Regardless of whether or not you skateboard, taking in an afternoon at an American skatepark is something that should be on every U.S.A.-venturing tourist’s itinerary. This advice is especially true of the Big Apple, where skateboarding — the act, process and culture — is not just an athletic undertaking but is something of an art form.
Because skateboarding — at least in urban areas — is so common, it’s hard to remember back to the time when it was considered a crime. Skateboarding and American cities have had an uneasy relationship for years, and in some ways, they still do. Skateparks started coming into existence in the 1970s to address this problem, and 21st century New York is full of them. If you’re an avid skateboarder, or just someone who appreciates the art and skill of a person on a board with four wheels, take a holiday to New York City, where skating and skateparks are so welcomed that the city itself operates almost 20 of them.
Millennium Skatepark was designed by Andy Kessler, a skateboarding legend whose sudden passing in 2009 has only deepened skaters’ affection for the park. For 12 years now, this park has been a favourite destination for New York skateboarders — even though it’s off the Bay Ridge waterfront all the way down in Brooklyn. Professional boarders come by this park from time to time, too, but the amateurs and locals put on a show that’s plenty good to watch. It’s free to skate, but you will have to sign a waiver.
Pier 62 is one of the newest skateparks in the city, but it’s already one of the most popular. At 15,000 square feet, it’s huge, and its design and construction include foam so that it imitates natural earth formations. It has a large flow section, great wedges, plenty of ledges and a big bowl. Preferred by experienced skaters, Pier 62 also maintains a beginner’s section called the Ollie Zone for those who are new to the sport. This park is free, but it does require a signed waiver if you want to skate.
River Avenue Skatepark
Run by the City of New York, the River Avenue Skatepark is 10,000 square feet of gritty, gristly New York. Located next to Yankee Stadium, the park feels like something that only New York City could have birthed. After all, you have to skate beneath the elevated 4 train’s rumbling overhead. Steve Rodriguez, a skateboard legend and community activist, helped to design River Avenue, which hosts Battle for the Bronx, a day of skating competitions and celebrations. Another free park, all you have to do is sign a waiver.
Flushing Meadows Corona Skatepark
Open from dawn to dusk, Flushing Meadows is another city-run skatepark. Built over the Astral Fountain in Queens, this 16,000-square-foot park’s design came from professional skateboarders, and it utilizes elements from some of the more popular skateparks throughout the city. With multiple stairs and rails, as well as ledges, banks and pyramids, Flushing Meadows offers skateboarders of all skill levels plenty of challenges. This skatepark was funded by the Maloof Brothers for the Maloof Money Cup skateboarding competition in 2010. After the competition, they donated the skatepark to the city.
New York City’s first skatepark, Riverside was just recently renovated in May of 2013. Another park designed by legend Andy Kessler, it features a 10-foot wooden half pipe. Full armour (helmet and pads) and a signed waiver are required to skate, but the park is free.
Manhattan Bridge Skatepark
Located in the Lower East Side, this skatepark used to be an unused public space right beneath the Manhattan Bridge. Now a park, it’s heavily trafficked and extremely popular. 2012 brought some major renovations due to a considerable Nike grant and the work of skateboarding advocate Steve Rodriguez. The park has been completely rebuilt and now has features for skateboarders of all ages and skill levels.
Skateboarding in New York City, regardless of whether you participate or watch, is a feast for body, soul, mind and eyes. An integral part of the city’s landscape, skateparks and the people who frequent them offer a flavour and culture all their own. If you’re headed to New York City, they should not be missed.
About the Author: Jake Wilson is a contributing writer and lifelong skateboarder. He lives in London with his wife and two daughters.