Skate Nation

Colorado's becoming a mecca for skateboarders. But for the best parks, you'd better head for the hills.

Then, not long before our design was to go out for a construction bid, we learned that Elizabeth had hired a new parks-and-rec director named Joel Johnson. Although he admitted he knew nothing about skateboarding and had never before worked on a skatepark project, Johnson said he was concerned about the lack of "lanes" in our design. We tried to explain the concept of flow, but he didn't buy it. And Johnson's first move as director was to scrap our design in favor of a more comprehensible one by a company with a track record: Skateparks International.

We unceremoniously buried Urban Creation not long after. Last I heard, Ryan was off in California and had ditched architecture for the skateboarder's only true calling: deconstruction.

The Denver Skatepark's addition has some 
unintended obstacles.
Tony Gallagher
The Denver Skatepark's addition has some unintended obstacles.
Skatepark International's Wheat Ridge creation is 
downright dangerous.
Tony Gallagher
Skatepark International's Wheat Ridge creation is downright dangerous.

Over the past four years, more public skateboard parks have been built in the United States than in the past three decades. Christian Hosoi, skateboarding's high-flying superstar of the '80s, thinks the current boom is part of the natural evolution of a sport that needed to return to its roots. "The soul of the sport came from pools and concrete skateparks," he says, "and now it's coming back."

It makes sense, then, that this evolutionary stage was sparked not by civic officials or corporate entrepreneurs, but by Mark "Red" Scott and Monk Hubbard working in a trash-filled lot below a freeway in Portland, Oregon, back in 1990.

By Hubbard's account, they just wanted a place to skate -- so instead of crying to the city and waiting for years for someone to do something, they started building it for themselves. Lacking both official funds and authorization, the grubby skaters used concrete left over from their various construction jobs to mold banks below the Burnside Street bridge. Learning by trial and error, they constructed bowls and quarter-pipes, working them into the bridge's pillars.

In 1992, Hubbard attempted a similar project below a bridge in Seattle, using skills he'd learned while building commercial swimming pools to stealthily dig a peanut-shaped bowl. But before the concrete could be poured, a nearby resident called the cops. Busted, Hubbard and his crew were ticketed and forced to refill their handiwork.

In the meantime, the Burnside Street park, once a shooting gallery for drug addicts, was on its way to becoming the most famous skatepark in the world. Though still technically illegal, Burnside was formally recognized by Portland in the late '90s. Today it's featured as a level on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game, and it's often cited by architecture magazines as a testament to grassroots urban reclamation and the do-it-yourself skateboarder ethos.

The next leap forward in concrete skatepark construction came in 1996, in the unlikely location of Crested Butte, Colorado. Hubbard and Scott were brought in by local skaters to aid the makeshift crew that would later turn into Team Pain's original concrete squad. Tim Altic, a Telluride skater, drove over to help with the labor and compare notes on concrete work.

Altic has been designing concrete skateparks since the '70s, mostly in Europe, and likens it to writing or playing music. All three acts are specific and technical but rooted in intuitive knowledge. "A crew of skaters is going to manipulate the design to have better rhythm," he says. "They're going to change things to make it good skating. Somebody who doesn't skate can't make that decision; they have to follow the plan."

Coming in $10,000 below Crested Butte's $50,000 budget, the crew smoothed out an immense, eleven-foot-deep bowl that calls "a rusty grandfather of today's concrete masterpieces." Soon after, Altic completed designs for Fort Collins, Team Pain got jobs in a number of Colorado mountain towns, and Hubbard and Scott began several projects along the Oregon coast, most notably the 30,000-square-foot Newberg skatepark.

Demand for their custom work grew so large that by 1999, the Newberg collective had split into several skatepark construction companies: Hubbard started up Grindline, Scott took off with Dreamland, and Geth Noble began building parks as Airspeed.

From its Seattle headquarters, Grindline now deploys crews of expert skateboarders to build about a dozen skateparks every year. But even though Grindline is fully licensed, bonded and insured like any contractor, it hasn't gotten commissions from bigger cities. Out of the fifty public skateparks that Grindline has designed and built, the largest was for Spokane. Chris Hildebrand, general manager and part owner of the company, says that's because smaller towns often lack the bureaucracies of larger cities or suburbs, giving them the freedom to hire an out-of-state design/build firm like Grindline. "The administration on the city end in smaller towns is a lot more simple," Hildebrand says. "Basically you're dealing with one person, whether it's a parks-and-rec director or someone else. So you can do things that are outside of the box a little bit easier. The bigger cities are more process-driven, and they've got specific ways in which they do everything."

Here's the way Louisville, Colorado, went about it. First the city put out a bid just for the skatepark's design. This was won by Design Concepts, a Lafayette-based company that had designed skateparks in Greenwood Village and Highlands Ranch. After the technical blueprints were completed, Louisville then initiated a second bidding process to choose a general contractor; that bid went to Environmental Constructors Inc., a local company. The only bid that was open to skater-owned firms was as a subcontractor for the specialty concrete work. Dreamland and Grindline were both pre-approved to submit proposals, according to Shawn Rolingher, a Design Concepts architect, but were under-bid by Commercial Shotcrete Inc., which has built numerous skateparks and promoted itself to the city and the general contractor.

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