Skatepark Adoption Model

Experienced skatepark advocates are able to stand in front an audience and claim with some certainty how many skaters are in any particular community. How do they do it? They follow a simple formula that we call the “Skatepark Adoption Model.”

The Logic Behind the Skatepark Adoption Model

The Skatepark Adoption Model (SAM) is a simple formula for determining how much skatepark a community needs. To understand how the SAM works, you should first consider how people in groups tend to skate.

Skaters share space by taking turns in an area. The area might be the lanes leading to and away from an obstacle or a bowl. (In skatepark designer parlance these are sometimes referred to as “rooms.”) At its busiest a room might have 10 concurrent users.

Because only one skater may safely use the element or space at a time, the others stand by watching…”on deck”…waiting for their turn. This method of sharing space is rooted in 30 years of skateboarding behavior and is an intuitive part of almost every skateboarder’s approach to skating with others.

The individual needs space to perform their trick. An average trick requires five stages to complete; gaining speed, setting up, doing the trick, landing, and braking. (In well-designed skateparks gaining speed and braking aren’t always necessary as different structures are linked together to create “lines”.) Each stage requires a minimum amount of space, illustrated below.

Gaining speed is usually done by kicking the board forward. Two good pushes will generate enough speed to do most tricks.

After the skater has speed, the feet are set on the board and adjusted for the desired trick.

The trick is performed with forward momentum. While the illustration shows a trick that could be performed stationary, most tricks rely on an interaction with the terrain. A ledge, set of stairs, or curved bank are all used in the same way for the purposes of identifying how much space is needed.

Finally the skater lands, regains their balance and prepares to stop.

The whole linear requirement is 75 feet.

Presuming that some lateral space is needed to allow others to safely pass the active skater—as well as space to turn when it’s required by the trick, (or to regain balance), 20 lateral feet is sufficient.

The total space for 10 concurrent users is 1,500 square feet.

Now that you know what the minimum building block is for terrain you will need to figure out how many people in your community or target area will be using the park.

Applying the Skatepark Adoption Model

You will learn how to find out how many people are in your community, how many of those people are skateboarders, how much terrain those skateboarders require, and some different ways of distributing that terrain to best serve the region’s needs.

The process is very simple. The statistics used in the Skatepark Adoption Model are pulled from U.S. research data. (The SAM may not be as useful to advocates outside of the United States.) This data is constantly changing and we will do our best to keep this formula updated with the most recent information available.

Summary: The SAM should recommend a skateboard for every neighborhood in a given community.

Step 1: Define Your Target Area

The area that you want to analyze and develop a skatepark recommendation for is your target area. It might be a suburb, city, zip code, or metropolitan area. The formula is the same regardless of the size or type of boundary. It is better to choose a target area that is well defined rather than an area that is sometimes vague like a business district or a neighborhood because you will be using population statistics. If the population of the target area is not known, you will struggle to use the S.A.M. to its full potential.

Example: Reno, Nevada. The population of Reno, Nevada, is 210,000 people.

For this first step you’ll want to make sure that your target area is clearly defined then head over to the U.S. Census ( or the agency that tracks population in your country. At the U.S. Census website you’ll see a box on the right for finding the population of an area. The last census estimate was in 2006 but those numbers will be close enough for the Skatepark Adoption Model.

Now you know the  population of your target area.

Step 2: Apply the Skateboarder Percentage

According to American Sports Data there are 12.9 million skateboarders in the United States. Considering there are 281.4-million people in the country, approximately 4.6% of the population in the United States are skateboarders. This reflects all of the casual skateboarders who ride once a month or less. Frequent skaters comprise about 25% of this group.

It’s helpful to understand that the populations and characteristics of communities can be very different. A version of the Skatepark Adoption Model exists that takes into account age demographics for an area. This yields a more accurate result. A community with more youth will understandably have more skaters than retirement community, and communities in regions where outdoor sports like surfing, mountain biking, and snowboarding are popular will have a higher percentage than the national average. Because we’re only looking for a benchmark in which to start our final recommendation, using the total population for an area is sufficient.

There are nearly 10,000 skaters in Reno. Of those, one-quarter of them skate frequently.

Take your target area’s population and multiply it by 4.6% to get an estimate of how many skateboarders are in your target area.

You can find out how many of those skateboarders are regular riders by multiplying the total number of skaters by 25%, or .25. This level of detail is not required when determining your total skatepark need; it simply adds a degree of information that may be useful when talking about the composition of the local skateboarding community.

210,000 X .046 = 9,960 Total Skaters
There are 9,960 total skateboarders in Reno, Nevada.

If that number seems high, it’s because it is. The number reflects people who rode a skateboard at least once this year. Only a portion of those people are the types of skaters that skatepark activists are familiar with; the guys who seem to be out skating every day and in every temperature. Those frequent skaters will be at least a quarter of your total but may be as high as a third. However, you will not need to differentiate between casual skaters and frequent skaters for the Skatepark Adoption Model. Casual skaters need skateparks as much as frequent ones. This distinction is only included because it may be useful to the advocate who wants to supply more specific detail to his or her audience.

9,960 X .25 = 2,415 Frequent Skaters
Of the 9,960 skateboarders in Reno, 2,415 of them are ride a skateboard on a frequent, regular basis. In other words there are 2,415 regular skaters and 7,545 occasional skaters in the town.

