Skateparks 101 by Helena Bliss

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Advice from a skatepark rat for hitting indoor parks for the first time.

So the British winter has arrived and skaters everywhere are faced with 6 months of cold, wet darkness; which if you’re anything like me (a sun worshipping lizard grrrl that is) is a pretty despondent proposition.

Fear not! There is in fact a solution for what ails you and it’s known as the indoor skatepark. I started skating transition last winter because I hate being cold, got hooked on it and forgot to bother with the whole downhill malarky when the sun finally came out. I’m now a fully fledged skatepark rat, volunteering at my local park and loving every second of my progression. You may not go quite as far as me, but indoor parks are great for the winter months and it’s always a good idea to try out different styles of skating. It makes you a better skater and keeps things fresh and interesting. So this guide is intended to help you out if you’ve never set foot in one before.

Board – Indoor skateparks aren’t really the place for your longboard, especially if they don’t have a functional kick tail. Indoor parks are often limited by the size and shape of the building they’re in, and features can be quite tightly packed so being able to kick turn is pretty essential. If you’re like me and you already had a street setup for occasionally goofing around on, nice one. Otherwise most indoor parks will have spare setups you can borrow.

I would avoid reverse kingpin trucks for a park setup, because of the way they shorten the wheelbase. This makes dropping in supremely sketch as your back wheels won’t be resting against the coping and your entire board will pivot on the base plate. Trust me, it’s not a fun feeling.

Your classic popsicle street setup is ideal, but really any board with a functional kick tail (6” or so) and standard skate trucks will be good enough to get you going.

Protection – Street skaters rarely wear helmets, but watch old vert skaters and they always pad and helmet up. The truth is, while wearing a helmet is never a bad idea, 90% of the times you fall, a good pair of knee pads will stop you hurting yourself more than a helmet will. This is especially true if you skate transition, knowing how to fall into the ramp stops you doing really painful things like falling to flat from the coping (trust me it hurts). Some people go the whole caboodle with wrist guards and elbow pads, personally I have them in my bag but only wear them if I need to. Crash shorts can also help, especially with hippers, but I’ve never bothered. 

The great helmet debate in street and park skating will rage on forever, so I’ll just say this – It’s never a bad idea to wear a helmet; landing on wood still hurts, especially from 6’ up; concrete is even harder; wear kneepads and learn how to knee drop, it really will stop you hurting yourself more often than not.

Photo by Andy Turner

If there’s one thing park skaters hate, it’s a snake, and if you’ve never skated in an indoor park before it’s really easy to be one. This sounds really obvious and borderline patronising, but watch the faster skaters: They can easily hit 20 mph and appear out of nowhere. You really don’t want to be putting about at the bottom of a roll in or landing if people are zooming about. It’s a fast way to get hurt and not make friends. It really is that simple, just be aware of space, watch people’s lines and try not to get in the way. Obviously indoor parks only have a finite amount of space, so some getting in the way is inevitable, but people only get riled up when it’s obvious that someone is ignoring the (unwritten) rules.

That said everyone should get their turn, watching out for the better skaters is not the same as giving way to them. Park skaters in my experience are friendly, and genuinely happy to see new faces, and will often encourage and help someone who’s new but obviously trying. 

If you’ve never set foot in a skatepark, let alone an indoor one, it can be super intimidating the first time you go – even more so if you're a girl, but more on that later. This is a perfectly understandable and acceptable response to going to a busy skatepark for the first time. Don’t let this put you off though. Talk to the person running the park, It’s usual for some sessions to be less busy than others (weekday evenings are often pretty chill), they may run coaching sessions if you feel you need it and even if you don’t go down that route, there’s every chance they’ll offer informal help anyway if you ask. I am always stoked when new skaters turn up at The Junkyard and I’m always happy to help them learn. Though if you’ve been longboarding for a reasonable length of time, you’re actually at an advantage to a complete noob as you’ll already be comfortable standing on a board.

Ignore anyone who yells at you to “do a kickflip”. 

You can do plenty of stuff in a skatepark without needing to ollie or drop in, if you can do it on a longboard you can do it on a short board. Have fun, it’s why we skate in the first place. If you want to, learn to ollie and drop in, they open up whole new styles of skating, and I’m not saying you should learn to drop in, but you should totally learn to drop in. If only to experiences the satisfying “chink” of your trucks hitting the coping.

Fair warning, once you can drop in and pump on a ramp you may find yourself thinking thoughts like “do I really need a longboard”. If your local park happens to have a bowl, these thoughts may be even stronger, especially if you figure out your lines and how to pump corners and can zoom around enough to get air. This is essentially what happened to me.

Photo by Martyn Tambling

There are a whole bunch of common features to skate at indoor parks, this is a quick run through some of them with trick suggestions. You don’t even have to hit any features, and can just do flatland (though not in the bottom of a bowl or mini ramp), but it’s definitely more fun to skate the features.

