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A skatepark is a purpose-built recreational environment made for skateboarding, BMX and aggressive inline skating. A skatepark may contain half-pipes, quarter pipes, spine transfers, handrails, funboxes, vert ramps, pyramids, banked ramps, full pipes, pools, bowls, snake runs stairsets, and any number of other objects.
The first skatepark in the world for skateboarders and skaters was made of plywood on a half-acre sand lot in Kelso, Washington, USA in 1966. It was lighted for night use. The first modern skatepark is the Carlsbad Skatepark, in Carlsbad, California, was designed and built by inventors Jack Graham and John O'Malley in March 1976. In more extreme climates parks were built indoors, often of wood or metal. By the end of the 1970s the skateboarding fad had waned, and the original parks of the era began to close. A downturn in the general skateboard market in the 1980s and high liability insurance premiums contributed to the demise of the original skateparks. Some second-generation parks such as Upland, California's Pipeline survived into the 1980s. However, few of the private parks of the 1970s remain, with the notable exception of Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville, Florida, United States. However, many public parks of that era can still be found throughout Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The modern skatepark designs of the Pacific Northwest can be traced back to Burnside Skatepark, a DIY "barge build" beneath the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon. Skateboarders used an area populated primarily by the city's "undesirable elements" to create a skatepark, building one section at a time. The process is called "design/build" (D/B), and is a characteristic of many skateparks today. The design/build process ensures that adjacent skatepark features are harmonious and rideable, allowing skateboarders to create endless "lines" to ride among the many features.
Skate parks, related obstacles/ramps and locations designed for extreme sport utilization have made their way into the media over time, such as with the aforementioned Burnside Skatepark being included in the movie Free Willy.
Public skateparks have had a resurgence in the US, made possible by legislation such as California's 1998 law stating that skateboarding is an inherently "Hazardous Recreational Activity" (HRA), and therefore municipalities and their employees may not be held liable for claims of negligence resulting in skateboarders' injuries.
Street skating has blurred the line between skateparks and street spots. Some cities are starting to put in skate spots/plazas with features that would not have been classically designed for skateboarding, but can be skated by street skaters legally. In some instances, even spots that were not designed for skateboarding have been made legal so that cities did not need to build a new park for skaters. The Skate Plazas allow for legal street skateboarding.
There is also a movement of making art and sculpture skate-able. This provides for more legal skate spots that are blended in with other city art and landscape. They can often even be picturesque destinations for both skaters and non-skaters.
Unlike organized sports, like basketball or football, skateboarding has no set arena or rules and skateparks have no standard design template. Each skatepark is designed specifically to provide unique challenges to its users. There are, however, three main categories of skatepark design: bowl, street plaza and flow parks.
Bowl parks are designed to emulate and improve upon the pool skating experience. Skaters in bowl parks can move around the park without taking their feet off the board to push. The curved walls of bowls allow skaters to ride around and across the bowl in addition to the back and forth skating you might see on a traditional half pipe. Bowls and bowl parks come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes but most bowls are between 3' and 12’ deep.
Street plaza parks are the favorite of the vast majority of skaters and they are designed to emulate and improve upon the street skating experience. Obstacles in a street plaza are styled to look like natural street terrain such as stairs, railings, planters and benches. Skaters will push off with their feet to gain momentum in a street plaza. The first public outdoor skate plaza is the Vancouver Skate Plaza, built in 2004 by New Line Skateparks.
Flow parks combine elements of both bowl parks and street plazas. In a well designed flow park a skater can pump around the parks curved walls such as quarter pipes, pump bumps and bowl corners without taking their feet off to push. They can use that speed to hit street obstacles such as stairs, railings and benches.
Skateparks may be privately or publicly owned. Privately owned skateparks usually have admission fees, while publicly owned skateparks are generally free. Many privately owned skateparks are indoors, usually in warehouses, roller rinks or buildings with high ceilings, especially in areas with snowy winters. Public skateparks are usually outdoors.
Skatepark construction can be divided into two major categories — prefabricated and custom built concrete. Prefabricated parks can be made of wood, plastic, sheet metal, and concrete. Most are designed and built by playground equipment manufacturers who present these parks as a cost effective alternative to custom designed concrete skateparks. In reality, custom built concrete skateparks can be quite cost competitive with prefabricated skate ramps.
Concrete parks, now "pretty much the industry standard", according to an editor of Transworld Skateboarding magazine, they require fewer repairs and less maintenance.