You now know how many skateboarders there are in your community.

Step 3: Determine the Needed Terrain

As demonstrated above, the smallest practical space to skate is 1,500 square feet, or a space 20′ wide by 75′ long. (For comparison, a large two-car garage is about 500 square feet.) Because skaters essentially take turns sharing a space, 10 individuals can share this space. More than that and people will be displaced as the inconvenience and slow pace won’t out-value the reward.

So, if 10 skaters can share 1,500 square feet then it stands to reason that 100 skaters would need 15,000 square feet. And that 1,000 skaters would need 150,000 square feet.

For the purposes of establishing a baseline terrain requirement, the nuanced needs of skaters who prefer bowls versus those who prefer street are not relevant as the footage need and number of simultaneous users remains virtually identical.

Reno skateboarders need 15,000 square feet of skateboarding terrain.

Multiply your total number of skaters by 1.5 to determine how much skateboarding terrain your community requires. The result can be rounded to the nearest 100. This is the total skateboarding terrain need for your target area.

The 1.5 square foot factor takes into consideration the number of skaters in a community likely to be skating simultaneously at peak periods during a week. Special conditions may produce more terrain need than the 1.5 factor  delivers. For example, a community’s skateparks will likely be over capacity on the first sunny day after a streak of bad weather.

9,960 X 1.5 = 14,940 (rounded up to 15,000)

You now know how much skateboarding terrain your community needs.

Step 4: Distribute the Terrain

Large cities will obviously have a need for more skateparks than a small town though the need for skateparks in either community is the same. (It is only the quantity of terrain that is different.) In large metropolitan areas, the Skatepark Adoption Model may result in a preposterously huge amount of square footage. It’s important to remember that this is the TOTAL amount of terrain that should be distributed across several skateparks.

Reno's 15,000 can be distributed among three sites.

Today’s largest skateparks are about 40,000 square feet with a few in the world as large as 100,000 square feet.  The smallest skateparks are single structures, often built adjacent to an existing sidewalk or concrete slab. A community’s skatepark needs can be met using a combination of these different sizes and types of skateparks. While it may be more expedient to develop a single large facility, skateparks distributed across the target area will better serve the community. If your recommended terrain is 10,000 or larger you may consider distributing that total footage across more than one site in your target area.

Distributing the total desired footage across a number of parks will provide greater community access. If your recommended terrain was less than 8,000 square feet no distribution is necessary. A single facility should meet the target area’s needs provided it is centrally located.

The data-driven portion of the Skatepark Adoption Model exercise is complete. Now you may take that recommendation and tailor it to suit your community’s unique needs.

Step 5: Scale the Skateparks

The total amount of skatepark terrain should generally be divided by the number of neighborhoods in the target area. There are many different ways of detailing these skateparks to maximize their success. It’s valuable to consider the factors that may influence your skatepark character. Geographical features—rivers and steep grades—as well as man-made structures—freeways and business or industrial districts—can act as dividers within a community. These dividers are the separators between neighborhoods. An awareness about the composition of the target area is helpful.

Reno's three skateboarding facilities will be scaled so that one will be the "main" skatepark (10,000 square feet) located near downtown. Two smaller skate spots will provide skateboarding access in residential areas.

It’s valuable to have one of those sites act as a flagship for the ensemble of smaller facilities. The flagship will act as the centerpiece to the skatepark system while the smaller parks have a supporting role. The smaller parks serve users with greater constraints on their time or mobility while the larger park captures those users seeking a full skatepark experience. These larger parks often have a regional draw and are logically referred to as regional skateparks. These parks are usually 20,000 square feet or larger and feature a full accoutrement of terrain styles, one or more unique terrain features not found anywhere else in the area, and the site amenities that expand the ways that the skatepark can be used such as bleacher seating, lights, restrooms, and so on.

Residential neighborhoods will be better served by smaller skatepark designs that emphasize social inclusiveness. The fences and security cameras that are often found at larger skateparks may seem out of place in a quiet neighborhood. However, a smaller skatepark designed for less than 30 simultaneous users will fit easily anywhere without disrupting the area. These smallest parks are known as skate spots. Skate spots do not feature any of the site amenities found at regional parks (except for maybe a park bench, water fountain, and a trash can).

The largest parks are known as regional skateparks and the smallest are called skate spots. The “medium-sized” park between these extremes is known as neighborhood skateparks. Neighborhood skateparks can be anywhere between 8,000 to 18,000 square feet. Neighborhood skateparks should feature a variety of terrain styles and cater to different skill levels.

The distribution of skateparks can be tailored to meet community expectations and address geographical characteristics. Neighborhood skateparks should be adjacent to other community attractions such as playgrounds, ball fields, and retail shopping districts. The nation’s most successful neighborhood skateparks are positioned in areas that serve other community needs and enjoy the benefits of pedestrian traffic and social contact with non-skaters.

Step 6: Wrap It Up!

That concludes your Skatepark Adoption Model exercise. You now have a recommendation for a skatepark or skatepark system that should adequately serve your community for many years. You may compile the recommendation into a presentation that can be used with your neighbors, community and city councils, parks agencies, and other interested parties.

Your skatepark recommendation cites statistics from the United States Census Bureau, Board-Trac market research studies, (Board-Trac leases its data from American Sports Data), and your own observational evidence.

Let us know how you used the Skatepark Adoption Model in your skatepark effort.