.
You might conclude that a skatepark should have lots of rooms to support the greatest number of simultaneous skaters. There is a cost to dividing the skating space into rooms. It can make the space feel like a set of terrain attractions offered “a la carte” rather than a single cohesive space. Skaters tend to enjoy rooms that are linked in some way so that they can easily travel from one obstacle or attraction to the next. Among skaters, this quality is known as “flow.” A skatepark has good flow when the elements within it are spaced in a way that makes traversing them easy and rewarding. While skaters have their own individual preferences on what defines good flow, all skaters agree that being able to get to several structural features within one run is a sign of good flow.
So, on one hand you have a skatepark with lots of rooms and high capacity, but little flow. On the other, you have a skatepark with lots of flow and everything’s connected, but it’s a crash-up derby. This is a principle challenge for the professional skatepark designer.
There are two primary skateboarding disciplines when it comes to skateparks. Each requires a different style of terrain. To this day there remains friction between aficionados of each style. With limited skateboarding terrain being developed each year, champions from each discipline sometimes bicker over what terrain style should be dominant at the facility. As skatepark advocacy matures and skateboarders’ preferences become accustomed to skateparks, collaboration between the advocates from each camp is improving.
Street terrain, also known as “street plaza,” features the geometric, institutional-style architecture typically found around a city. Most modern skateboarders prefer plazas because they reflect the kind of terrain they are accustomed to skating.
Transition terrain, or simply “tranny,” features curvilinear forms reflective of empty swimming pools, bowls, and halfpipes. Transition-style terrain scales well and attracts a wider spectrum of skill levels—from novice to professional. Transition terrain affords the kinds of tricks that non-skateboarders are familiar with…airs, grinds, and so on.
While it was once popular for younger skaters to proudly declare their allegiance exclusively to one discipline or the other, today it’s fashionable to be considered a well-rounded skater that can skate anything…an “all-terrain vehicle.” While skateparks were once exclusively transition-style, modern skateparks reflect the changing generational preferences and typically include a mix of street and transition. With few exceptions, modern skatepark design features a mix of street and transition elements together without stylistic distinction or separation.
History of Skatepark Design
The oldest parks, some nearing their 40th birthday, were designed like swimming pools and ditches, as this was the terrain they were determined to recreate. Most skateparks of this era were commercial facilities and were demolished when they went out of business (typically as a result of stricter liability insurance requirements). A small handful of public skateparks from this era are still operational today.
Those first-generation skateparks that survived exist in the public eye as artifacts of a bygone era. Few skaters were interested in making the pilgrimage to enjoy these facilities. They took to the streets and found structures “in the wild” that tricks could be done on. During the 1980s and early ‘90s, skateboarding’s technical innovations exploded in ways that opened opportunities to interact with the built space. Skaters didn’t need skateparks after all; they had the whole city.
This style of skating incorporated the terrain available: stairs, ledges, loading docks, ditches, curbs, and parking garages. In the absence of skateparks, street skating quickly became the dominant style of skateboarding. This was not a countercultural response to some perceived community rejection of skateboarding, but rather a simple response to having no other place to skate.
The public was slow to respond, but anti-skateboarding ordinances and deterrents were eventually introduced in an effort to curb the explosion of street skating. A handful of communities correctly diagnosed the reason so many handrails and ledges around town were being pulverized by skaters, but most saw (and perhaps continue to see) street skaters as vandals and delinquents.
In those communities that saw street skating as a symptom of a complete lack of sanctioned places to skate, a new generation of skateparks were born. Granted, it took enterprising skaters to demonstrate what they were looking for. The skater-built facility under the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon, is widely credited as being the first modern skatepark, but other cities quickly followed.
These modern skateparks, unlike their predecessors from the 1970s and early ‘80s, were free to the public but the design style was similar to those first-generation parks. They generally featured large, flowing transition forms and appealed to a generation of skateboarders fond of backyard ramps and the skateparks of yesteryear.
Companies were quick to capitalize on this emerging market and began mass-merchandising prefabricated structures that could be easily installed on an existing slab for a fraction of the cost. Business boomed as municipalities largely viewed skateboarding as a passing fad. When the fad died, the skatepark could be easily dismantled. Fortunately (but unfortunately for those towns that bought prefabricated skateparks), skateboarding wasn’t a fad and these skateparks proved inferior, unpopular, and unable to withstand the rigors of daily use. Most of the companies responsible for these products went out of business within a few years. One can find occasional skateparks still in existence that are made from wood, Skatelite, and steel, but they are frequently renovated using concrete.
