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In the News Index

Source: Miami Herald
Date: January 22, 2006
Byline: Patrick Joseph


SKATEBOARDING: Renegade sport parks itself on Main Street

Skateboarding, long considered the exclusive domain of street punks and miscreants, has gone mainstream. For proof, just consider the proliferation of skate parks around the country.

At present there are roughly 1,000 skate parks in America, and hundreds more are being built each year in towns both large and small, all across the country.

By and large, public skate parks are grass-roots projects, often funded with grants and donations, and sold to risk-averse parks departments more accustomed to shooing skateboarders off the premises than giving them a place to grind.

Tony Hawk, the sport's answer to Lance Armstrong, has a charitable foundation dedicated to getting more parks built, particularly in communities that can't readily afford them. Since its inception in 2002, the foundation has awarded more than $1 million to 260 projects.

For those not familiar with the concept of skate parks, imagine smooth surfaces most often made of concrete and sculpted into waves, bowls and pipes in which skaters can hone their skills.

DESIGNED BY SKATERS

The finest examples are built by skater-owned companies solely devoted to the design and construction of skate parks — outfits like Grindline in Seattle, Dreamland in Portland, Ore., and Team Pain in Winter Springs.

Many a well-meaning town has found out the hard way that, while any general contractor can pour concrete, it takes the practiced eye of an accomplished skater to shape the contours and transitions that make a skate park worthy of the name.

The end result is often impressive. While all that concrete may sound like an eyesore, the best skate parks — all graceful lines and supple curves — could pass for public art installations.

Skate parks may be booming, but there's still a long way to go to catch up with demand. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, some 10 million Americans were skateboarding last year, more than played tennis.

From a city hall perspective, a skate park is often money well spent. For about the same money it takes to build and maintain a decent set of tennis courts, a town can build a skate park that is bound to draw out-of-towners who either don't have a park of their own or who want to explore new terrain.

Skate tourism has put many small towns on the map. Trinidad, Colo. (population 9,000), Hailey, Idaho (population 7,000), and Aumsville, Ore. (population 3,000), all have world-class skate parks that bring visitors from across the country.

It's not just small towns that are building skate parks. In a bid to attract more young professionals and creative types to the city, Louisville, Ky., opened a skate park right smack downtown. The 40,000-square-foot Louisville Extreme Park boasts a 24-foot-high full pipe, several pools and various ''vert ramps.'' Equipped with stadium lights, the park is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are plans to add 20,000 square feet of indoor skating surface.

Oregon is the top draw for road-tripping skateboarders, with hundreds of top-notch parks scattered around the state. A popular circuit runs down the state's rugged coastline, stringing together parks in seaside towns from Lincoln City to Reedsport.

And then there's Portland's legendary Burnside skate park, which was built in 1990 under a city bridge without permits or permission.

TO EMBRACE OR BAN?

Frustrated by a lack of places to skate, the park's builders just started pouring concrete, then waited for the authorities to shut them down. The clampdown never came, however. Instead, the city embraced the project.

Not every municipality has been so accommodating. Take the case of Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love hasn't shown much for its skateboarding brethren, aggressively enforcing a ban on the activity in LOVE Park (also known as JFK Plaza), an area long coveted by street skaters.

Even in Philly, however, the tide is shifting in skateboarding's favor. At an open-house event in June, city planners unveiled the final design for a $5 million skate park to be built on the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Calling it a ''gateway to the waterfront,'' planners say the proposed park is designed to appeal to skateboarders and nonskateboarders alike. It doesn't get any more mainstream than that.

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