Skateboarders were probably the only people to click on the headline in Wired Magazine touting the cool new benches slated for Times Square. The NY kids are undoubtedly rubbing their palms, eagerly awaiting these things to materialize, and when I saw it the first thought that came to mind was: Why can’t they build stuff this good at skateparks?
But then, like in a cartoon with the angel on one shoulder and then the devil popping up on the other, my second though was: “They actually can, and they do all the time. 10 years ago maybe they didn’t, but now? Yes, totally.”
It’s rare indeed that you don’t have a park in your city, or even your backward hick town, and due to a greater awareness among the general population and advancements in all areas of skatepark building, from design, to materials, to building experience, parks are constantly improving, and in fact most of them these days are pretty great.
After sitting down for a while, rubbing my chin, nodding slowly to myself, I came up with the one reason the question “why can’t they build stuff this good at skateparks” still persists. It’s actually the result of an odd Catch 22 particular to skateboarding, where the act of building something specifically to skate on inevitably causes skaters to be less enthusiastic about skating on it*. How did this strange defect in our nature evolve? And why?
Oh and by the way, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read this book.
Let’s say you stumble upon a bunch of skateable full pipes in the woods outside of town, left behind from some long forgotten public works project. Your crew is going to freak when they hear the great news and oh the good times you’ll have. The kickturns at 10 o’clock, the sixers polished off, the graffiti fun.
Conversely, like the devil on the shoulder again, if the city were to go and recreate this same batch of pipes at the local skatepark your crew would probably be the first ones out front of City Hall protesting the very idea of it. The city, huh! How dare they? This same scenario can apply to just about any obstacles at the skatepark: stairs, launchers, pyramids, banks, wall rides, flat bars…. well probably not flat bars actually, everyone loves a good flat bar, unless they’re unnecessarily high, or low. But the point is that we skaters get almost as much joy out of searching for and discovering spots that weren’t designed to be used by us, as we do out of actually skating on them. So those cool benches slated for Times Square? Incororate them into the next public skatepark and, yaaaaaawwwwwn. Being handed a spot on a platter strips away one of the parts of skating from which we derive our greatest satisfaction, because we’re artists, we create masterpieces from found objects, (yes, like Bobby Puleo), we don’t paint by numbers.
But try explaining any of this to the police when they write you up for skating some janky bank to wall behind the Winn Dixie, when there’s “a perfectly good skatepark right up the road that the city spent $1.3M for you guys.” The reality is that the best thing at the new park in many ways isn’t half as good as an old railroad tie, a bike rack propped up onto a loading dock, or that cellar door right there. Street skating is for the streets, but like I said, try explaining any of that.
Parking blocks, maybe the most fun you could ever have on a skateboard.
*This tends not to apply to DIY projects or anything built in a skateboarder’s backyard; from mini ramps, to pools, to bowls, these are all exceptions.
- Paul Zitzer