The latest significant development for skateparks is the advent of effective advocacy. Within the last ten years, street skaters have developed their generational voice and become effective advocates. Initially, public skateparks began to feature street terrain. Eventually, skateparks were introduced that were exclusively plaza-style (i.e., all street terrain with no transitional forms). Nearly all skateparks today find a compromise by offering a mix of street and tranny.
Street terrain is still under-represented in modern skateparks. A majority of advocates will push for plaza-style skateparks even today. This underscores the sustained effort by many communities to mitigate unwanted street-skating through code enforcement. Most advocates that launch their effort with a commitment to a street-only plaza park realize the advantages of a facility that offers diverse terrain (a mix of both street and transition). Similarly, many advocates argue the need for bowls because they are not found “in the wild.” Bowls can only be found in skateparks, so many advocates with a preference for transition claim that street skaters already have a whole city of “real street” while bowl-skaters have nothing. While a residue of conflict between street and transition skaters remain, the conversation is more tempered and reasonable today than ever before.
Facility size is the easiest way to manage capacity. A large facility can simply handle more skaters. As we covered in Step 6 of the Skatepark Adoption Model, ten skateboarders can share 1,500 square feet. Only one will be skating at any given moment in time, but the others will be queued up and ready to go, or will be nearby taking a break.
Therefore, 15,000 square feet can theoretically serve 100 skaters simultaneously. The nature of the design, i.e., how many rooms the skatepark has, will have an impact on this number.
Size will also be the primary driver of your skatepark cost. In general, for a world-class skatepark, you should estimate $40 per square foot. Later you will adjust that estimate to more accurately reflect the location, style, size, and other cost-influencing factors.
Many people think that size is the main aspect of a skatepark’s quality. It’s not true. The quality of the design is what makes a skatepark well-known. A smaller skatepark that has lots of interesting and challenging things to skate will be much more popular than a larger skatepark that doesn’t capture the skater’s imagination. It’s not the size of the skatepark, it’s how well it’s designed.
Many of the world’s most well-known skateparks aren’t very large (by skatepark standards). And, similarly, many of the world’s largest skateparks are generally considered duds from the skateboarding community’s standpoint.
When planning your skatepark, you should always prioritize quality over size.
Beware of skatepark equipment salespeople contacting you, your group, or your city officials with promises to deliver “more bang for your buck.” They are basically offering a mediocre set of prefabricated skate structures that are pieced together to resemble a skatepark. Inexperienced skaters will find these facilities interesting, but they don’t stay inexperienced very long. As soon as they are ready for greater challenges, they’ll leave the skatepark and return to the streets. A professionally designed skatepark that meets the needs of your community, and not an “off the shelf” solution, is the best way to ensure your skatepark meets the growing needs of your local skateboarding community.
This cannot be emphasized strongly enough: a steel, wood, or polymer-surfaced material is not an adequate material for a municipal skatepark. These skateparks are heralded by their sales teams as an inexpensive option to “expensive” cast-in-place concrete skateparks. Prefabricated skatepark companies have been dabbling in municipal skatepark design for about a decade. Thankfully, most of these companies are no longer in business. Those that remain have developed bold new tactics for swooping into unsuspecting communities that are considering a new skatepark and selling them their product based on bold promises. When you hear these phrases, you should be on alert that what you’re being sold is a shoddy imitation of a permanent, sustainable skatepark:
“For a fraction of the cost of custom concrete…”
This is a phrase that many companies will use to posture their product as an inexpensive solution for an equitable product. The fact is that their ramps and above-grade structures are not sustainable. The skateboarders’ skills quickly outpace the limited design characteristics of these “back and forth” designs. Furthermore, the cost of creating the facility is a mere fraction of the cost of operating and maintaining that facility over 10 years. Above-ground ramps and prefabricated structures, particularly polymer, wood, and steel materials, have a long, ugly record of escalating maintenance concerns. Many of these skateparks are closed after a few years due to safety concerns. Consider your total cost of ownership when you find yourself attracted to a low up-front cost.
