There’s a problem with
Skateboarding in Australia.

Council’s are investing in skateboard parks right across Australia.
What is the problem with that?

Action sports are now bigger than ever. Skateboarding is in the Olympics and it seems every Council in Australia wants a skateboard facility. But there’s a problem in the design of Australian skateboard parks.

So what is the problem?

Well, skateboarding is not skateboarding. Street-skating is a different discipline to Park skating which is a different discipline to Vert and Bowl skating. Although grouped under the category of ‘skateboarding’ each of these disciplines is unique and each requires specific facilities to cater for the needs of each discipline.

The problem with current skatepark developments across Australia is that they do not fully address the needs of these different disciplines within skateboarding — specifically advanced vert bowls.

Vert bowls are disappearing from the landscape along with the advanced style of skateboarding.

The current approach to designing and building parks is eroding skateboarding, because it does not provide an opportunity for kids and adults to progress to advanced levels. Smaller bowls teach kids bad habits, like pre-grabbing and plugging airs. As a result, refined and advanced skills and are disappearing.

(Psst. If you’re new to skateboarding. We’ve made a couple of quick links to catch you up to speed):

Skateboarding came from surfing. It started on the streets, but its real core came from surfers who started skating pools to recreate the feeling of riding big waves. When there was no surf, the abandoned pools of California were barged and a whole new ‘sport’ came into being. The Z-Boys (below) were some of the skaters at the forefront of skateboarding.

Pools were usually privately owned and of course no one wanted kids skating in their pools, so skating progressed to purpose-built skate parks that emulated the pools. Seminal places like Del Mar and the iconic Combi Bowl built at Pipeline Skatepark in Uplands in 1979. These new parks became the breeding grounds for modern skateboarding and created a new breed of skaters, like Steve Alba, Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero and (shown below riding the original Combi pool).

Kids aspired to skate like these guys all over the world. Here in Australia no-one had backyard pools like they did in the states, so a few hard working people and local Councils — like Melton —began to invest in the design of in-ground purpose built bowls.

West Melton Skatepark — 1980

Epic! Yet now look at councils trying to cram a couple of piss weak obstacles and cricket pitch onto the same little slab of concrete.

Comment by DeathMoth on a photo of West Melton skatepark — user on skateboard.com.au

In the mid to late eighties — in the days before youtube — Australian skaters could only rely on international magazines and VHS movies to be influenced by the international scene. That was until a tour staged by Hardcore in the surf town of Torquay set Australia’s skating scene on fire. Thousands of people came to see the likes of Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk, Tony Hallam and Lee Ralph skate the vert ramp.

Hardcore Ramp Riot, Torquay 1998

Fast forward to today and one competition in Orange County, California still draws huge crowds. The annual Vans Pool Party invites the best pro skaters from around the world to the mecca of skateboarding — the Combi Bowl. Only one Australian has been good enough to be invited twice to the event which draws thousands of spectators to watch along with tens of thousands more watching online.

The current environment

In the current environment, skatepark designers and Councils are overlooking this discipline of skateboarding. A handful of Councils in Victoria have invested advanced bowls – Moreland City Council, Surf Coast Shire, Frankston City Council, Epping and Noble Park.

Apart from Bowls, there are a handful of vert ramps (Prahran – built 15 years ago and Waurn Ponds – built 25 years+ ago). Otherwise you have to find and pay to skate private facilities like The Park and The Shed.

There are also a few bowls that are severely outdated and unrideable. The Corio Keyhole (shown below) was built 40 years ago. It has an elliptical transition no coping and exposed aggregate in the concrete.

Corio Keyhole bowl in Geelong. Built 40 years ago.

In Barwon Heads, Victoria the local bowl has had structural damage for over 4 years. The steel coping used to grind and ‘pop’ off together with the face wall has shifted an inch away from the concrete platform. Leaving a visible gap between the platform and the coping.

So there are just a handful of bowls and ramps suited to this style of skateboarding across the State. In contrast, there are a multitude of skate parks geared to street and flowpark skaters, with more and more designs being approved or in development.

Why can’t we just skate the smaller bowls?

If you watched the videos above, you will see that vert bowl riding is a specific discipline within skateboarding. It is impossible to do 5ft backside airs in a 3-4ft bowl. We require a bowl with 10ft transition and a foot of vert as a minimum. Due to the vertical speed involved, the bowl also needs to closed off from other parts of the skatepark. Vert and Bowl skateboarding can’t happen in skateparks like this:  

Bannockburn Skate Park – Convic


Problems faced in the current environment.

So why don’t we have as many vert bowls as street parks? Community consultations, budget and perceived danger play a large part in the decision making by Council’s when designing and building skateparks.

