Skateboarding Articles

Interview with John Leizear, Executive Director of Skaters for Public Skateparks

Public Skatepark Development Guide

If you sat by idly as your town built more baseball fields, basketball courts and tennis courts... And you're wondering why a skatepark wasn't in the mix... Maybe it's time for YOU to do something about it.

Getting your town to build a skatepark sounds like a daunting task. It is, but you're not alone and there's help available to you - free help. Skaters For Public Skateparks (SPS) is a non-profit skatepark advocacy organization - international in reach - dedicated to providing the information necessary to ensure safe, rewarding, freely-accessible skateparks to all skateboarders.

The SPS is an organized and recognized group of professionals that are entrenched in skateboarding. Coming from all walks of life, they unite under the common goal to get public skateparks built in EVERY town - including yours! They are skaters just like you. Unlike you and I, their knowledge of skatepark development is vast from start to finish. From dealing with city governments to designing the perfect line, they have it all wired. The good news is they are eager to share everything they know.

Since we know that YOU are going to mount a campaign to get a public skatepark built in your town, be sure to check out the SPS website and purchase a copy of the Public Skatepark Development Guide. After absorbing all the info, contact the SPS and really get the ball rolling.

SPS Executive Director John Leizear took some time to tell us more about the SPS and how they help people all over the world get skateparks built in their towns. He also stresses how important it is to do your research and know your shit!

Denver skatepark 1- We know you're down with Skaters for Public Skateparks (SPS), but the title of Executive Director can evoke visions of boardrooms, suits and big business. We know you're one of us, so tell us about your background as a skater.

I guess it was 1978 or 79 that I picked up my first Skateboard. It was a G&S that I found in my Grandmothers garage in Springfield VA. Lesson number one; hills were not for beginners, haha. I started riding around the neighborhood and meet other little skater dudes and I was hooked. We started reading skate magazines and trying to emulate what we saw. I rode my first Skatepark in Springfield, there used to be one behind the Mall there. It wasn't much more than a bowl but it was the raddest feeling. I sucked of course, but watching those older dudes, I knew I wanted to ride like that. We began building little ramps and stuff and when I moved to Sterling VA I built my first halfpipe. It was so sketchy and kinked, but it was mine. Skating paradise was right out my backdoor. Sterling was a small suburb of DC but there were enough Skaters to have a legit scene. I think Pat Clark (a Sterling native) was even riding Pro then. I meet a couple of older skaters and started riding with them at other ramps around Northern Virginia. These were real riders in every sense of the word. They were agro and always pushing the limits.

Eventually came the legendary Cedar Crest ramp in Centerville VA. That ramp was a masterpiece. It was the first ramp to have at least 18 inches of vert. Those dimensions allowed the entire wheel base of a skateboard to fit into the vertical space thus giving you a level launching pad. It had a roof and cat walks around the sides of the ramps, an apartment under one of the decks. The decks were big enough for Gwar to jam on and many others. It was state of the art and all built by local skaters. Covered in hellish red steel, it was by far the fastest thing I had ridden. This ramp was not for beginners at all. Many a man was humbled by the Crest, myself included. People came from all over to test their nerve, including the eras top Professionals. It was nothing to show up and see Gibson or Johnson ripping the spot, or Gator, or Fred Smith, or whoever. Everyone was welcome, but you had better check your ego at the door or the locals would check you, regardless of who you were. Cedar Crest truly taught me what Skateboarding was all about. It is an experience I have yet to witness again.

I spent almost as much time riding the streets as I did ramps. I watched skateboarding transition from ramps to streets almost over night it seemed. I would spend hours riding my jump ramp. Another favorite spot was the Sugarland Ditch. That ditch is still there as a matter of fact. I went to ride it after 15 years of not even seeing it. I was stoked to see the spot still there and still being ridden.

I've ridden all over the Country, but always find my way back home to the East Coast. There is a real connect for me here. It's where my heart is. Riding nights in DC, Baltimore, Philly and New York is something that all skaters should try and do. It's old world, and has a real pulse under your wheels. I can't imagine being anywhere else than here in the Mid-Atlantic.

2- The role of Educator is a bitch whether you're a teacher, advocate or just trying to help someone see a new viewpoint. Are towns generally open to being educated about skateparks or do many of them think they know best and simply want SPS to rubber-stamp their ideas? skatepark

It's a mix really. Some people just have a natural thirst for knowledge and they are receptive to learning new things. The other is the Parks Director that's been in place for 25 years and knows it all, and has a great contact that has everything you want for a Parks Department in one catalog. That's why SPS has strived to become more involved in the Recreation Industry.

