THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SKATEPARK CLOSURES
Is Change Coming or Will Things Blow Over?
By now you’re aware that most public skateparks in the United States have been closed indefinitely and some have even been given a Biblical makeover via tons of sand to hinder rolling. If you’re an optimist, this translates into a respite from ‘crete parks for a bit, solo sessions, and maybe the occasional socially distanced hour or two with friends. That’s nice and all but America’s obsession with getting “back to normal” doesn’t seem to be that simple, especially with the lack of a vaccine to combat Coronavirus infections.
Conspiracies aside, the more realistic projection is that we don’t know what a real projection is, especially with varying population densities, infection rates, and no uniform guidelines nationwide. So yes, you might be pushing along at your local in North Dakotas much before anyone films a clip at LES in New York City but the closure of parks has a greater meaning, especially for those who grew up skating them.
For the older set, parks, especially free public parks were anything but the norm—they were unexpected perks and time-wasters but rarely the go-to spot. Personally, I look forward to skating another park as much as I do going to a movie theatre. Seeing a motion picture in a theatre is nice and all but then people start talking or fucking around on their phones, you have to pee, the popcorn grease on your fingers is annoying along with the kernel stuck in your molar. I’d rather enjoy skating or movies without variables but I’m also somewhat of an introvert in my old age.
Let’s very briefly outline the history of skateparks, like, the most pruned, simple version possible. As per some site that’s mostly OK, we have this:
During the 1970s there were a small number of free, outdoor “skate runs” in the country, but commercial skateparks dominated the industry. Skateparks were universally understood to be “pay-to-play” facilities.
In the late ‘70s, a glut of liability lawsuits forced insurance underwriters to tighten restrictions on what they were prepared to cover. To that point, skateparks had been small operations run on shoestring budgets, and with rising insurance premiums, they closed. By 1980, the country had a small handful of skateparks left. Skateboarders took their tricks to the streets. There was also a movement to building backyard ramps.
That’s fairly accurate and while the backyard vert boom was core and cool, the push from parks to the streets was pivotal and celebrated for those of us who didn’t have parks in the first place. Suddenly walls, curbs, benches, and banks were as important as pools and towering California mega parks. It was an equalizer that slowly transformed the larger industry into a street-centric one until—yup, you guessed it—public parks started sprouting in the late-’90s into the 2000s.
Just as the ‘80s park closures changed the discipline of skating and hyper-advanced it, the “New Park Generation,” birthed a new style but not one that’s been branded. That’s because in a sense, those who grew up with parks, specifical ones in urban areas that allowed you access to street spots as well as transition, created an almost ATV generation best defined by former SoTYs Ishod Wair and Grant Taylor, Cory Kennedy, Oski, as well as park-to-street skaters such as Mark Suicu or Aaron Herrington who were once doing fly-outs before they honed their styles and skills.
For a generation that started skating the 2000s, the park is not only the starting point but the central artery for skating, especially those on the younger side. Think about it, you’re 18-years-old, cherry was your first video, your graduation has been canceled, your park closed, and now what? Learn a bunch of slappies in your cul-de-sac? That almost seems regressive, so what does skating look like sans parks and the people that thrive in them? Aside from a lot of solo-filmed stationary clips and Daewon-esque indoor weirdness, it’s really tough to say.
That’s the thing, skateboarding has always expanded and contracted with need driving its evolution. There hasn’t been a larger, more impactful need right now in skating since the move from clay wheels to urethane. On a large scale, does it mean that parks need to be cleaned more often to operate and indoor parks need to work off-limits and drastic retooling of their ventilation and air conditioning due to how it impacts the spread of Coronavirus? Are more people going to skate in masks and will there be ones explicitly made for athletic activities to encourage usage?
Does this mean the end of park footage by way of closures or simply by it being taboo? Or do masks become as corny as helmets? You know, old man shit. Most importantly, does the COVID-19 world change skateboarding’s aesthetics and actual spots and tricks in new ways? Economically speaking it will stunt the growth of parks, pushing DIYs back to the days of stealing wood, and of course, the impact on everyone’s wallets means less higher-pricepoint goods and more utility wear/thrift store clothing.
Is the tragic timing an accidental push for Tony Hawk partnering with Vans to elevate vert’s profile? As we saw in the ‘80s, homemade ramps birthed a new generation of pros, who accelerated vert across the US, each territory bringing a different attitude. Also, slamming on wood versus concrete might have mentally made complicated tricks more palatable to try.
The decentralization of pros in the ‘80s raises a particularly interesting point as it was the first time skating saw the character of each region. As we become less connected or even less caring about the aesthetics of skateboarding—the clothing trends, the spot trends, the filming looks—does this breed individuality?
Do necessity and limitations drive innovation?
Here are the rules, here’s the landscape, here’s what was before you. Fold what you want into your pocket, throw the rest in the trash and figure shit out, your way, and stay as safe as possible in the interim.
While we wait for the next breakthrough, shake up, or most likely, the unexpected, let’s just pause and reflect on anytime we thought skateboarding was getting stale.
(It’s not. Ever)