Problem 1: Community Consultation

For a few reasons, most skateparks are developed based on feedback gained through an exhaustive process of community consultation. The feedback provides Councils with something to show stakeholders which underpins the development of a park, while project managers and designers get a sense of the creative direction for conceptualising the parks.

The trouble is the community consultation feedback does not provide a true indication of what skaters need in a park.

By allowing ‘everyone’ across the community to be involved in the process of design, we are diluting the needs and requirements of the people who use it — skaters. Essentially everyone who submits feedback is taken as an expert who knows what they are talking about. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Young kids and parents contribute a lot to this consultation process, and while it’s awesome to have them involved and excited about the process, they should not have a say on anything to do with design. Their opinions are invalid. Why? Because they have not been involved in the sport long enough to understand what makes a good skate park.

The inclusion of people with little experience in the design process erodes the quality and capability of the parks. Everything becomes smaller and more accessible. Tech parks, flow parks and small bowls. These service the need of street skaters and park skaters, but vert-skaters are consistently left without adequate facilities to skate.

Most of the skate park designers in Australia know how to design and build a good skate park. The trouble is they are too heavily guided by the community feedback. There is a distinct lack of consultation with people who ride advanced bowls — opportunities to grow the sport and build advanced facilities are pushed aside in favour of smaller ones.

When they are not heard, it is easy for skateboarders to become disheartened by this process. Consequently the feedback Council is receiving is not accurate.

*

Council may require community consultation to source feedback to justify the project, but there needs to be safeguards in place to overrule inexperienced people making these decisions. 

Problem 2: Everything must be inclusive.

Independence and rebellion is at the heart of skateboarding. It is not a team sport, but an individual one. It forces you to try and overcome fears, honing both mental and physical skills. To many it provides an escape from daily and pressures and provides a positive focus. Collectively, skateboarders gather at these facilities to do their training. There is no team. There is a collective of like minded people practicing to become better at their ‘sport’.

Over the last decade, investment in landscape architecture has changed the visual appearance of skate parks. Modern skate parks are often brightly coloured and are better integrated with their surroundings. Some even have visual cues that connect the park with the community, history and environment. They have become visually inviting spaces.

However, a skateboard park is not a playground. It’s not a daycare centre. It’s a hard concrete surface with a particular use that involves people moving at high speed. Inherently, people at skateboard parks get hurt.

In a recent experience, our local Council was looking to upgrade a local skateboard park and included a rock wall, a parkour course, trampolines and a pump track in the skateboard park. Not separated, but integrated into the space. An assumption by someone at Council was that skateboard parks should be inclusive and for everyone.

We need to stop selling skateparks like they have something for everyone.

People at a skatepark who are not there for skateboarding become a dangerous distraction. Kids running on ramps, parents standing in the middle of the course and balls being kicked or thrown around around are not activities that go well with skateboarding. Encouraging those behaviours and associations with skateboard parks is an accident waiting to happen – literally.

By all means make the surrounding area inclusive, build a playground, build a parkour course or a pump track, but keep them separated from skateboard parks.

Problem 3: Budgets

Many times, advanced bowls are deleted from proposals due to budget. Clearly it takes time to engineer, design and build an advanced bowl, and costs can esculate. The same is true of street courses and flow parks.

A concrete skatepark — if designed and built well – is an investment that will last for decades and span generations. Over a 20 year period, an investment of $1M into a park will provide a long-lasting facility for less than $50,000 per year.

Skateparks require minimal maintenance from Council. Compared to the cost of building a sporting oval that requires constant mowing, watering, lighting and maintenance vs the usage.

Done well, a good park design encourages visitation from other regions, States and can provide International acclaim. Actually providing income to Council from tourists and competitions.

So how can Council’s capitalise on this investment?

Firstly, we need a commitment from Council to building the best park they possibly can. Allocating a budget that is realistic and allows for inclusion of more advanced bowls ensures a park will cater to all disciplines of skateboarding*.

Further if Council doesn’t have enough money – don’t build it – it’s better to keep that money in a bank and build a proper park in 12 month’s time than build a mediocre park that no-one will use.

As an alternative, Council could provide a commitment to building a park that represents all disciplines of skateboarding in a series of different build stages.

How can skatepark designers make the budget go further?

Park designer’s need to include all skateboard disciplines across a region. Designing well considered skateboard facilities should be the primary use of the budget – above landscaping, playground and thematic inclusions.

Park designers should also be investing in the design and engineering of advanced skate bowls. Unlike flow parks, Skate bowls don’t need to be reinvented every time they are built. Things like channels and esculators, pool transitions and ladders, death boxes are all superfluous and not required.