There needs to be a real education for these Professionals when it comes to developing their skatepark. They were getting and still are getting their information from a salesman. Yeah, no shit he said his stuff will last forever, he gets a commission. We don't get squat, but the satisfaction that a quality skatepark has been built for skaters that will serve generations. All of our positions at SPS are volunteer spots. In all honesty, if we were to be paid, people couldn't afford us, haha. We do so much more than just lobby for Skateparks. We do our own research, we have been involved in Legislation, we have written the Skatepark Development Bible, etc etc. It is our mission to be able to produce the information that brings truth to skatepark development. Cities are being ripped off with ill planned skateparks, and skaters are the ones left to deal with the mess. The only way to change that is to educate everyone we can.

3- When you're dealing with towns, is it pretty obvious which ones are working with their population of skaters and those that are just rushing to get things done? Does the latter bunch usually see reason or do they still think it's a waste of time to let a "bunch of kids" give their input? Skatepark Process

Some listen and some don't. That's just politics. Not everyone will agree with you, and not everyone will think a skatepark is needed. What do you do? You make a strong case with quality data and keep your shit tight. You have to organize and become a strong voice. I have yet to hear of a Town flat out say, we don't like Skateboarders and we aren't doing squat for them. Gain the numbers and you will gain a spot to be taken seriously by your local Government.

It is always obvious when a Council is listening and genuine in their quest for a skatepark. That's great! You don't have to waste time in proving a skatepark is needed. Now you have to work with them to make it happen, and that takes a lot of patience and perseverance. It's common to hear that a park took 6 or more years to be built, but the average park takes around 3-5 years. Keep in mind that larger jurisdictions have more red tape and projects on the plate than smaller locales do. Look at the Skaters from Seattle for example. They have been at it for several years and there is no end in sight because of countless political changes and location problems etc.

People from Seattle like Tim Demmon and Dan Barnett had enough and found abandoned property and begun building their own park. Marginal Way. They took it in their own hands to see that Skaters were served by building their own skatepark on Public Property. They were threatened to be shut down etc etc but they were available to the Council and more than knowledgeable about skatepark issues in a Public setting and eventually got permission to continue the Skatepark. So again, it falls back on how deeply you are educated on the subject and how well you work with the people in power. Yeah, Towns are getting it. Hell, Tel Aviv Israel just opened a new Public Skatepark.


4- In your experience what are the average town's motives for building a park? Do most towns want to do something positive for skaters or are they looking to corral those "law-breaking slackers" into one area so they'll be out of the way? skatepark

Both. Some Towns are just looking for a way to get kids on skateboards off the sidewalks and steps around Town, and that's fine if they plan to build for longevity, and with due diligence. More and more Towns are looking at skateboarding as a viable recreational activity though. They are just learning what we already know. Skateboarding is good, and healthy, and entertaining, and many other positive things. No longer is the Public arena an off limits place where Skaters are just given lip service. People are getting it. Lets be even more adventurous and say that these concrete skateparks are possible Olympic Training Grounds even? Who knows Mrs. Smith your little Johnny could be the next Sean White or Tony Hawk, hahahaha. Whatever gets the right park... built right... right?

5- Skaters are more likely to grind a handrail at City Hall as opposed to going inside to open a dialog about building a skatepark. What's the first thing skaters should put in their arsenal before approaching their town? (We hope everyone takes the term "arsenal" metaphorically - no one ever got a skatepark through superior firepower).

You have to know your shit inside and out. They have questions, you need to have the answers. Make sure you are well schooled on skatepark development from the "Vision" to "Stewardship". Knowing everything you can puts you in a good spot to be the person the Council can rely on for good quality data. SPS provides that data.

6- When a group of highly motivated teenage skaters make the plunge to talk to their town about building a skatepark, they can't all march in and start shouting. They need a leader. Is it better for them to select a leader from their group or find an "adult" who can represent them and be their collective voice?

I find a combination of both works best. You're going to need help one way or another from Adults if you're a kid. Whether it be in forming a Non-Profit group or someone to act as spokesperson for the group. Many groups have one of the Teens act as spokesperson, after all this project will by in large serve kids and teens. Just make sure your message is well researched and you are always civil. That is how the process works. This is a civics class unlike any other. Making a skatepark happen in your Town will not only educate Public Leaders and the General Population but give those people involved a valuable lesson on how to solicit your leaders and work within the confines of the public process.

