f you build it, they will come: That's the credo being heeded by a growing number of savvy governmental jurisdictions, not to mention enterprising companies. Rather than turning fields of corn into ballparks, however, they're transforming abandoned tennis courts and other existing spaces into skate parks, carefully planned settings where both board and in-line skaters can practice their pastimes.
Skateboarding, originated by California surfers in the '50s, became a fad in the early '70s with the invention of polyurethane wheels, which made skating much smoother. As the sport's popularity grew in the 1980s and '90s, thanks to competitions like ESPN2's Extreme Games, now known as the X Games, more and more skaters began toting their boards and makeshift obstacles to public plazas, parking lots and stairways. They didn't have a lot of other options.
According to the Skatepark Association of the United States of America (SPAUSA), skate parks are the No. 1 facility choice of teenagers polled by parks and recreation departments. The average skateboarder, according to SPAUSA statistics, is male and between ages 7 and 16. As skateboarding's legions of participants continue to grow, more and more public skate parks are cropping up to meet demand: SPAUSA's list of parks in the United States has jumped from more than 200 in 1996 to about 1,000 today.
Often, the parks are collaborative efforts between local skaters and community parks and recreation departments. Typically, government task forces meet with skaters to field suggestions on how a park should be designed: Street courses, with obstacles like benches and stairs, or "vert" (vertical) courses heavy on tall ramps? Wood or steel equipment, designed by companies like Woodbridge-based Ramptech, Pennsylvania's Huna Designs or Minnesota's Skatewave? Or concrete parks designed by firms like California Skateparks?
Public skate parks in the Washington area include newly built, highly supervised courses as well as bare-bones "skate at your own risk" settings. More than half of the region's roughly 30 skate parks have been constructed in the past two years. Here's a look at some of the newest facilities, as well as the region's largest park and the only skate park in the District. While geared mostly toward skateboarding and aggressive in-line skating, some parks also allow BMX bicycles.
HILL STREET SKATE PARK
At Frederick's new Hill Street Skate Park, it's all about community.
"We all banded together and we just petitioned, petitioned, petitioned, and we got it built!" says center supervisor Kelly Delauter of the local skaters' efforts to persuade the city to construct a skate park. Since opening May 15, the 17,000-square-foot, all-concrete park has drawn a steady flow of skaters happy to have a close, acceptable place to practice their ollies and kickflips.
"All the kids are making friends with each other," says Delauter, a 24-year-old skater. "It's not just a place to come and skateboard; it's a safe place for kids to come and hang out. The older guys teach the young guys, and the young guys teach the even younger guys."
"This story's got a lot of heart to it," Delauter says, citing such examples as a park enforcement officer who donated skateboards, safety gear and memberships to four low-income youths, and employees of the Pit Crew skate shop, who volunteered their time to design the park. When they notice a kid doing something nice for a fellow skater or finally nailing a long-rehearsed trick, Delauter and his staff hand out a "golden ticket" valid for free admission.
Of course, it's not just the fellowship that draws skaters: The park includes such unique features as a clover-shaped bowl with depths of 5, 7 and 10 feet. It also includes a smaller, P-shaped bowl and a full street course with such obstacles as four different sizes of handrails, a hip and multiple quarterpipes, including an eight-foot-high quarterpipe with two extensions, Delauter says.
"It's all concrete, and it has really good flow to it," says 16-year-old Zach Clanton of the reasons he travels here from Germantown about four days each week to practice tricks like crooked grinds and 5-0s. He also enjoys the bowl.
"It's just so much fun to go around really fast and grind the coping," or edge of the bowl, he says.
A recent transplant from Colorado, he's accustomed to a bigger selection of skate parks: "Tons, and they're all free!"
HILL STREET SKATE PARK -- 1231 Still Meadow Pl., off Route 40, Frederick. 240-409-3807 during park hours. www.cityoffrederick.com/departments/Recreation/recreation.htm. Open year-round. Summer hours, through August, are Monday through Saturday 10 to 7 and Sundays 1 to 5. Admission is $4 for city residents ages 17 and younger, $5 for residents ages 18 and older; $8 for nonresident youths and $10 for nonresident adults. A 13-visit punch card is $45 for resident youths, $50 for resident adults; $90 and $100, respectively, for nonresidents. A yearly pass is $130 for resident youths, $160 for resident adults; $260 and $320 for nonresidents. Bikes are not permitted. The finished park eventually also will include two in-line hockey rinks, skate park lights, athletic fields and a water park.
WAKEFIELD SKATE PARK
"It's important to have a place for kids to skate because it is one of the fastest-growing sports in America," says 21-year-old Alex Bauer, catalyst behind the new Wakefield Skate Park in Annandale. "Plus, skating around town might lead to your board being confiscated or possible fines; a park is a much better idea."
Bauer and his friends "were always skating at shopping centers and at [our school], which usually led to the cops being called or being kicked out of the area," recalls Bauer, a skateboarder and in-line skater who attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in the late '90s. Like many skaters, he became frustrated over the lack of safe and legal locations where he could participate in his sports.