“Generous 20-year warranty…”
None of the structures these companies are providing this incredible warranty for have been in existence for 20 years. They simply don’t know how long their products last, but they’re apparently cheap enough to create that they can afford to come in every few years and replace elements. Overly long warranties are a good sign that something is amiss.
“Free design…” (or “free consultation…”)
For permanent skateparks, design includes a full public workshop, geotech surveys, and construction documents. If a company is offering “free” designs, they’re probably pulling something off their shelf, moving a few things around, then supplying you a drawing of a skatepark. This is not a design; this is a concept drawing. What the company hopes to do is to develop a relationship with your city decision-makers and become the front-runner for the construction bid. The “free designs” offered by these companies will have specifications that only that company can meet. In business terms, this is known as a “loss leader.” In other words, they take a bit of a loss on the front end and recoup those costs in the high profits made on the back end. If someone contacts your community with the offer of a “free design,” ask them if that design can be built by anyone. Better yet, shop around and talk to lots of different designers. This is an important community investment, so take your time and do your homework.
“What the pros prefer…”
You may have some professional skaters in your community, but your public skatepark is going to attract ordinary, non-professional skateboarders. While pro skaters like Aaron Homoki are jumping down 18-foot drops, most skaters are happy with a nice 18-inch ledge and a few banks. In other words, you’re not designing a skatepark for professionals. What the pros prefer does not mean it is appropriate for the local skaters. Pro skateboarders have access to some of the best skateparks in the world and what they prefer is top-quality skateparks that don’t skimp on care and attention to detail. So what kind of skateparks do Bucky Lasek and Tony Hawk have in their back yards? Custom concrete.
“…can be rearranged…”
Most modular, prefabricated skatepark structures are like cheap, build-it-yourself bookshelves. They go together easy, they look pretty good when they’re done, but as soon as you try to move them they fall apart. For years, prefabricated ramp companies have used the “rearrange” sales pitch for their product, yet in the history of skateparks we are unaware of a single skatepark to ever literally try to rearrange the facility. Here’s a better direction: design a skatepark that doesn’t need to be rearranged in order to retain the public’s interest.
If they need to tell you that it’s tamper-resistant, there’s a good chance that it’s not worth considering for your public facility. One prefabricated ramp company famously used 3/8ths-inch lag bolts for all its railings. The skatepark didn’t feature any tall drops for skaters to go off, so the skaters began routinely removing the railings from the elevated decks. The Parks Department was perplexed. The ramp company had used the same size bolts as a skateboard truck’s kingpin. So if a kid was likely to have any tool at all, it would have fit the railing fixtures perfectly. That company is no longer in the skatepark business. Concrete is always “tamper-resistant.”
“9,000 PSI concrete…”
This is a favored sales pitch from prefabricated concrete companies, sometimes called “precast.” While precast companies boast that their concrete is stronger than ordinary concrete, few cast-in-place skateparks suffer from issues resulting in low-grade concrete. In other words, this claim solves a problem that doesn’t exist. It sounds important but it isn’t.
Any skatepark is only as strong as its weakest element. Whenever a structure uses a steel transition plate to bridge the surface of the slab with the surface of the ramp, it doesn’t matter how strong the ramp is. The transition plate will be the point of failure. No skatepark should ever feature transition plates.
Prefabricated ramps are ideal for temporary, private or residential applications, such as a backyard ramp, but have demonstrated a pattern of failure when used as municipal facilities.
Concrete is unequivocally the only material you should be considering for your public municipal skatepark.
Skateparks are more like public parks than sports facilities. Sports facilities are consistent so that the environment’s impact on the athletic performance is minimized. Baseball fields are designed according to very specific guidelines, as are most sports facilities.
Skateparks are more like golf courses. They become known for their design characteristics. Some are challenging and attract golfers from around the world. Municipal golf courses are generally less well-known, but are known throughout the region for their characteristics. Skateparks are known among skaters in the same way. An area might have a dozen skateparks, but some of them will be more popular than others. Why?
Popular skateparks are easy to talk about. They offer characteristics that are easy to describe, and they’re in locations that are easy to find, but most importantly, they are fun places to interact with. Here are some ways that skateparks improve on their comfort and aesthetic value.
Every skatepark should have a unique, “signature” element. It’s the one defining characteristic that skaters and, more importantly, non-skaters can use to identify the facility as a unique, one-of-a-kind facility. The signature element has practical value that pays for itself over time. It establishes that facility as place that belongs exclusively to that community and exists nowhere else. This will encourage pride from the skate community and will manifest in stronger stewardship principles.
