Grinding Out The Details

By Heidi Lemmon      

Skateparks are quickly becoming the darling of a city’s recreational needs, as opposed to 20 years ago when they were considered a frivolous waste of public funds. Why the change? Skateparks have proven to be the most used park, per square foot, in the parks and rec portfolio. For this reason, many cities are building multiple parks and renovating older ones. Los Angeles has over 35 parks, Las Vegas has 22+ parks, and mega parks are being built in Texas, California, Kentucky, Canada, and China.

After 20 years, parks and rec agencies know what works and what doesn’t. Many schools are adding skateboarding for credit and offering after-school skateboarding programs. Los Angeles has over 60 skateboard programs on school grounds, complete with instructors, and beginning in elementary schools. Even the Olympics is considering adding skateboarding to its programming.

So what does it take to make a skate park a cherished amenity?

Updated Ramps
While metal surface ramps rust and exceed all OSHA standards for noise (safety and hearing loss) and wood ramps require a lot of maintenance, some good ramps from reputable builders can still be purchased. These ramps have a synthetic surface and are set on a metal base. They can be moved, but are considered semi-permanent. A few builders are offering portable ramps that can be easily moved from location to location.

Use Concrete When Possible
Concrete is now considered the standard for skateparks. The old saying, “It’s written in concrete,” still holds true. It’s expensive and it’s permanent, so a qualified designer and builder are important. While some might assume professional designers and builders cost more, this is not necessarily true; in fact, they may save money in the long run because a park will be safer and release an agency from added liability. In a lawsuit, the first thing litigators look at is the design of a skatepark. If they can prove it was designed by an architect with no experience in skateparks and a bunch of 12-year-old kids—there may be trouble. A good designer will meet with local skaters and BMX riders and design a park that works. Both the Tony Hawk Foundation and the Rob Dyrdek Foundation offer grants and builder support.

Consider Liability Issues
If a park is unstaffed, work with a designer who considers all users. Even if the park does not plan to allow other users, an unstaffed park will draw them. If there is an accident, the “attractive nuisance” doctrine will come into play. Fortunately, claims in unstaffed parks are rare. Staffed parks actually carry a higher liability because parents expect that their children are being supervised. Unstaffed parks have no one to blame or place liability. If a park is in an attractive location, unstaffed is usually better. If it’s in a poor location or has problems with undesirables hanging out, then a staffed one might be better. Each community has to decide.

Learn The LingoKeep in mind—not every facility has to be a full-blown skatepark. There are various options to consider in the type of skate venue as well as the amenities offered. Here are some of the most important options and lingo:

Skate Spot
This is a small area designated for skating and BMX—about 2,500 to 5,000 square feet. There are few features and perhaps just one or two. A city might go this route if there is little land, or skaters tend to congregate in one area. A city short on space could build several spots, each with unique features.

Skate Plaza
The first plaza designs (without transitions) started with Philadelphia’s Love Park. It is made up of ledges, stairs, and rails—quite often in a park-like setting. Plazas primarily tend to attract young males between 12 and 25.

Bowls are also called pools because they tend to look like a drained swimming pool. These facilities are used by all ages—from 3 or 4 years old right up to 60 years old—including girls and women.

Snake Run
Everyone loves these long, winding, shallow bowl-style runs. They are great for all ages.

A transition is a curved surface and can be a mini ramp, concrete ramp, or vert ramp. These ramps are great for boosting a skater high into the air, are lots of fun, and are quite safe. They are enjoyed by all ages.

A skatepark contains everything—a bowl, a street plaza area, and often a snake run. It should have at least 15,000 square feet and may easily end up over 40,000 square feet.

Mega Ramp
Mega ramps are the giant ramps seen in the X Games; they resemble a huge ski jump. These are not suitable for a public park.

Who Is Skating?
Whether you are a pool rider, vert rider, street rider, downhill racer, or a cruiser, you are considered a skater. Skating is a great way to get around and exercise, plus it’s plenty of fun. I started the Old Guys jam series in 2010 with Jeff Greenwood (Concrete Disciples) for skaters over 30. The idea was to promote health and fitness. We never expected it to grow into a major series. We have divisions from 30 through 50+, and will soon debut a 60+ division. World Cup Skateboarding has added an amateur series with kids under 10 killing it, and Amelia Brodka started EXPOSURE, a very successful women’s pro-am event. There are parents and grandparents who ride with their children. It’s not exactly the bad-boy sport of yesteryear.

Heidi Lemmon is the executive director of Skate Park Association International as well as a board member for IBMXFF and the World Freestyle Skateboard Association. She is the producer of the OG Jam series. Reach her at

Resources For Skateparks

  • World Cup Skateboarding
  • Street League Skateboarding
  • Rod Dyrdek Foundation
  • Tony Hawk Foundation
  • Skate Park Association International (formerly SPAUSA)
  • Concrete Disciples