Flat bank – pretty much what it says on the tin. They can vary in steepness, anything steeper than 45º is pushing into wall ride territory and trickier to skate, but on mellower flat banks you can do any trick you can do on flat, either to fakie or 180. Combo bonus: add a revert after landing your trick.

Quarter – these can be anything from 2’ to over head height. Smaller does not always = easier, 2’ quarters with wippy transition have claimed blood on more than one occasion. Because you don’t have to drop in, quarters are the place to start getting to grips skating transition, and great place for practicing lip tricks. The park will almost certainly have a mellow quarter somewhere that’s perfect for this and for learning to drop in. Get comfortable there and then step up to something bigger. Also be prepared for mental upheaval of frontside tricks suddenly being the scary ones.

Manny pads, flat bars, hand rails and ledges – These are all things that you need to be able to get up on to, though you can (and totally should) have a go at slappies on anything around curb height. Trust your skater sense and if something looks too scary and tech, leave it for when your confidence has increased.

Roll ins – if you’ve never done one, a roll in is a challenge in itself, though you’ll often find them in conjunction with things like step ups and foam pits. By all means hit the foam pit, but be aware that it requires a lot of speed to get over a step up (the bigger the step up, the more speed required) and if you’re kooking about on the roll in while the better skaters are whizzing about, someone’s going to get hurt and it’ll probably be you. Falling to flat from any height hurts, and the higher you are, the more it hurts.

Mini ramp – if you can drop in, skate the mini ramp. 4’ is a great height for learning all your basic lip tricks on, though once ramps get to head height and over they’re a lot more intimidating, but once you’ve gained confidence on smaller ramps do try dropping in on larger stuff (it’s okay to be scared and decide you’re not quite there yet). If the ramp isn’t in use, practice pumping up and down for speed, but don’t do it for too long if people appear and are obviously waiting to drop in.

Bowls – if your indoor park has a bowl, congratulations my friend, you just hit the jackpot. The more interesting the design of the bowl, the more fun they are to skate. My local park consists of two bowls side by side with a spine and roll over that you can transfer over. If zooming about is your thing, skate bowls. Once you can pump round corners you will fly about and before you know it you’ll be catching air over stuff, here, there and everywhere. You will need to be able to drop in, pump and carve round corners (it’s harder than it sounds) so a slightly bigger board with turny trucks and softer wheels will do the job. I have seen people carving bowls on slalom setups, but you’ll need a roll in if they don’t have a functional kick. 

Photo by Helena bliss

So guys, here’s a newsflash, skateboarding is totally a boys club and it is often super intimidating being the lone female skater at a park/session. This is true even if the guys there aren’t creeps, simply because of the fact we never know who’s a creep till they act like a creep. This is sad but true, and probably not changing anytime soon.

*waits patiently to be accused of misandry or something*

Most parks run regular switch sessions with reduced entry for girls and no boys allowed. This depends on the park, and the numbers. If they’re low they might let some of the guys in, but even if they do, the focus is on encouraging female skaters. My other local indoor park does this and the guys are always stoked to see us skating and to land tricks. Once you’ve built up your confidence – which mainly consists falling on your butt a few times – regular sessions are a lot less intimidating.  

Photo by Kai Menneken

If you like to take photos and/or film, definitely take your kit with you. Shooting in indoor parks is challenging, often due to the limited room. An ultra wide angle or fisheye helps when shooting in tight spots, but it pays to be creative. Skaters love photos, so once you become a regular and are known as a photographer people might approach you and ask you to shoot. You will 100% up your skate photo game. I don’t shoot video, but I imagine it’s the same. Just be aware of what’s going on around you, especially if you're shooting while goofing around with mates.

Your local indoor park probably doesn’t turn a profit, this is just a fact of life. People don’t really build indoor parks to get rich quick. Often they’ll swallow money, even if they have a strong regular crowd. If you read the fine print on the about section on the website you may notice the letters CIC, which stands for community interest company, basically a special designation for business that exist to grow communities rather than turn profits. If your local park is a CIC, there’s an excellent chance that they need volunteers. If you’re like me and permanently poor, volunteering is a great way to support your local park, with the added bonus of the fact that you’ll get some free park time and will get stuff like first aid training. You don’t even need to be a great skater, you just have to want to help out. 

Of course, once you become a park rat and start to rack up park hours there’s every chance you’ll find your skating will progress rapidly and of course you’ll make a bunch of new friends to get up to skate shenanigans with.

So, that’s pretty much everything you need to know to get in your local park and to get shredding. Even if you do enjoy skating in the cold, wet darkness, it’s a nice change of terrain and it can definitely help keep things fresh, so what are you waiting for?

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