7- For that one loner kid who yearns for a skatepark, but lacks the support structure to feel he/she can make a difference, what's the first thing they should do? skatepark

Organize! Get a group together and create your vision. Put together a well planned movement and look for Professional support from SPS. Being organized and well versed in the topic is priority one. I'm telling you personally, that this Organization is here to help that kid or parent. We have over 1,000 members on nearly every continent on this planet. Chances are good we have someone in your region, and SPS is hands down the worlds best skatepark advocacy body the world has ever seen. Hell yeah I'm bragging, cause we can. This collection of advocates is unmatched anywhere in experience, years building and skating. Take advantage of it. It is free for everyone.

8- I'm sure you're regularly contacted for advice by skaters and towns, but part of the growth of SPS is probably focused on sharing your collective knowledge with folks who don't even know you exist as a resource. How do you determine who to reach out to and how does that process work?

SPS has really been a skateparks advocates home, but as we grow we know we need to reach the decision makers, and players in the process that don't skate. We have been putting a premium on Town Planners, Administrators, Parks and Rec professionals, Parents and anyone else we can help educate. That is where SPS can effect the biggest change. We also look at trade publications within the Concrete Industry, Design (Landscape Architects), National Parks and Rec Association (NRPA) etc. The more people we can educate, the better off we skaters are.

9- There is an obvious correlation between funds and the type of skatepark that can be built. What sort of guidance would you give a town that can only afford to install pre-fabricated ramps when all the skaters want a kick-ass concrete paradise?

Get busy finding Grants, and other funding opportunities. Get creative with your project. Look at phasing the skatepark in. There's nothing that says you must build it all at once. Getting anxious and settling for whatever you get isn't the answer. Skateparks deserve the same scrutiny that any other Public Facility deserves. It is there to fill a need in the community, and building it to last only a short time doesn't help anyone. In fact I've seen bad skatepark decisions hurt people politically.

10- In financially tight situations is it better to settle on a less desirable design or keep pushing fund raising efforts to meet the goal for what the skaters really want?

I think that is a committee decision. I've seen Towns invest in modular systems to appease kids while fundraising continues to build a financially sound park. That works for me, as long as the goal is to provide a viable solution for skaters in the end. I don't believe it is ever in the best interest of the skaters, taxpayers, or Public Officials to settle for what they can get. That is setting the park up for failure. In 2 years when the skaters are back on the streets dodging cars and pedestrians, it provides you the answer, and that is happening all over the world as older modular systems reach the end of their life spans.

skatepark 11- The SPS web site seems so logical and clear in laying out the process from start to finish. Aside from money, why do you think more towns haven't built skateparks? Is it financial or ignorance or politics or something else?

It's a multitude of things. Keeping things in perspective, Skateparks are really in their infancy in their Public Spectrum. Most skateparks of the 70's and 80's were privately owned properties, so Public Skateparks are something still foreign to most places. I find personally that the very first thing I hear is liability as a sticking point. It's incredible how many people think skateboarding is this extremely dangerous recreation, and nothing is further from the truth. Numerous studies have been done, and skateboarding injuries per 1,000 riders is equivalent to that of Tennis.

Then come the money questions. There are 2 ways to build a skatepark. The right way or the wrong way, hahahaha. No really, you have to look at the Total Cost of Ownership over the life of the park. While modular skateparks may be less expensive at start up, they far exceed the cost of concrete over the life of the park. Modular parks can become money traps and even hazardous once they start to deteriorate, and that seems to happen in relatively quick fashion. John Bracken, of SPS, came up with a very good formula on figuring out how much a modular skatepark cost per sq. ft and it will really open your eyes.

skatepark

Say a quarter pipe cost you 5k from vendor x, that's about average. The quarter is 8ft wide by 6ft tall. Multiply the 8x6 and divide that into the cost of the obstacle. You'll get a number that is often twice as expensive as pouring concrete. In this case the quarter pipe is costing the Town $104 per sq. ft! That's outrageous. So it is imperative that we expose these things so that Public Officials can make a sound financial decision. Add to that these modular parks need a rigorous maintenance schedule to keep them safe and operational, and scheduled replacement as well. A concrete park does not. Education is key.

12- Even town officials living in the deepest darkest caves are aware of the existence of skateparks and what they are. However I get the feeling that many town leaders look at skateparks as something that exist elsewhere - not in their town. Is the idea of "a skatepark in every town" still a novel idea or are towns realizing that they too can (and should) build their own skateparks even when a neighboring town already has one?

It can be done in every Town and City across the Country, but you have to really want it, and you have to do your homework. These facilities are within reach of everyone, if planned properly. Community leaders are realizing that a skatepark does a lot of good. It brings skaters into a safe environment first and foremost, it gives them a physical outlet to stay in shape, and also allows them a space to be creative and hang out with friends. I don't think it is a Novel Idea, it is what we should all be striving for... A Skatepark in every Community!

