Establishing a positive skatepark climate is an essential part of ensuring that a public skatepark will be utilized properly as it continues to be valued as an asset (and not a liability) by the local community. It is commonly said “skateparks are a barometer for the community and neighborhood in which they are located.” Although a skatepark climate will be most heavily influenced by the accepted behaviors of the clientele it serves, a safe and positive skatepark atmosphere can also be fostered and encouraged by employing a number of different programming strategies. Every skatepark is different, but the needs for positive adult presence, as well as a strong sense of ownership from the local skaters are themes common to almost all skateparks. Establishing and cultivating this positive adult “presence” in skateparks can be achieved in a number of different ways. In a private or formally supervised skatepark the process is usually fairly simple as adults and older more responsible skaters are typically present as the staff performing day-to-day park operations and maintenance. Although it can take a little more thought and planning for unsupervised skateparks, a positive atmosphere that includes older skaters taking leadership roles can also be encouraged less formally through park programming and special events.
Undoubtedly the most essential and effective strategy in ensuring the long term success of most any skatepark is in designing a park that is accessible and safe for beginning skaters, yet still maintains enough challenging terrain to keep more mature and responsible skaters coming back for more. If a skatepark is constructed correctly, and employs creative and exciting terrain, advanced skateboarders will naturally want to perfect skills and continue to practice their craft there. A well-designed park can keep skaters engaged for decades while a poorly designed one can easily end up being the “flavor of the month,” inevitably rejected and abandoned by the “core” skateboarding community within a very short amount of time.
While designing a park correctly is easily the most important factor in ensuring its popularity with a large demographic of skaters, this factor alone cannot ensure ownership from the local skate community and a positive skatepark environment for all users. Lifelong skateboarders can be notoriously finicky and may quickly “shun” an out of control skatepark that is perpetually over-crowded with non-skaters loitering and inexperienced users continuously creating hazardous situations. Most skaters will testify that the act of skateboarding is an intensely individual pursuit, yet also very social in many ways as well. The reality is that an over-crowded skatepark with a frenzied climate of inexperienced or inconsiderate users is not only unsafe, but can also significantly detract from the essential skateboarding experience (regardless of the quality of skatepark design and construction). Experienced, responsible park visitors can become frustrated with the relentless distractions of a frenzied and hectic skatepark atmosphere, whereas experienced skaters will settle for skating less challenging terrain—either in or out of skateparks…often in the parking lot of the skatepark itself—where they can focus more clearly on practicing their craft.
So how can a community skatepark work to prevent or combat the lawless climate of an out-of-control skatepark before it is too late? One effective strategy is in offering a variety of different skatepark programs intended to help educate the less experienced users, as well as encourage older experienced skaters to assume leadership roles. Creating these types of programs can help to tame an out-of-control environment by empowering and educating users, and establishing a regular presence in the park of more mature skaters and responsible role models. Park programming can be as informal as free informational clinics facilitated by park stewards, or as formal as skateboarding lessons and camps incorporating structured coaching and camp activities.
Skateboarding classes, clinics, and camps can serve a real need in the community by teaching novice skaters skateboarding fundamentals safely and correctly, as well as the importance of practicing safe skatepark etiquette. Research illustrates that the first weeks of learning to skateboard are typically the most dangerous for skaters, and learning fundamental skills safely can help lower the risk of injury. In addition to helping prevent injuries by introducing less experienced skaters safely to the skatepark environment, programming can help to temper a reckless or overly aggressive athletic climate by encouraging informal supervision through the presence of park staff facilitating the programs and classes. Although these staff members may not be formally (or even intentionally) supervising the skatepark—much less enforcing the park’s rules and recommendations—their presence alone will help encourage more responsible behavior from skatepark patrons. The presence of park representatives will not only help to promote responsible behavior among skatepark patrons, they can also help report possible issues to park rangers and maintenance personnel before they become major issues.
Another essential piece of creating quality programs for your skatepark or community organization is in employing qualified staff and respected members of the local skate community to instruct lessons and conduct events. An excellent resource for recruiting experienced and responsible staff can be the local skateboarding retailers. In most skateboarding communities the local skate shop is typically a central meeting place for skaters, and is almost always deeply connected to the local skateboarding scene. In addition, skate retailers view local skateparks as good for business and are thus inherently invested in their overall success. Some shops will even encourage their part-time employees or sponsored team riders to help out as instructors and staff as they can help represent and advertise the shop to the local community. Also, because of their retail accounts and industry connections, partnering your events with local skate shops can make finding quality equipment and sponsors for competitions and events immensely easier.
