A skateboarding pundit's rules for survival on a busy summer day at the skatepark.
If you think Seattle rush-hour traffic is bad, try the Lower Woodland skatepark on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Threading the needle on the street course makes Luke Skywalker’s Death Star attack look like mini golf. Little kids on Razor scooters, grown men on skateboards, teenagers on iPods and parents on lattes all converge at a patch of concrete roughly the size of a couple tennis courts. It’s beautiful and chaotic — that is, until you see a 5-year-old take a hit that would make the NFL highlight reel.
Despite some negative stigmas floating around about skateparks, most skateboarders are extremely supportive of one another — including beginners. It’s not out of the ordinary to see the entire park cheer for someone who learns to drop into the bowl for the first time.
Supportive or not, there are still matters of skate etiquette, not widely published, that are crucial to the safety and flow of the skatepark. While your standard city parks employee might have a different take on the subject, these are the real guidelines that every parent or kid should memorize before setting foot or board in the concrete wonderland:
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No free day care
Despite the whole “Lord of the Flies” vibe going on at the skatepark, do not give into temptation and leave your child unsupervised. It seems like a no-brainer, but this happens more than you’d think. On the far side of the spectrum, skate coaching your child is equally frowned upon (see next rule).
As a doting parent, it’s tempting to bring a Little League mentality to skateboarding, but don’t — just don’t. Telling your kid to work on his or her kickflip kind of defeats the purpose of this unstructured, creative activity. This list notwithstanding, there really are no rules of the sport — and rarely winners or losers — so start acting like it.
Snaking occurs when you drop in on another skateboarder while they are in the middle of their run. It is the single largest cause of collisions. If you accidentally snake someone, get out of their way as soon as possible and apologize. Nobody likes a snake, period. Wait your turn.
No marathon runs
This is especially common among the littlest kids. With endless stamina and infectious enthusiasm for his new Razor scooter, “little Timmy” can spend an eternity in the bowl, rolling back and forth. While endearing at first, keep your runs short and sweet and leave some for the rest of us.
Skateboarding is silly. Nothing is worse than watching someone throw a temper tantrum because they didn’t land a trick. Although rolled ankles and swollen elbows are par for the course in skateboarding, the ego is often the most bruised body part of all. Instead of throwing your board, try laughing the next time you blow it. I know we all will.
If you fall and aren’t seriously hurt, get up immediately. Not only do you run the risk of being hit by an errant board, you’re also about to get an ambulance call from a concerned good Samaritan.
Know your place
Looking for a nice spot to sit in the skatepark? That concrete bench seems perfect, right? Wrong. Look 30 feet past it and you’ll see a kid with hungry eyes bearing down on you. Within the confines of the skatepark, it’s a pretty safe bet that any ledge, bench or ramp will be skated, no matter how improbable it seems. Instead, sit just outside the skatepark or, if you must, look where other skateboarders are sitting to get an idea of a safe spot. Standing on the edge of the bowl or half-pipe is also a big no-no. You never know when or where that guy or girl riding will attempt a trick above the lip right into your shins. If this happens, see above (“Get up”).
Give fair warning
If you lose control of your board, scooter, Frisbee or whatever else, yell “board” to give any unsuspecting skateboarders in the vicinity warning of your careening projectile. Now is not the time to be shy. Scream it out.
Timing is everything
Heavy afternoon sessions at the skatepark can be intimidating, especially if your child is just learning. Try mornings before 10 a.m. for a chance to roll around and get used to the park without the pressures of a full crowd. On a similar note, while one park is notoriously crowded, another can sit empty on the same day. Try Crossroads Skatepark in Bellevue for a quiet session at a perfect bowl.
First off, remember that bikes aren’t technically allowed in Seattle skateparks. Second, know that collisions are only magnified when a 30-pound piece of twisted metal is involved. That being said, if you still choose to bring your bike into the skatepark, here are a few helpful hints to safely coexist with skateboarders and avoid banishment:
• No metal pegs — attached to bike axles for riding rails — in the bowl or on ledges. Nothing damages the coping (edge) of a bowl or draws the ire of skateboarders faster than you clunking your pegs or pedals all over the place.
• No muddy tires. Just got finished riding dirt jumps? Cool. Now wash your tires before coming into the park. Dirt and little pebbles are treacherous to skateboard wheels.
• Look before you leap. Sure, it’s fun to launch five feet out of the bowl, but avoid doing it right into a crowd of innocent bystanders. Some bikers are extremely conscious of this, but others are just tragic accidents waiting to happen.
See you at the skatepark this summer — rush hour or not. I’ll be the one icing my knees.