SKATE PARKS AREN'T SO GREAT
THEY CAN BE BUT WE SHOULD TALK ABOUT THEM
Hi. Welcome back. I haven’t been jamming on this newsletter in a minute due to some big projects I’ve been working on but like an idiot, I sent a tweet recently that got my brain going and caused a little #skatetwitter discourse.
So here we go.
Templeton Elliott @MostlySkateThis week on the podcast, @tonyhawk’s injury had us thinking about longevity in skateboarding and @quartersnacks had us thinking about Galaxy Brain Spots. Listen now for takes from @carbonite1994, @ColonelKSpeaks, and me. https://t.co/VBAFlgQlka
Question: Where can you find 40-somethings playing with tweens and below that they aren’t related to or parents of?
Answer: Your local public skate park.
It’s really weird when you think of it that way. But here we are in the era of the public skate park, something very foreign to many of us who started skating in the ‘80s or ‘90s. In fact, it was about three years on a board before I even went to a park—an outdoor thing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I don’t even remember if it sucked, only that it had a now-legendary pre-fab fiberglass blue ramp and it was generally exciting. Side note: These ramps were popular in the ‘80s and Jake Johnson allegedly owns one. Pretty neat.
You blink and your life goes by and suddenly there are public parks everywhere and that’s the entry point for many folks and that’s great. Modern parks have birthed plenty of skateboarders and YouTubers and influencers and pros and crews and collectives and whatever the fuck else. Skate parks are a wonderful thing but I generally dislike them.
Here’s why I personally don’t enjoy skateparks: they feel like the gym. Not just any gym, they feel like a Crunch gym a few days after January 1, where a bunch of bros are roving around asking if you need a personal trainer. They make you hyper-aware of your age, your skill level, your clothes, what you say after someone does a trick, and when you’re old, it really makes you aware of your age. It’s worth mentioning that twice.
I get it. This is a “me” problem which is why I usually skate shitty spots solo or with a small crew. Also, that’s the kind of skateboarding I like. I didn’t grow up with overly waxed metal-edged ledges or concrete of any sort so that shit is low-key terrifying. I like being in control, or something. I also dislike skating at Official Dad Time® aka the AM despite not being a dad. I’m a morning person but I’ve always hated skating right after I get up—that shit makes me dizzy.
Again, these are my personal biases and as Twitter told me, they are the problems of an old white guy who struggles to maintain simple tricks and that’s a drag but it’s my drag to deal with. But in all the interviews I’ve done, panels I’ve been on, and conversations I’ve had, there seems to be a lot of issues around these enclaves that younger folks are having and that’s a much bigger problem than me disliking the concept of going to Cooper Park at 7 AM in order to fall a lot and wonder why my legs aren’t as spry as they were decades ago.
Let’s dig in.
Here’s a bit from a New York Times feature on new skateboarders:
“For underrepresented skaters — who may be the only person of their demographic at the park — that anxiety can be even more intense: “I’m already different,” someone might think. “I can’t be bad, too.” As a beginner, I visited my local skate park in the early mornings, hoping to minimize the number of eyes on me.
“I think it’s a really intimidating process to even go to a park and start learning,” said Adrian Koenigsberg, the founder of Quell Skateboarding, a media outlet with a focus on nontraditional skaters.
“Are you going to go to the park and get made fun of?” asked Ms. Koenigsberg, who started Quell when she was a student at Pratt Institute. “The feeling of wanting to be accepted and also left alone is what we strive for at the skate park.”
Adrian nails it and raises some extremely valid points but it doesn’t stop there. Remember when I talked about that commingling of age groups? It can not only become toxic, but it can also be absolutely dangerous and damaging.
I suggest reading this entire piece from Big Foot Skate Mag by Alex White and Kristin Ebeling. While it’s not addressing skate parks specifically, “Coping With Creeps,” discusses many issues that happen in and around parks which are mostly unregulated and supervised. Turns out skateboarding sucks at self-governing.
Hundreds of people showed up at the youth-led “Make It Safe to Skate” event in Freemont, California in 2021.
Here are some excerpts from a piece published on Skate World:
OK, I’m going to state one more time that I’m not an anti-skate park but I am 1000000)% anti-sexual predators as most humans are and this Jenkem piece about a sexual predator in Atlanta’s skate scene by Andrew Murrell gets very very very dark. I’m going to warn you one more time before quoting said piece…
“The first time [David abused me] was the very first night I had ever gotten high when I was eleven years old,” Michael divulged. “The second time was maybe only a few months later. I had started drinking and smoking over there regularly, [and] David started telling me to take this pill that he called a ‘hangover pill,’ which I later found out was Xanax.”
Can skate park culture be completely healthy and positive? Sure, but I also see a lot of people pushing back against LGBTQ+ skate nights or beginner sessions and that’s not helping. The fact that groups of skaters feel so persecuted that they need a night to feel safe is counter to the entire concept of freedom that skateboarding is supposed to foster.
So what started as me bitching about going to the “gym” opened up a larger conversation about the social dynamics of skate parks and I feel that discussion should be top-of-mind if you frequent them. Snaking a child is weird. Harassing anyone is weird. Using racist, sexist, homophobic, or hateful language at a park is weird and wrong. Fuck it, littering is really annoying too.
As more and more younger and older people flock to these parks—boom, a new one probably just opened up somewhere—there needs to be more awareness around how we act in these spaces. And in the interim, I suggest peeping Skate Like a Girl for their resources, dialog, and positive community building if you’re curious and if you have the extra dough, please donate if you can.
Thanks for reading and hopefully I’ll be speaking to y’all soon.