As every skatepark is different, management approaches and strategies will vary greatly, but incorporating a variety of quality park programming can provide positive results for almost any skatepark. Skatepark programming can help prevent injuries and avoid safety issues, discourage illicit behavior, and even help to temper the obnoxiously lawless climate that a mismanaged skatepark may develop. Just because a public skatepark may be free and unsupervised does not mean that a happy medium between formal supervision and an out-of-control skatepark cannot be found. The following outlines provide examples of options for programming in community skateparks. These programs can be offered during less busy hours and can also be designed to coincide with regular park usage. When planning these types of programs it is always best if your skateboarding educators are themselves experienced and responsible skaters. It is also prudent to utilize a structured teaching curriculum and implement staff training before beginning lessons and programs
Skateboarding Classes and Lessons
Beginning Skateboarding classes makes learning how to skateboard fun and safe. These skateboarding classes can be designed for novice skaters and anyone interested in learning how to ride a skateboard safely. Lessons focus on the development of control, balance, flexibility, and confidence. With these building blocks in place students are then prepared for a successful introduction to more advanced skateboarding skills and navigating skatepark terrain with other users safely. Structured lessons taught by trained instructors give beginners the chance to focus on the basics as they skate in a less intimidating environment than a typically busy skatepark. Implementing a curriculum aligned with physical education standards for lessons and camps can also make it possible to offer skateboarding classes and camps as a P.E. credit.
Skate Camps can help young skaters learn new skills and utilize skateparks in a safe and supervised environment. Skate Camps should be held seasonally during holidays or summer vacations and are generally structured to bring together previously learned skills with more advanced terrain and maneuvers. Skate Camps can be designed for all levels of skating ability as they will work to refine and perfect the skills a student has already mastered while introducing them to more challenging maneuvers and new terrain. Skills taught in these camps and programs should incorporate a methodology that serves to connect them into a developmental series of progression and advancement. Skate Camps can incorporate instruction, supervision, and a variety of different skateboard activities into a day camp format.
Skatepark Tours offered through after-school clubs or Parks and Recreation programs can be a fun and affordable way for kids to visit skateparks in a safe and supervised environment. Skatepark Tours can provide quality instruction and mentoring from advanced skaters as well as teach kids new skills and techniques while introducing them safely to new skateparks.
Skate Clubs are usually organized through Parks and Recreation programs, schools, or non-profit agencies. Skate Clubs will engage in a variety of skating activities including skatepark trips, skateboarding video and photography, or even building custom skateboards. Skate Clubs use skateboarding as a vehicle and reward to teach students essential life lessons and help keep them on track academically. In addition, Skate Clubs can be an excellent way for kids to make new friends and build self-esteem as they learn to overcome personal challenges and fears.
Competitions (Contests and Jams)
Another great way to support your local skaters and promote your community skatepark is through Skate Jams and Contests. Of the two types of competitions, Jams are generally less competitive, more casual, and can help promote the healthy benefits of your public skatepark as well as be rewarding and inclusive for all ages and abilities of skaters. Jams can be a great way for teens and kids to display their talents as they learn the rewards of setting and achieving their own goals. They may include events like best trick, highest ollie, or overall skatepark contests. Contests, by comparison, tend to be more formal with a judging panel and timed runs. The benefits of holding either type of competition at your skatepark is great and will provide something for skatepark users of every experience level to look forward to. These types of events will also create opportunities for partnerships between local skate retailers, the Parks Department, other community programs, and the skateboarding community.
Drop In Programs
Drop In programming is a term used to describe informal skateboarding clinics held at public skateparks on a regularly scheduled basis. Drop In classes are usually offered for free or at a reduced rate, and are typically open to the general public as they are designed to help teach novice skateboarders “skatepark etiquette” and protocol, as well as the fundamental skills and techniques needed to navigate and utilize a skatepark safely. During Drop In hours a trained member of the skateboarding staff is on site to answer questions, offer advice, and help make the skatepark experience as safe as possible. Like the classes above, it’s important that experienced and capable skateboarders are providing the education.
With simple ideas like these, any community can return a “Wild West” skatepark to something that the whole community can appreciate and enjoy. If you have programming ideas you’d like to share, please visit our Management Forum or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Wixon in an educator in Portland, Oregon, and the author of Skateboarding: Instruction, Programming, and Park Design, published by Human Kinetics.