Skateparks, like any other designed space meant to attract the public, should consider the visual aspects of the space. The skatepark will be seen by most people from a small number of directions, such as the walkway to the park, or an adjacent pedestrian path. What the skatepark looks like from these vantage points will reveal a lot about the activity happening there. If a large structure prevents most of the action from being seen, the park will seem mysterious to most non-skaters. On the other hand, a park that can be easily surveyed from a distance will feel inviting and non-threatening.
Although some skaters are critical of the use of dyed concrete and “beautification” techniques at skateparks, the impact on the general public is worth it. The use of boulders, green spaces, concrete stamps, and dyes can all help the skatepark seem less like “acres of concrete” and more like a fun space that celebrates skateboarding. Dyed concrete may not have any impact on the skateboarding experience, but it will go a long way in helping the public appreciate the skatepark.
Your skatepark aesthetics are not only an issue of visual appeal but of long-term sustainability. A beautiful skatepark will help instill pride in that facility across the whole community and will ultimately underscore to everyone involved that it was the right decision.
The skatepark, being a public space, should have those amenities that make spaces comfortable. Comfort is the result of a person’s physical and mental needs being met. Physical needs are the easiest to manage, and include things like hydration, a place to sit, and a nearby restroom.
Mental needs are a bit more elusive. A space that is designed to easily keep clean will encourage park visitors to use the trash bins. A dirty park with litter all over sends a message to the park patrons that nobody cares if they throw their empty bottles on the ground. (Why should they use the trash can? Nobody else does.)
Skateparks can seem like sprawling acres of undulating concrete to non-skaters. Skatepark designs that break up large facilities into non-rectangular spaces are more attractive and help diffuse the activity into different areas of the park. This can reduce the perception of the park being overrun with skaters when it’s busy, but also helps the facility look active when there are just a few people there. Perceptional management is an aspect of skatepark design many people don’t immediately consider. A thoughtful approach to how the park looks with few, or lots, of people in it will help that park’s long-term success and acceptance among the broader public.
Seating is a clear consideration. Your skatepark should have seating for the park users that is within the perimeter of the skating area, but it should also have seating that is outside of the active area but close enough to see the action. Skaters won’t want to leave the area whenever they need a short break. Friends and family arriving at the skatepark with skaters will want to be close enough to feel like they are a part of the action, but not so close that they are at risk of being hit by a wayward board.
Many skaters will show up directly from school or will stop by the skatepark on their way to other destinations. They will have backpacks and, particularly if there’s no water fountain at the skatepark, bottled drinks. When they arrive at the skatepark, they’ll need a place to put down their stuff and, as they warm up, leave their jacket. Lots of the material they set down will be valuable…music players, cell phones, and so on. The place where they put this stuff should be close and within the skating area, and away from where people are walking by the facility. It needs to feel secure and accessible and be visible from all parts of the skatepark. In skateparks that don’t afford a place to leave belongings, skaters will often unofficially designate a particular ledge for backpacks. This renders that structure unskateable, of course.
Shade is important, particularly in warmer regions. In cooler environments, the skatepark should be designed to get lots of sun so that it dries quickly during the wetter seasons. Shade will help alleviate the need for bottled refreshments, and that will reduce the amount of trash at the skatepark. (Empty bottles can fill up a trash can very quickly.) A water fountain will help reduce the need for skaters to bring their own refreshments. Shade is often introduced to skateparks through trees, but some skateparks feature purpose-built shade structures.
Restrooms are the most difficult amenity to reconcile. A restroom can easily be as expensive as the skatepark. The best solution is to identify a site that currently has an appropriate restroom nearby. Another solution is to rely on a nearby fast-food restaurant or gas station with public restrooms. The business may or may not be pleased with this arrangement, depending on if the business is patronized by skateboarders. Many skateparks use portable toilets and this tends to be an adequate solution, although it also introduces an ongoing expense to the facility.
Most skateparks don’t have permanent emergency phones installed. With the broad use of cell phones by youth, it’s unlikely to find a skatepark anywhere without a phone in it, but it’s still worth a discussion.
