Since the era of Dogtown, concrete has been the golden standard for skateboarding spots. Transitional skateboarding as we know it today originates from inside the empty swimming pools of 1970’s California, whose concrete basins offered the perfect surface upon which to carve on four wheels.
Four decades later, skateboarding will now have made its debut in Tokyo as one of the newest official Olympic sports. Having been designed for skateboarders competing at an Olympic level, the skateparks we got to see were concrete marvels. We at BS Power, an acclaimed retailer of premium concrete mixers, were amazed at what we saw.
It got us interested in the history of concrete skateparks and the reasons behind their popularity, especially here in Cape Town. If you too are interested in the role that concrete has played in propelling this relatively young action sport to global domination, you might find the contents of this article to be enjoyable.
Why are concrete mixers so important for the development of skateparks?
Most public skateparks both here and abroad are constructed of concrete for a myriad of reasons. First and foremost, obstacles constructed from concrete are superior in terms of durability to those created by most other materials. Skateparks take a lot of punishment, not only by the skaters that frequent these spots but by the surrounding climate as well. Consider the strain under which a wooden obstacle would be placed if people applied their bodyweight to it at high speeds on a daily basis.
Now consider the same wooden obstacle then also being subjected to the forces of nature. Most skateparks are constructed in open spaces for logistical reasons, leaving the area exposed to elements such as rain, wind, and sand. Wooden obstacles, when affected by the two aforementioned forces, sustain damage and break relatively soon after their construction. Wooden obstacles are typically only found in indoor skateparks. Indoor parks, however, generally charge skaters for entry due to overhead costs and the money required to maintain them.
Community skateparks are instead constructed outdoors the for benefit of affordability and accessibility. This is why they are built using concrete mixers. Any expert should be able to confidently tell you that outdoor skateparks need to be constructed using concrete. Free-form concrete is the absolute best material for skatepark construction. A lot of creativity can be expressed in the designing of concrete skateparks due to how easy it is to mould your desired obstacles.
Constructing a large skatepark is also made easy when using cement since you can mould obstacles off-site and bring them in for installation later. This can assist in expediting the construction process. For instance, obstacles and can be constructed off-site while their foundations are concurrently constructed on-site. Concrete is also obviously substantially more durable than wood. Wood is porous and even varnish can be scraped away by general usage quite quickly, especially at a skatepark. Concrete, on the other hand, does not absorb water and can easily withstand regular impact from skateboarders.
The fact that concrete is so resistant to damage provides the additional benefit of cost-effectiveness. Wooden obstacles will need to be maintained or replaced regularly but it takes a lot to crack concrete. In the long run, skateparks constructed using concrete are more affordable to maintain. Additionally, as any skateboarder can agree with, cement offers a smoother surface upon which to ride. This makes skating in a park setting easier and significantly more comfortable. Most skaters would agree that smooth cement is the best kind of ground to skate on in terms of manoeuvrability. Furthermore, skateboards take less abrasive damage when used on smooth surfaces.
What were skateparks like in the past?
Skateboarding is still a relatively young global sport, having only been around since the ‘70s. However, in recent years, skateboarding has been steadily rising in cultural popularity. Having recently had its debut in the Olympics this year, the interest in skateboarding has never been this high before.
But where did it all start? What exactly paved the road for the development of mega-parks such as the ones we saw skaters flying around in Tokyo earlier this year? The UK has had an active skate culture for decades and thus provides good examples of what skateparks used to be made of.
During the ‘90s and early 2000s, the UK saw a massive spike in the number of skateparks being constructed for public use. At this point, there were very few experts in the industry of skatepark construction, meaning that obstacles were often crudely constructed with weak materials that lacked the durability and finesse of parks constructed using concrete mixers.
These early skateparks were most often constructed using steel sheets, wood, and fibreglass. In time, people would learn that these materials are incapable of handling both the impact of usage and environmental conditions during the winter months.
Additionally, these parks featured obstacles that offered poor user satisfaction. Not only were obstacles likely to break faster but further flaws inherent in their designs made them uncomfortable to skate.
