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In the News Index

Date: April 14, 2004
Byline: April Umminger

Street skaters get a place of their own

Rob Dyrdek knows what it's like to suffer for your sport.

Dyrdek, 29, a professional street skateboarder, has been 'cuffed and ticketed, arrested more times than he can remember, stripped down and put in jail.

"I make six figures a year and I have to run from the cops when I'm trying to do my job," he says.

We're talking about skateboarding, right?

Dyrdek has felt the consequences of breaking local laws that restrict skateboarding in public areas. To him, the run-ins with police illustrate the obstacles street skateboarders face trying to pursue their passion.

But now, animosity toward skaters could be on the way out, when Dyrdek, his hometown of Kettering, Ohio, and two corporate sponsors, Seek and DC Shoes, break ground on Kettering Skate Plaza, a first-of-its-kind street-skating park.

"Someone had to step up for everyone and do something," Dyrdek says of his $600,000 plaza of dreams, which re-creates the best street-skating spots from around the world. Destinations duplicated in the 40,000 square-foot plaza range from a stair scheme at Philadelphia's Love Park to elements of San Francisco's Embarcadero.

To add to the envisioned skaters' paradise: The park is free, open to the public and follows "skate-at your-own-risk" rules, which recommend pads and helmets but doesn't require them.

"I don't think they (city officials) get that this will put Kettering on the map," Dyrdek says. "You can build this anywhere, and people will come from all over the world."

And why not? Kettering's re-created attractions won't have any of the man-made obstacles that authorities put into place in their real-world counterparts to make them inaccessible to skateboarders. Authorities "skateproof" areas that become overrun. They weld metal knobs to ledges and put concrete planters or poles at the bottom of handrails.

Measures taken to curb skateboarding are not implemented to foil the alternative sport, but rather because skating in prohibited areas can cause so many problems.

"There are a whole bunch of consequences to allowing skateboarding where it doesn't belong," says Philip Goldsmith, managing director for the city of Philadelphia.

"The issue with Love Park is skateboarding does damage to public property, and it makes it far more difficult for pedestrians to walk through safely."

Goldsmith also says damage to handrails is a potential hazard to those with disabilities. He estimates that skateboarding in Love Park cost the city tens of thousands of dollars.

To the untrained eye — and many police officers — street skating looks likes kids running amok on private, state and civic property.

But Dyrdek champions the anti-organized sport as one that is mentally more creative and freeing than "ones where you start and score, then win or lose."

More than 70% of skateboarders consider themselves street skaters, a style defined by sliding or "grinding" down handrails, flipping the board onto ledges or jumping down a flight of stairs.

This style is different from transition skating: tricks done in a half-pipe, made mainstream by Tony Hawk.

To date, street skaters have had to improvise their own parks. They skate in the streets, at apartment complexes and shopping centers, not down ramps found in more than 2,000 public parks across the nation.

"It's a vicious cycle," Dyrdek says, "because the bigger the sport gets, you end up building transition skate parks that are badly constructed, and the authorities get frustrated because nobody's using them."

But come summer, street skaters will have a plaza to call their own and, potentially, new status in the community.

City officials hope that Kettering Skate Plaza not only will be an athletic outlet for skateboarders, but also serve as a community facility for concerts, plays and family gatherings.

"Skateboarding really does address kids that we don't typically reach with our traditional programs," says Mary Beth Thaman, Kettering's parks, recreation and cultural arts director. "It shows that you don't have to play baseball to be an athlete." homepage

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