"So I decided to e-mail a few government people and got a reply from [Fairfax County] Braddock District Supervisor Sharon Bulova," he says. "Later, my friends and I met with her and some other county people. We gave a presentation and everyone liked the idea. About one year later, there was a bond coming up for the parks and it got passed; my park was starting to come together."
Bauer joined a task force to redesign Wakefield Park in Annandale, and the group eventually decided to place the skate park on the site of old shuffleboard courts adjacent to the Audrey Moore RECenter. As plans progressed, Bauer eventually graduated and headed for college. But he returned in April as a guest of honor at the new park's grand-opening celebration.
"The park was fabulous and much bigger and nicer than I ever imagined," he says. "They gave me a chance to speak, and then we cut the ribbon.
Wakefield's 21,500-square-foot course, one of the largest in the area, features two varieties. A street course features bank and radius (curved) ramps, a pyramid, and a rail and box for grinding. Called the freestyle course because "we didn't want it to sound like 'the bunny slope,' " the area is suitable for beginners, says park manager Marc Barton.
On the adjoining competition course, "everything's bigger, everything's steeper. These quarterpipes are eight feet tall -- pretty good drop!" he said.
Other highlights of the more advanced area include a double jump box, bank ramp with kicker, roll-over and radius grind box. An opening in the rail between the two courses allows skaters to go from one side to the other.
Like many newer skate parks, Wakefield features constant supervision by "skateguards," who keep an eye on things much like lifeguards stand watch at a pool. In the rough-and-tumble world of skating, wipeouts happen frequently, but usually kids get right back up and on a roll. Sometimes, an embarrassed youngster remains sprawled for several seconds.
"About the first 10 times I saw it, it scared the life out of me!" Barton says.
Wakefield draws a lot of beginning skaters with summer camps and classes taught by a local skating school, American Inline. Here, kids learn the basics of getting around, performing tricks and falling safely.
"I know how to ollie now and kick-turn down a ramp," says 11-year-old skateboarder Leela Gupta, more confident after a week at camp. "I'm trying to learn how to do a nose manual -- it's hard!"
"If someone says, 'I'm gonna do it!' and then spends all day on it, they're going to learn it," says 17-year-old instructor Andrew Griffiths, pointing out the importance of persistence. He also teaches lessons that are even harder for some kids: skaters' etiquette, or learning to take turns when two people are ready to roll down a ramp at the same time.
WAKEFIELD SKATE PARK -- Wakefield Park, 8100 Braddock Rd., Annandale. 703-321-7081. www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/skatepark. Open year-round. Summer hours are Monday through Friday 12:30 to 10, Saturdays noon to 9 and Sundays 9 to 9. Only ages 12 and younger are permitted Sundays from 9 to noon. Only BMX bikers are admitted Wednesdays 12:30 to 4, Thursdays 6:30 to 10 and Sundays 6 to 9. Visit the Web site to download a monthly calendar listing all session times. Admission per session is $4.50 for county residents ages 6 to 18, $5.50 for residents ages 19 to 59; $7.50 for nonresidents. Memberships, including 25 sessions, are $90 for resident youths, $110 for resident adults and $150 for nonresidents. All safety equipment is available for rent. The facility can be rented for private events, $250 for a three-hour minimum. Future expansion will include such features as a concrete bowl and two halfpipes.
VANS SKATEPARK POTOMAC
Vans Skatepark Potomac opened in April 2000 as the world's biggest indoor skate park. With 61,640 square feet of skating space, it's still one of the largest in existence, and hands-down the largest in the Washington area.
One of six indoor skate parks run by the Vans shoe company, the facility looks like a warehouse plunked down at the far end of the massive Potomac Mills shopping mall. The din never diminishes, as dozens of Tony Hawk wannabes whiz up and down ramps and all around the concrete street course while piped-in punk rock provides a steady background beat.
"All of our sections are intertwined so you have a consistent run throughout the whole park," says manager Brian Fagan. The park boasts two bowls, a light-bulb-shaped concrete "Pee-Wee" bowl with three-foot and five-foot depths, accented with coping like you'd find on a real swimming pool. The kidney-shaped, concrete "Pro Bowl," with depths of six and 10 feet, appeals to "old school" skaters in their thirties to fifties, who flock to the park for special bowl sessions on Wednesday nights, Fagan says.
The park's 8,000-square-foot concrete street course is made to duplicate street skaters' favorite obstacles: benches, ledges, staircases, handrails and curbs. A "Pee-Wee" street course offers scaled-down versions of the larger course's obstacles, along with a four-foot-tall, 24-foot-wide mini ramp. Other highlights include a 48-foot-long, six-foot-tall mini ramp; a 12-foot-tall, 40-foot-wide vert ramp; a stunt jump area with six- to eight-foot-tall quarterpipes, banks, a funbox and gap jump; and a course with quarterpipes, banks, pyramids, funboxes and handrails. Many obstacles feature smooth, Skatelite surfaces.
