Even with mainstream acceptance, skateboarding is mostly still a crime.
The roller-coaster history of skateboarding has seen some highs and significantly more lows as the sport has elbowed its way into a corner of mainstream culture today. From skateboarding’s early beginnings in abandoned swimming pools in sunny California to its now more common appearance on urban streets—sparking a surge of “No Skateboarding” signs—the sport is ever in search of new territory in which to flourish.
Even today, skateboarding is a fringe sport. In most open spaces around the country, it’s still banned. That’s right, most of the skateboarding you see outside of skate parks is deemed illegal.
But ask any teen: Skating is primarily a mode of transportation. For most kids, a bike, board, or bus represent the only way to get around, so most will not be hassled just for skating from spot to spot. But when they hang out and have their decks with them at malls or parks, they can and do get tickets, even without proof of vandalism.
Skateboarding has evolved over time, and its popularity has grown exponentially. From its humble backyard and illegal roots, skateboarding now has its own action sports TV contest, which morphed into the summer and winter X-Games. In 2003, the International Association of Skateboard Companies created the global “Go Skateboard Day,” held annually on June 21 “to define skateboarding as the rebellious, creative celebration of independence it continues to be.”
According to American Sports Data, skateboarding’s popularity continues to grow with more than 2,400 skate parks worldwide and 12 million skateboarders. The $4.8 billion industry skews young. According to Boardtrac, 70 percent of skaters are under the age of 18. Few keep skating into their 30s, but I know of dads who are now taking their kids to skate parks for the first time. If you give a skateboard to an adult, he or she will most likely decline, but it’s the easiest way to put a smile on their faces.
Skateboarding also attracts its share of girls and women. According to Public Skatepark Guide, about a quarter of skaters are female. When you compare that with traditional sports like baseball and football, it is a pretty good number!
The Local Scene
Growing up in West Valley City, I started skating at around 12 years old when I entered junior high. Like most kids, I grew up riding my bike around the fields and dirt roads that made up the West Valley farming community. After playing soccer in elementary school, my friend’s dad built us a mini-ramp in his backyard. And I veered into skating and snowboarding with the same friends whom I skate with today.
In the 1980s, skateboarding was a fad city fathers hoped would slowly retreat back to the sunny beaches that had spawned it. City officials were quick to ban skateboards in parks, shopping centers and schools. Backyard mini-ramps proliferated, and Pepsi half-pipe contests were held at Raging Waters. As the ‘90s slid in, so did urban skateboard ledge and rail tricks. Skaters started receiving trespassing tickets and, as a result, they banded together to start petitioning for their own skate parks, where they could cavort legally.
While Taylorsville Skatepark was one of the first city-funded and widely known parks in Utah, a number of factors contributed to its downfall. The park was built poorly in an unpopular part of town, and when skaters stopped frequenting the park, it became a hangout for non-skaters and individuals with too much time on their hands for graffiti and violence. It simply put a sour taste in the mouths of city officials across the valley.
However, the popularity and success of the sport started to change the minds of those in power. Some cities received additional park funds through the Salt Lake County ZAP tax to build their own skate parks, and many more quality parks came into being for a new generation of skaters. There are currently more than 60 skate parks across Utah—including Logan, Layton, Price, Heber, Sandy, South Jordan, Oakley and Sugar House. Park features continue to improve with more sophisticated and professional qualities.
Currently, West Valley City is building the state’s largest skate park at 31,000 square feet. The behemoth will feature the only snake run and doorway obstacle in the state.
Skate parks now operate with their own rules and etiquette designed to keep them free of vandalism and litter, and to encourage safe skating by stressing the need for helmets and safety gear. Skateboarding is a largely unsupervised sport, which means skaters learn from their peers and work at their own pace.
Risk vs. Reward
Skateboarding is and always will be an individual sport. Unlike most group sports, where a team can help deliver the victory, a skater has to be determined to overcome obstacles and self-doubt alone. Our peers will rally around us to help us land a trick or holler and smack their boards to applaud our victories—but the defeats are always our own to bear. A determined skater pays for his progress with bruises, blood, broken bones and torn muscles.
Inside or outside the parks, you can expect to deal with injuries. Last year, I skated into a bolt on Main Street causing instant face-to-sidewalk, a concussion, six stiches and two black eyes. Back when I skated more often, my ankles took the most wear and tear. Plus, there’s been ligament damage, road rash as well as scarred elbows and knees. But kids have rubber bones, I’ve learned. Either that, or they are used to rolling out of a fall. With practice, it becomes easier to keep injuries to a minimum.
Skating encourages individuals to get out, stay active and garner some scars. One truth is known to any skater from any era: the sport requires you to stay determined to get back up and continue the fight to land a new trick or skate a new spot. And the camaraderie always helps: cheering on friends for a new trick landed or getting a high-five from those who just want to enjoy the ride.
Skaters have long gravitated to abandoned swimming pools and urban architecture, so skate parks tend to favor these designs, usually combining elements of stairs, pools, ledges and rails. The degrees and slope tend to be less aggressive and shaped and designed by skaters rather than construction companies.
The quality of skate parks is also increasing with spray concrete, forms, rebar, but also 3D modeling software for blueprint designs. There are traditional features in some parks such as pool coping and skateable benches or landscape boxes to resemble the surrounding city.
Skate parks vary in size and features, from deep bowls, transitions and half-pipes, to stairs, hand rails and unique skate spots. Here are a few of my favorite Utah skate parks to check out:
9th & 9th (Jordan Park)
1000 S. 900 West, SLC
This park is great for beginners to intermediate/advanced skaters which features a 3/4 bowl, hips, drop-in and small to large handrails.
1400 Sullivan Road, Park City
Park City expanded the original skate park which was primarily bowls and pool coping to include more street features and more transitions for beginner and intermediate rider levels.
500 S. 595 West, Logan
One of the better parks in Utah, the 17,000-square-foot park naturally flows into the surrounding park flawlessly without fencing and includes a few quarter-pipes, 3/4 bowls and a large open skate area for practicing ground tricks.
5850 S. 4800 West, Kearns
Although it’s a smaller park, it was designed and built by SITE Design, who added a euro-gap, pool, hand-rails and skateable planter boxes. They also used color concrete to break-up the monotone of the traditional gray.
1040 E. Sugarmont Drive (2225 South), SLC
This one may be a contentious qualifier, but it’s got heart. Built on the grave of the Sugar House city pool, it also features another pool, but one which had to be broken out and re-poured due to the quality of the original build. This park also has lights for night skating and has been a proving ground for skate tours, local pros and the neighborhood ‘ol men to skate when the kids are in school.