13- Virtually every product on the market comes packaged with some sort of instruction manual. It's about time there was a manual for skateparks. How did the Public Skatepark Development Guide come into existence? Public Skatepark Development Guide book

It's been in the works for a couple of years. SPS partnered with the Tony Hawk Foundation and the International Association of Skateboard Companies to produce the book. The book was written by SPS and backed by the other two organizations. Peter Whitley, the Author, worked tirelessly to make this thing happen, and we have gotten rave reviews. We are now seeing some vendors trying to duplicate our efforts. There is only one Guide that really lays it all out on the table for you, and gives you the truth. We aren't a vendor nor do we make any money off the Guide. Not one penny. Their guides will be another tool to drive sales. We are in it because we are skaters that know what a well planned park becomes to the community.


14- Those in computer tech support may be familiar with the acronym, RTFM (aka - Read The Fucking Manual). The Public Skatepark Development Guide should be mandatory reading for anyone considering a skatepark. Is this book one of the first things you bring up once contacted?

I do. So much so that we are damn near running out of Guides. Talks are in the works now of a Second Edition. We want this book to get in as many hands as we can, in the hopes that it makes the process easier and allows Public Professionals a way to become more knowledgeable without having to do the research.

15- As the father of a 2 year old, I'm always eager to share skateboarding with my son. Tell us about your family of skaters (I understand the whole family skates) and does being a father change the way you approach SPS in terms of creating skateparks that can unite people and communities?

Not too much. I do have an understanding of most younger skaters because I have 2 at home with me. I do spend time talking with the local kids and getting to understand them and their needs. I have 2 Daughters that skate, and my Wife rides a little. It's really cool to show up at a park with the family and we all pull out Boards. People aren't sure what to think I guess. Moms and Dads sitting on the sidelines are envious I think. They see us connecting and recreating with our children, and that's a rare thing nowadays. Skating keeps us healthy and gives us a genuine shared interest. It keeps us connected to each other.

16- Even when I'm not skating, I love going to my local park to see who's ripping or just to meet some new people. In your experience, do towns realize that a skatepark can help unite a community and can be a very social place for both skaters and non-skaters? skatepark

I'd say the vast majority don't come to that realization until sometime in the early stages of the planning. The amount of skaters they see in and out of these Town meetings gives them an understanding of just how many skaters their Town actually holds. These parks really cater to a key demographic that for years had nowhere to recreate or gather with friends. Skateparks are unique in this way.


17- I've often wondered why a town with 4 tennis courts, 4 football fields, 3 baseball fields, two ice skating rinks and countless playgrounds doesn't see the value of a skateboard park. Are towns with a lot of existing public amenities less likely to want to build a skatepark?

It really varies. Towns and Cities across the Country are realizing the positive benefits of providing progressive youth recreation. Those that have abundant ball parks etc. in place seem to get it pretty quick.

18- It always stokes me when I see someone killing it at my local park, but the type of skater who motivates me most is the little kid - pushing mongo - whose smiling like he's having the time of his life. That kid reminds me that skating is fun. What type of skating or skater makes you want to drop everything and go ride?

All of them really. It doesn't take much to get me amped to ride. I've found an old stash of Skate Videos recently and watching them 20 years later still gives me the same stoke.

19- Rumor has it you're a big fan of Halloween. Are you a little pissed that Svitak already started a skate company called 1031?

Nah, stoked! Halloween is everyday for me.

20- A couple of off-the-cuff "picks"...

Wide deck -or- Popsicle stick?
Nothing less than 8.25. I ride the Popsicle sticks and I feel like a monkey with his toes hanging over the board.

Hand rails -or- Pools?
Pools undoubtedly. Rails are out of my bag of tricks for sure. This generation of rippers are pushing limits like no other athlete does.

Concrete bowl -or- Backyard ramp?
Whoa, that's a real tough one. Being part of SPS, concrete bowls seem to be the natural pick, but backyard ramps are embedded in my soul. That's where it was at for me in my more formative years. There wasn't a time when I didn't have my own backyard ramp in between the ages of 12 and 19.

Rollerblades -or- A sharp stick in the eye?
Stick in the eye... better yet, 12 gauge shotgun to the forehead.

skatepark

We'd like to thank John for doing this interview and giving us a first-hand look at how the SPS works and how eager they are to help get skateparks built in every town. It's guys like John that give organizations a "human touch" that makes you realize there really is someone out there who gives a damn and is willing to help.

Skate The Planet and GRIND•12 are small fish in the ocean of skateboarding. John's responses above speaks volumes about his dedication and SPS' desire to really help everyone. Start planning, do your research and go skate... to City Hall and tell ‘em your town needs a public skatepark!


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