The combination of skaters riding on them and weather conditions wore these obstacles down quickly, forcing people to regularly maintaining them. Steel sheets used to make ramps would rust and become safety hazards. Wooden structures would break too, exposing rusty nails that further increased the risk of skating in these parks.
Why are newer skateparks so much better?
We actually have the United States to thank for the steady improvement in the construction of skateparks worldwide. The U.S began popularising the use of concrete mixers in the construction of skateparks in the early 2000s.
The country’s sizeable level of cultural interest in the action sport can be attributed as the reason behind this propagation of skateparks during this period. And since so many were being developed, the U.S was actually able to establish a baseline construction method that could be applied in future projects for a better outcome.
New skateparks still follow this construction method and its emphasis on using concrete. The materials required are fewer and more cost-effective. Concrete does not require nails, joints, or welding either. Add in the fact that concrete requires little to no maintenance for years after a park is built and you have an argument for why concrete parks are more affordable too.
However, we still, unfortunately, see money being wasted on skatepark obstacles constructed from the same old and perishable materials used in previous decades. Ignorance from the side of municipalities and their contractors is a common reason why some public outdoor parks are made with bad materials.
Contractors who use materials other than concrete offer lower once-off construction costs which appeal to municipalities. What inevitably always happens is that these skateparks end up requiring regular repair and upkeep before their inevitable destruction. As previously stated, concrete is the best choice of material to use in the long run.
Concrete mixers and Cape Town skateparks
Alongside Durban and Johannesburg, Cape Town is one of the few cultural hubs for skateboarding activity in South Africa. As such, skaters in the Mother City are spoiled for choice in terms of where they want to skate. Better yet, all of its biggest parks are constructed using concrete as the primary building material. Because of this, these parks remain in good condition to this day.
Mill Street Park, for example, has no broken obstacles despite having been constructed nearly a decade ago due to it being constructed using cement. Having used concrete to create a comfortable but resilient skating surface, the developers of Mill Street Park managed to create a space that skaters have been able to enjoy the space daily since 2013 without a single obstacle ever having been broken beyond easy repair.
Earlier we spoke briefly of the flexibility in design that architects have when constructing skateparks out of cement. This is what allows newer parks to provide skaters with a more enjoyable experience when they visit since the material used to make them is infinitely malleable. There is also the aesthetic benefit of constructing parks out of concrete to consider. Concrete is incredibly malleable before it dries. With the right amount of experience and skill, constructors can shape and contour skateparks however they see fit.
This has led to the designing of some remarkably beautiful skateparks in Cape Town specifically. Mill Street Park was in fact an official submission in the World Design Capital 2014 project. Even to this day, the park’s strong concrete foundations still boast sturdy obstacles and stunning murals painted by some of Cape Town’s most gifted street artists. On the other side of Cape Town, we can find another great skatepark at the bottom of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay. The architectural major who designed it also saw fit to construct the park almost solely out of cement.
The fact that even a qualified expert in architecture saw it fit to construct the park using concrete speaks again to just how much better it is to use cement. This massive park, designed with deep bowls and ramps for transitional skating styles, is a sea of concrete that to this day has not required a day of serious maintenance.
We cannot discuss concrete and its role in the construction of Cape Town’s greatest skateparks without bringing up Battery Skatepark. Located near the waterfront, this fully concrete park is by far the most popular spot to shred in Cape Town.
Battery Park is an excellent example of how concrete structures are far superior to materials such as wood when combatting regional climate. Thanks to the use of concrete mixers, constructors were able to segment the base of the park with steel and rubber grooves to prevent solar heat from cracking the ground.
To account for rainy weather conditions, drainage holes are located on the floor of the park. The solid concrete foundation can accommodate the plumbing systems necessary to prevent water from collecting in the park even without sunlight. As is evident from all of the above, it is clear that concrete provides the most benefit in terms of affordability, durability, and practicality when it comes to the construction material best suited for the construction of skateparks.
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