High Energy + Calculated Risk = Action Sports

“High energy,” “risk,” “adrenalin rush”--all words pop culture uses to describe the burgeoning category of action sports. In fact, two of the fastest growing sports, skateboarding (showing an impressive 73 percent increase in participation) and wall climbing (57 percent increase), have encouraged municipalities to add these amenities to their facilities and programming rosters.

In fact, if there’s any lingering hesitation in your community to add a skatepark or climbing wall, consider that these action sports are consistently stealing participants from more mainstream sports. Most agree that these sports are here to stay.

YMCA Adds Pool-side Climbing Wall

Three years ago the Robert K. Fox (RKF) Family YMCA in Lancaster, Ohio, wanted to add an attraction to its pool to augment the slide and basketball hoops, which were popular but no longer “fresh.” They wanted to appeal to a younger audience and keep up with the times.

Realizing action sports need not stop at the water’s edge, and undaunted by the lack of precedent (or maybe because of it), the YMCA decided to add a poolside climbing wall--the first one in Ohio.

According to Aquatic Director Stacy McQueary, it quickly became the second most-used pool feature--attractive to kids 6 years to 16.

As McQueary says, “It’s not enough to give people a square of water, you must also give them an activity so they stay in the water.”

Because the new climbing wall only requires a depth of eight feet, it is a very cost-effective addition for RKF, though installation was not without its challenges.

The product was so new the local health department had to develop regulations specifically to cover its installation and operation.

The safety rules they developed are as follows:

· Minimum age, 6 years

· Must have passed a swim test

· Can only jump off the structure from the mid-point or lower

According to McQueary, there has not been one accident on the wall. It has proven to be even safer than the slide and, as a result, the center is relaxing some of its rules for the wall.

McQueary also sings high praise for the product’s limited maintenance needs.

A nightly rinse of the polyethylene, pultruded fiberglass and stainless steel structure (manufactured by RockCraft Designs, www.playwalls.com) keeps the wall clean, and since all the parts are molded right onto the wall, there has been no need to check or replace anything.

If you’re looking for a wall of your own, the company offers a variety of options, from poolside to free standing, for playgrounds and schools. According to the company, all have been designed with safety in mind and ease of maintenance. (For a complete list of climbing wall vendors, check out the PRB Online Buyer’s Guide at www.parksandrecbusiness.com).

Skateboarding Takes Off

Skateboarding has been tagged as an activity for adrenalin junkies, the fearless and, quite frankly, crazy individuals with a death wish.

But for 13 million American kids, it’s the activity of choice. Once an urban activity, skateboarding has rolled into every suburb, small town and rural area. With a very low start-up cost (boards can be bought for as low as $10.00), this is the ideal sport for many kids, especially those seeking independence from the over-scheduled world of team sports. Besides, it can be done just about anywhere, which is one motivator for many communities to install skate parks.

Giving kids a place to skate solves many of the conflicts that occur when kids tend to skate everywhere. American Sports Data reports over 4 million kids skate daily, so the reality is that, without a properly designed skate park for them to use, the streets, school parking lots and basically anywhere there is cement become their skate park.

Kent Dahlgreen, Skater for Public Skate Parks (www.publicskatepark.com), a skater’s advocacy group, offers these suggestions when looking for a designer:

Find a company that understands the skater culture, preferably someone who does skate or has skated.

· Designers should be progressive and in touch with current trends.

· Look for designs that accommodate a variety of ages and skill levels.

· Make sure they take into account weather conditions to ensure proper materials are used for longevity.

Cascades Skate Park (Bloomington, Indiana)

On most days the upper Cascades Skate Park in Bloomington, Ind., echoes with the sounds of wheels grinding pavement. As the fearless attempt to “fakie” (skate backwards), ride the rails, or master any number of tricks, they get a great workout from this physically challenging sport.

After eight years of studying demand and national trends, John Turnbull, Sports Director of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, felt the city needed to provide a place in their public parks.

As with any extreme sport, the city’s liability was a question Turnbull responded to over and over. Inline skating and skateboarding are considered high-risk activities, and Indiana, along with many other states, has statutes that indemnify the city from suits that arise from voluntary participation in these types of sports. (Companies that design skate parks are a great resource for researching the liabilities in your state or city.)

Armed with information, Turnbull found it effective to explain these statutes to all involved and interested constituents, which enabled him to gain the necessary support to ask for the needed funding on a bond issue ballot.

Support arrived and the Lawrence R. Moss & Associates design was manufactured and installed by Dreamland Skateparks in 2003.

According to Trumbull, the community support for the park has” been way past expectations.”

The upkeep of the park has been very low, which Trumbull attributes to the concrete construction and, as with any community park, he has found it key to address problems immediately and at times creatively.

What is the best advice? Have a supervisor stop by the park on a varied schedule to keep vandalism, littering and inappropriate behavior to a minimum.

Pam Kutsick is a freelance writer and contributor to Camp Business and Parks & Rec Business magazines. She can be reached via e-mail at pkutsick@zoominternet.