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Skateparks Build Community


Photo: Maya Haptas/Shred Your Fears


As the sport of skateboarding grows, skateparks can help foster inclusive communities, giving people a place to gather and interact while enjoying the mental and physical health benefits provided by the sport.


Skateboarders have historically been marginalized, with negative assumptions being made about them. But that narrative is changing. Here in Pittsburgh, we have strong examples of both public and private skateparks, providing unique “third-places” where a wide variety of community members from teens to adults, parents and young children, and spectators of all ages can gather together.


According to the Goodpush Alliance, there are now more than 600 skateboarding-for-youth-development projects working in 100+ countries around the world. Visibility for projects such as Skateistan (the focus of the 2019 Academy Award-winning documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone, if You’re a Girl”), continues to grow and attract more diverse participants to the sport.


Skate Like a Girl has promoted inclusive skateboarding up and down the West Coast and throughout North America since 2000. Skate crews that offer informal meet-ups with an aim to provide support and safe spaces for “non-traditional” skaters (those that have historically been excluded from the sport) are popping up throughout North America.


Photo: Maya Haptas/Shred Your Fears


The sport of skateboarding overall is growing at a healthy rate, in part due to skateboarding’s inclusion in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Not only is industry growth projected to reach $2.4 billion by 2025, but anecdotally, interest in the sport has grown at an even faster rate during the pandemic due to skateboarding's low cost of entry, outdoor emphasis, and the ability to remain “socially distant” while performing the sport.


The Skatepark Project, a foundation started by Tony Hawk to help communities build skateparks through grants and education, believes that skateparks can be community centers. Data and anecdotal evidence also show that skateboarding provides numerous mental and physical health benefits and provides important social interaction for skaters of all ages, underscoring in particular the mental health benefits it provides.


Supported by The Skatepark Project, the University of Southern California (USC) conducted a first-of-its-kind survey of skaters across the country in 2019. Updated in 2020, the survey gathered data from over 2,000 skaters across the United States ages 13-25. The findings: skaters be skating … a lot, with the average skater skateboarding 4.2 days per week. Contrary to general assumptions, the majority of skaters in middle and high school felt positively about school, and 68% of respondents felt like they knew the steps they needed to take to pursue a career in their chosen field.


In regard to skatepark use, 54% of respondents said they went to skateparks to meet friends, and 53% said they went because they would see other people there, identifying skateparks as central to their social lives.


Private skateparks, such as Switch & Signal Skatepark in the borough of Swissvale outside Pittsburgh, provide a different model. As a small business, the skatepark charges people to attend sessions but then can control more elements of the space. Many private skateparks offer special sessions for non-traditional groups of skaters to give them a safe and comfortable space to skate together.


Switch & Signal has Women & Trans skateboarding night every Sunday from 5:30-8pm and also hosts sessions for kids 12 & Under on Saturdays as well as lessons and classes for adults and kids. Switch & Signal is also the primary location for Shred Your Fears, a monthly skateboarding workshop for women, trans, and non-binary adult beginners (founded by the author).


Kerry Weber opened Switch & Signal Skatepark, a 12,000 square-foot indoor facility dedicated to skateboarding in February 2018. A Washington County native, Kerry worked as an engineer at Apple in the Bay Area for close to a decade before returning to the Pittsburgh region to open a skatepark.


53% of survey respondents said they went because they would see other people there, identifying skateparks as central to their social lives

In 2019 Kerry was named one of PUMP and Pittsburgh Magazine’s “40 Under 40” for his work in the Swissvale community with Switch & Signal. The skatepark is a place that is fun, empowering, and inclusive. It is a community resource for people young and old, across race, gender, and skill level who want to enjoy skateboarding.

Switch & Signal has a hugely positive impact on the Swissvale community as well as on the Pittsburgh region. The skatepark is in a former bowling alley on Dickson Street near the East Busway. By utilizing this former vacant space there are more eyes on the street and it contributes to the overall public safety of the area. The skatepark is sited in the neighborhood with multiple points of access so that it can service a racially and economically diverse clientele.


Photo: Maya Haptas/Shred Your Fears

By opening Switch & Signal, the Swissvale Farmers Market can take place by giving patrons access to restrooms and parking at the skatepark. There are a number of charitable organizations focused on skateboarding and Switch & Signal gives them a location to provide their services. Close to two hundred children in the Pittsburgh region have received free skateboards and skateboarding lessons through these initiatives. Kerry also holds summer camps at the park as well as no-school and half-day camps and follows the schedules of both PPS and the Woodland Hills School Districts. Switch & Signal even holds pop-up camps on snow days, providing critical childcare options for parents all over the region.


Switch & Signal is just one example of how skateparks can build and contribute to healthy communities. As a gathering place, whether public or private, the skatepark can become a home-away-from-home. Skateboarding builds confidence and resiliency and helps with problem-solving. Skateparks give people of all ages the chance to learn and build these important skills.


References


Grand View Research, 2019. Skateboard Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (Street Board, Long Board), By End User (Kids, Teenagers, Adults), By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2019 - 2025.


Beyond the Board: Findings from the Field Zoë B. Corwin, Tattiya Maruco, Neftalie Williams, Robert Reichardt, Maria Romero-Morales, Christine Rocha, and Constanza Astiazaran (2019-2020)


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