The park attracts a lot of driven, competitive skaters, such as 16-year-old Rico Giusti of Woodbridge, who skates here nearly every day, particularly on the street course, "the funnest part -- you can do a variety of tricks." He sports the logo of his sponsor, Casual brand skateboard decks and apparel, and has participated in demonstration videos and contests.
Kids as young as 6 frequent the park as well, looking bold and determined as they attempt to successfully navigate quarterpipes and halfpipes.
"We've actually had quite a few parents getting involved," Fagan says, including a mom who recently scheduled a private lesson for herself while her son skated.
Unlike most area courses, Vans gets a steady stream of skaters even during the sweltering midday hours: It's air-conditioned!
VANS SKATEPARK POTOMAC -- Potomac Mills, 2700 Potomac Mills Cir., Woodbridge. 703-491-1815.www.vans.com/skateparks/vans_template_potomac.html. Six two-hour sessions take place daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. BMX sessions are Tuesdays 8 to 10, Thursdays 6 to 8 and Sundays 6 to 8 and 8 to 10. Vans membership is $25 per year. Admission per session is $5 for members, $12 for nonmembers Monday through Friday; $7 for members, $15 for nonmembers Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. All ages must wear helmets, and ages younger than 16 also must wear kneepads and elbow pads. All safety gear is available for rent. Skateboards may be rented for $5 per session. The park features a monthly calendar of discounts, such as half off your next skate session when you buy one session. Birthday parties -- including posters, stickers and game tokens, plus, for the birthday child, a free skating session -- cost $8 per member, $12 per nonmember. A two-hour lesson with a private instructor is $40. The on-site store sells skateboarding equipment and Vans shoes and apparel. The park hosts special events and competitions, including the following:
Saturday and Sunday -- Checkers Skateboarding Championship Series, 10 to 7 each day, with registration from 10 to 11. A Surfrider Foundation fundraiser, to be televised on the Fuel TV network, features a street contest on Saturday and a pool, or bowl, contest on Sunday. Visit www.checkersseries.com for additional information.
SHAW SKATE PARK
The first and only public skate park in the District, Shaw proves a far cry from its suburban counterparts, but its lack of glitz doesn't keep it from beckoning in-line skaters, skateboarders and bikers, even during a late afternoon threatened by impending thunderstorms.
"I need to get a little bit more experience before I do that one," says 10-year-old in-line skater Stephan Perkins of the District, looking toward a tall ramp. "I just started going down ramps last week."
The 8,000-square-foot park, set on two asphalt-floored former tennis courts, includes six sets of ramps and 19 activities, all made by Huna Design of galvanized steel with a Skatelite Pro riding surface, says Maryse Beliveau, the landscape architect who oversaw the project. The park opened in September, the result of about 12 hours of work by 150 community volunteers and a team of Huna Design employees. Several community organizations and national nonprofit foundations funded the facility.
Perkins visits the park with his four brothers during outings to their grandmother's house. As the boys playfully chase one another on skates around the obstacles, a young woman nearby steadies her bike tires and quietly works on balance skills. Firecrackers pop loudly from the neighboring basketball court. Seemingly out of nowhere, a skateboarder effortlessly glides around the course, whooshing down a quarterpipe, then up a spine, hanging on the rail for a few seconds, then rolling back down and zooming up another ramp. The brothers watch in admiration.
"I've been skating since before they had these things," Shawn Goring says of the skate parks, taking a breather following what he called a "graceful evasive maneuver" in which his board flew out from under him during a failed landing of a drop and spin move off the top of a ramp. With his golden-highlighted dreadlocks, long black shorts and bold floral-print shirt, he looks like -- and in fact, is -- a surfer. The 37-year-old visual artist skateboards for "pure fun."
"Just for the fun of it -- soul skater," Stephan says appreciatively.
"Never competed in my life, but I have been crowned 'King of the Playground,' " Goring says with a grin.
The old-school skater doesn't mince words regarding his mixed feelings about skate parks.
"The more money you have, the safer and nicer it's gonna be, which is really the opposite of what skating's about," he says. He laments the fact that kids in the District have so few places to skate and can't skate in a public place such as Freedom Plaza without getting into trouble with the police.
"How can you have a place called Freedom Plaza and not allow kids to skate?" Goring asks.
What does he get out of skating?
"If makes me feel like for one shining moment, I got no mama, no cop, no girlfriend, no principal, no rules," he says. "You don't have nobody messing with you, for one shining moment."
SHAW SKATE PARK -- 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, adjacent to Shaw Junior High School. 202-673-7647. No Web site. Open year-round daily from dawn to dusk. Free admission. Skate at your own risk at this unsupervised site, which doesn't require waivers. The city recommends that adults supervise children and that all skaters use standard safety equipment.
Mary Jane Solomon, an Annandale-based freelance writer, contributes frequently to Weekend.