We really need some basic well built bowls – like a kidney bowl. Park designers should each have a toolkit of vert bowls in their arsenal – each carefully designed and engineered, ready to go. Perhaps this basic toolkit would include a kidney, keyhole and Combi or clover bowl. These can be utilised for future projects – across multiple sites – therefore saving on extra costs designing and engineering a new bowl.

Problem 4: Skateboarding is for kids

Skateboarding starts with kids. It is practised through teen years and is often perfected in adult years. Of course there are exceptions to this, but in general it is adult skateboarders who become professional and are paid to skate for a living.

These pro skateboarders (who are not kids) exist across all disciplines of skateboarding and are essentially paid to represent a skateboard company in order to sell product to other skaters (mainly kids). So while kids are and always have been integral to skateboarding, its actually adults who make a living from it and require properly design and built facilities to skate.

Problem 5 – Danger

Surely having an 11 foot deep hole in a playground poses a huge risk to young children and skateboarders.

So this problem has two main issues:

1) Kids, toddlers and inexperienced riders shouldn’t be allowed to access advanced areas easily (see notes above regarding Skateparks are not for everyone). This not only keeps kids out of harms way, but also protects skaters from scooters or other foreign objects ending up in the bowl mid-run.

2) Large and deeper bowls are actually safer. Lets quickly compare an 11ft bowl to a 9ft (or smaller) bowl:

An 11ft deep bowl has a 10ft transition and a foot of vert. It is intimidating and in most cases treated with respect by skaters. The vertical nature of the bowl teaches skaters to shoot straight up and out of the bowl when they do airs. The size of the bowl encourages skaters to wear safety equipment (pads and helmets). If and when skaters fall they are falling onto the curve of the transition, which dissipates some of the blow.

A 9ft deep bowl has 8-8.5ft transitions and a half foot of vert. It is less intimidating and often skaters ride these without protection. As there is less vert, it teaches the skater to not only go up and out, but to also pull on the board to avoid hanging up on the coping. The problem is, now there is less transition to fall on, and skaters may and will fall directly onto the flat surface. This is how damaging injuries are sustained.

It is recommended that any advanced bowls be separated from flowparks and street sections. This is the role of the park designers. It may seem like a great idea to combine all the facilities into one big fun park, but this approach creates dangerous scenarios.

Advanced bowls can be separated from other facilities by using a fence, a different height, bollards, vegetation or other design components.

Problem 6 – Design by Committee

Design by committee never works. Community consultations whittle great designs down to mediocre ones. The more (inexperienced) voices and opinions at the table mean the original and best ideas are always dumbed down for the lowest common denominator. 

There needs to be an authoritive voice overseeing the design proposals and ensuring they meet the needs of skaters in the region, the budget constraints and advance the sport.

A project brief for a new skatepark should first take into account the needs of the SKATE community within a region. This should also involve an assessment of existing facilities within the region and align those against whether each of the 3 disciplines have been properly accounted for.

If, from this investigation, a discipline like vert bowl skating is deemed lacking (hint-hint), the project should result in a park that fits that discipline. This approach ensures that within a region, skateboarders have facilities to learn, progress and advance. It means we aren’t building the same 4ft high flowpark in every suburb. It ensures that within a certain radius geographically there is something for everyone.

Council’s should be taking advice from park designers. Park designers should be taking advice from professional skateboarders — relevant to each discipline of skateboarding.

Street skaters shouldn’t be designing vert bowls. Vert skaters shouldn’t be designing street courses — because they are two different disciplines requiring two distinctly different facilities. A street skater doesn’t know the intricacies of a vert bowl skating, and vice-versa.

Problem 6 – Basic needs of skaters

Why is a skatepark always in a paddock 5 miles from town with no lighting, no toilets or drinking water? more here…

Moving forward

It is proposed the framework of designing a skatepark should look something like this:

  • Council looks at developing skate parks as a regional investment.
  • Council assesses the facilities and usage of existing skateparks in their region.
  • Council engages park designers to establish a ‘wish-list’ that caters to all 3 disciplines: street, flowpark and vert.
  • Council and park designers collaboratively prioritise the wish-list based on facilities that are lacking in the region.
  • Park designers engage independent experienced professional skateboarders to advise on design concepts and development.
  • Concepts are provided for public feedback – Feedback is sorted into experience, and relevance to the park requirements to meet Council’s wish list.
  • Concepts are revised and approved by independent professional skateboards.
  • Park designers continue on to the develop and build stages.

This approach ensures Council has a relevant list of skateboard facilities to be built across the region that collectively cater to all skateboarders. It also ensures that what is built is relevant and useful to each skateboard discipline.

TO ADD:

Design requirements – minimum specs for bowls 10ft/1ft etc.

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