Skatepark policy will influence how the skatepark is secured, but most skateparks—regardless of policy—do very well with little security amenities when the location is right. Architects, particularly landscape architects, routinely use design principles that discourage unwanted behavior. This design consideration is known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED (pronounced “SEP-ted”). If the nearest restrooms are far away, people will be tempted to urinate in the bushes. CPTED principles discourage this by not including bushes in the landscape. Visibility and adjacent activity are the two main factors in determining if a facility is going to need tall fences and security cameras. The more visible and active the area is, the fewer problems that facility will have.
Sometimes a fence is absolutely mandatory. Professional risk assessors may feel that the skatepark presents a public risk to toddlers, pets, and sight-impaired pedestrians. Although most skateparks do just fine with clear delineation between the skating area and non-skating areas, others are required to fence the skatepark perimeter.
A 4-foot gate-style fence (as opposed to a cyclone fence) is best. A lower barrier like this allows skaters to have conversations with people nearby without having to talk through a fence. This improves the opportunity for social interaction. Spectators can approach the facility and know that they’re not in anyone’s way or likely to get run into, but can still see clearly. A low fence will also prevent stray animals and toddlers from accidentally entering the skating area.
The arguments in favor of fences represent deeper fears about skateboarders and “skateboarding culture.” You would never see these claims made about basketball courts or playgrounds:
“The fence is necessary for closing the park if things get out of hand.”
“The fence is needed to prevent after-hours skating.”
“The fence will allow us to close the park for cleaning and maintenance.”
“The fence will keep toddlers from accidentally stumbling into the space.”
“The fence is necessary to keep prohibited users, like BMX, out.”
“The fence delineates where skaters are allowed to skate (and where they’re not).”
“The fence will prevent skateboards from flying out of the area.”
An open facility sends an important signal to all of the park patrons that the skaters don’t need to be “quarantined” in a recreational pen. Skateparks with high cyclone or iron fences are often referred to as “exercise yards” by skaters. High fences around ball fields and tennis courts are designed to keep wayward balls and pop-flies in the field, but for skateparks the subtext is clear. Some Parks administrators accept security fences as unavoidable circumstances. High security fences tell the whole community that the skaters cannot be trusted to use the facility responsibly. This is the wrong message to send to your community about your new facility.
Safety and “Skatepark Etiquette”
Skateboarding is an activity that rewards taking chances and trying new things. Every skateboarder falls, and sometimes they fall hard. There’s a saying within skateboarding that goes, “if you’re not falling, you’re not trying.”
Routine falls are the result of the skater trying something challenging and not making it, but most skateboarding mistakes don’t end in a hard fall; the skateboarder simply jumps off the board or rolls out. Vert skaters slide out of abandoned tricks on their knees; their kneepads are not to protect their knees as much as devices that enable them to fall easily. Falling is so routine that experienced skaters expect it.
Many non-skaters don’t understand this. People concerned that the skatepark will encourage dangerous, risky behavior imagine every failed trick ending with chipped teeth and dislocated shoulders. The reality is, of course, that making a difficult trick is the exception, not the norm.
Injuries are caused by falls that the skater is not expecting and cannot prepare for. Designing a safe skatepark means creating an environment where the skater can prepare for what they’re about to encounter. Unexpected obstacles, such as uneven surfaces and collisions with other park users, are the main cause of unexpected falls.
Unexpected falls can be partially managed through design. Experienced professional skatepark designers are aware of this concern and will always seek to create an environment where there is high visibility within the skating area.
A skatepark with rooms of activity are often distinguished by the amount of speed the user is expected to generate. High-speed areas, such as deep bowls, are typically considered one-at-a-time features. Control in these areas is monitored and corrected by experienced skatepark patrons. Non-skaters can witness this at any skatepark where someone is using a bowl and another skater, usually someone unaware that they’re encroaching on the comfort and safety of the person skating, will dangle their feet over the edge of the bowl, or position their board on the coping as if they’re prepared to drop in. This is considered disrespectful and vaguely dangerous, so the experienced skater will let the “poacher” know that they’re in the wrong. This is an example of how skatepark etiquette is applied and learned from generation to generation.
Mixing high-speed and low-speed users in common areas is a major cause of collisions. This is the main concern for emerging skatepark users like BMX and scooters. BMX travel much faster and can jump areas that are too wide for skaters. This creates traffic lines for BMX that skaters may not expect. It should be made clear to the skatepark designer that BMX will be an anticipated user group for your new skatepark. (Most skatepark designers presume so unless they are explicitly told that BMX will not be allowed.)
