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Source: Great Falls Tribune, Great Falls, Montana
Date: September 30, 2004
Byline: Martha Irvine AP National Writer and Tribune Staff


Boarders around the nation struggling to find legal places to street skate, skate parks slow to adapt

KETTERING, Ohio — He's turned professional and achieved rock-star status among legions of fellow skateboarders. But even Rob Dyrdek sometimes has trouble finding legal places to do what he refers to as his "job."

"I get paid a ridiculous amount of money to do what I do, and I still have to run from cops and jump fences," says Dyrdek, an Ohio native who now lives in San Diego. "I don't want to do that. I want to be able to get up every day and skate — in legal places."

We're not talking ramps and quarter-pipes here — elements commonly found in the many skateboard parks cities have built in recent years.

Dyrdek is a "street skater," the kind who uses railings, ledges and steps to do tricks. His is also the style of skateboarding that, while wildly popular, often draws the wrath of officials and building owners in cities where he and others skate.

In Great Falls, for instance, skaters are frowned upon for skateboarding at the Cascade County Courthouse, the Great Falls Public Library and other public areas.

But 13-year-old Austin Deshner said he would rather skateboard downtown than at the Riverside Railyard skate park. He listed rough terrain, less vert and stairs as some of the aspects he likes about street skating.

"At the skate park, there's one stair, but you can't do any tricks off it because it's too big," said the North Middle School student. "We like littler stairs."

Mike Kelly, a 14-year-old C.M. Russell High School student who also prefers street skating, said the Riverside Railyard always is crowded, and the other skaters are too judgmental.

But when Deshner, Kelly and their pals skateboard at the primo street skating spots around town, they get chased away.

The same thing is happening all over the country. Philadelphia has made skateboarding off limits in LOVE Park, a public space with a plaza-and-ledges design that unintentionally made it a mecca for skaters from all over the world.

Slowly, however, officials in more cities are hearing the street skaters' pleas — and beginning to make peace with them by incorporating elements that appeal to them in newer skate park designs.

In Virginia Beach, Va., city officials have turned an old landfill into the Mount Trashmore Skate Park, which includes the usual "bowl" found in many skate parks but which also has steps and railings.

A new skate park in Brainerd, Minn., built with funding from Chicago-based playground developer KaBOOM!, also has all those things and picnic tables that skaters can use to do tricks without fear of getting in trouble.

"Skaters who want half-pipes and ramps — they're, like, really old — not people our age," says 12-year-old Tony Augustinack, one of several youth who helped design and build the Brainerd park.

Meanwhile, Dyrdek is using his clout as a pro and funding from skateboarding accessories company DC Shoes to help build a public skate plaza specifically for street skaters in his hometown, Kettering, Ohio.

The pyramid-like plaza, slated to open next year, is tucked amid ball fields, a swimming pool and running track — a pretty mainstream setting considering street skating's rebellious, underground roots.

But parks superintendent Frank Postle says Kettering officials, who built a BMX bike track in the early 1980s, have a history of embracing "fringe sports."

And if adults don't appreciate that, he says, "kids certainly do."

Ben Tubb, a teen from Allen, Texas, has only seen the plans for Kettering's plaza online. But he says it's obvious that a skater helped design it — something he thinks doesn't happen often enough.

"The people who run these parks have to have skateboarded in their life to know what we need," says the 15-year-old who helped start a skateboarding club at his school last year — and hopes to turn it into a high school sport.

Tubb likes to skate at a park in nearby Plano, which includes railings and stairs as well as a quarter-pipes and ramps. But he says other parks have surfaces that are too slippery for landing or don't include enough street-skating elements. So he often ends up resorting to a ledge behind a closed grocery store to try new tricks.

He says his mom doesn't mind if he spends his afternoons there — "as long as I get my homework done."

But Scott Merritt, a parent in Huntington, N.Y., is just as happy that the new skate park in his city has ramps and bowls. He thinks that style of skating — known as "vert" or "transition" — is safer for his 5-year-old twins, Amanda and Sam, who've recently started skating with beginner equipment — "small skateboards, tons of pads and protective gear."

Says Merritt: "I'd rather know, as a parent, that my child is skating in a town-sponsored park, rather than in a mall parking lot or other public area where it would be considered a nuisance."

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