Rise above - Page 4

Skateboarders were once outlaws. Now they're the establishment -- and they're trying to drive BMX bikers out of public parks. Can't we all just get along?
Photo by Joey Cobbs

It was built as a skatepark," she replied, subtly italicizing the first syllable with her tone of voice.

"It wasn't designed for bikes," she repeated, before adding, "but their having been prohibited from the start hasn't necessarily kept people out." In an effort to do just that, the city is building a fence around the park, with bids currently ranging from $23,000 to $60,000.

The semantic argument — "it's called a 'skatepark,' not a 'bike park'<0x2009>" — is usually reserved for laypeople who don't know enough about skateboarding or bike riding to see its inherent lack of logic.

Drainage ditches are not called a "skating ditches," nor were they designed for skating. Swimming pools are not called "skating pools." Yet, therein lie the roots of the modern skatepark, along with full pipes, which are based on industrial-size drainage systems also not intended for wheels. Every day skateboarders and bikers transcend these limits through creative repurposing.

Collision, and the fear of collision, is the main thing public officials cite when shutting bikers out of parks. "It's unnerving," Vancouver pro skater Alex Chalmers wrote in a 2004 Thrasher manifesto, "BMX Jihad: Keep It in the Dirt."

"BMXers cover so much ground so quickly, especially when they're pedaling frantically to blast a transfer, that it's particularly hard to gauge these collisions," he wrote.

But the fact is that in any given park BMXers and skaters take different lines, and the best way to acclimate each group to the other is through exposure. If bike riders are banned, it increases the risk of collisions when a few bikers decide to chance the ticket or brave the vibe-out and ride anyway. A lot of bikers hit parks early in the morning because they don't want to deal with hassles. During the overlap in "shifts," this leads to bewildered skaters who aren't used to the lines a biker takes, and vice versa.

And the head-on menace is greatly overstated, largely disappearing when a park is integrated, if only unofficially. At Cityview, the police have displayed somewhat less zeal in ticketing bikers during the past few years. "They treat us like gays in the military," says Bail. "Don't ask, don't tell." And yet everyone manages to coexist.

At the new $850,000 skatepark in Benicia, which opened in October, integration isn't a big deal. "From its conception, we designed it to be a skateboard park and also for bikes," says Mike Dotson, assistant director of parks and recreation. Technically, the park has designated bike hours, but since it's largely unsupervised, there's a mildly laissez-faire approach to enforcement. "In the very beginning there was a lot of concern about the use of both bikes and skateboards," Dotson says, stating that the park was packed the first few months. "Initially we had one or two calls on it. Since then I can say I haven't had any calls on it — in relation to bikes and skateboards being in it at the same time or other complaints."

And there are mixed-use parks all over the world, as far away as Thailand and as nearby as Oregon: "You go to Oregon, and you can ride wherever you want," says a stunned Maurice Meyer, 41, lifelong San Francisco resident and founding member of legendary bike and skate trick team the Curb Dogs. Long Beach, Las Vegas, Phoenix, even Alex Chalmers' hometown of Vancouver — all have parks where bikes and skates legally ride at the same time. What's up with the Bay?

Lawyers, insurance underwriters, and city hall types may never understand how a park works. "It's out of ignorance," Bail says. "To them it looks like chaos.

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