The Web supplies lots of helpful tips on things not to do at a skatepark. Experienced skateboarders are familiar with these guidelines, but non-skaters will find these “cardinal sins” revealing:
- Wait your turn. Nobody likes the guy that goes after every other person. “Don’t be a snake” always makes the top of skatepark etiquette lists.
- Keep your run reasonably short (especially if it’s crowded). If you can do lots of tricks, that’s great. Don’t have marathon runs. Nobody is impressed by your incredible stamina.
- Keep the chatter down. Talking about all the tricks you used to know, or what professional skaters you are on a first-name basis with is fine for a cocktail party, but not at the skatepark. People are there to skate.
- Skate where it’s appropriate for what you’re trying to learn. Don’t use the bottom of the miniramp for your kickflip clinic, for example.
- Be friendly to the groms (and everyone else). Nobody likes sharing their recreational time with a jerk. If you’re a skateboarding veteran, don’t use your age to “command respect.”
- Don’t be competitive. When the mood is positive and upbeat, the best way to ruin it is to do every trick that other people are doing but just a little bit better. One-upmanship is poor sportsmanship. These “session-killers” aren’t often welcome at the park.
- Don’t post-up in someone’s line. If there’s a ledge that someone is skating, it’s poor form to stand in front of it or, worse, sit down on it and pull out your phone.
- Cheer ‘em on. If someone does something big, give them some recognition. This is especially true for secondary users like bikes and scooters. Sharing the love is a great way of creating a good vibe. A common way of showing praise for someone’s effort is to tap your board on the ground. On a similar note, if you were in the wrong and accidentally cut someone off, go ahead and offer a simple apology.
- Manage your anger. Getting pissed off is one thing, but throwing your board around and swearing as loud as your lungs will let you makes you look like a baby. Man-up and accept the fact that skateboarding isn’t always easy.
- Parents okay; coaches not okay. There are no coaches in skateboarding, and your helicopter-parenting behavior won’t fly at the skatepark.
- Bikes: Keep the mud out. Your awesome line through the mud pit into the bowl is leaving a trail of your thoughtlessness.
- Lurkers: Don’t mess up the place. You’re there to hang out with your skater friends. That’s great. But as soon as you are spitting and smoking like a chimney, (or defying The Man by smoking pot), and drawing genitalia all over the picnic table, it’s time for you to go. In fact, that goes for skaters too.
Traffic and Capacity
When skaters share an obstacle, as they usually do, one skater will be actively using the space while the others watch and wait their turn. In general, a 1,500 square foot area can be shared by up to 10 individual skaters.
Poor etiquette can decrease the capacity of the skating space. When several people are sharing a single space, people should yield to the person that has been waiting the longest. When someone jumps ahead in line, especially if they recently went, it’s known as “snaking.” It’s considered poor form and most skaters will be quick to correct the offender.
It is considered impolite to skate in front of another skater… just as it’s impolite to cut someone off in traffic. Each skater is surrounded by a “personal space” that enlarges as they go faster. In fast areas of the skatepark, more room and visibility should be afforded by the design, while slower areas aren’t as demanding. Mixing low-speed and high-speed areas, or having them adjacent so that they bleed into each other, is a recipe for disaster.
Accommodating the skaters that are patiently waiting their turn is and important function of skatepark design. They will stand in an appropriate area near the structure they intend to use. Skaters using a miniramp will stand on the two decks while waiting for their turn. There are signals skaters send to each other to indicate they are going next. Some are subtle, like eye contact and small nods, while others are overt, like positioning the skateboard on the edge of the coping. Areas of the skatepark will attract small groups of skaters. Each group will be communicating among themselves about whose turn it is to use the structure they’re drawn to. Having enough space for them to gather is important. When there’s not enough space, these groups can clog areas of the park and make other structures within the space unusable. Professional skatepark designers understand how skaters use skateparks and, more importantly, how to manage these “staging” areas.
A skatepark has traffic lanes. Better skateparks have many lanes that present varying degrees of difficulty. Sometimes they split, intersect, and join. These lanes are bunched into areas of activity, grouped by room, and that room is shared by the group staged near it.
It’s not required that everyone involved with skatepark development understand skatepark traffic and capacity. It’s valuable to respect that this is an important aspect of professional skatepark design.