… Or, at least, for the foreseeable future.
To much rejoicing, skateparks in the UK are officially opening up again. Fencing and barrier tape coming down, ready for people to carve around on their useless wooden toys again. All of this comes with a caveat though: COVID-19 is still looming, and with our country having the most deaths in Europe, Skateboard England have set out guidelines for Skateboarding in the time of Coronavirus. The problem is, in real life, the guidelines don’t really work as intended.
Skateboard England’s rules (which have literally been posted everywhere on social media) are as follows:
I don’t think there is anything controversial or unreasonable in these guidelines and you can still have a rad session with 5 people. There are plenty of people who are sticking to these rules too, so in general I think most skateboarders are sensibly doing what is necessary to keep the shred going. We’re used to not pissing people off to stop ourselves getting kicked off spots, so doing the same thing to preserve skatepark sessions comes naturally to us. The problem comes with people bending the rules or outright ignoring them, and as with most problems at skateparks, it’s caused by people who don’t skate.
Skateparks, confusing as it is, were classed as playgrounds for ages. With that mindset, skateparks were closed off, like all other playgrounds. At the start of this pandemic, governments all over the world, even in California, did not understand the difference and dumped sand all over skateparks to curb sessions. It is with the guidance and help of orgs like Skateboard England that councils began to let skateparks open up again, whilst playgrounds remain closed. Now, parents desperate for something to do with their kids have flocked to skateparks on weekend mornings so Little Timmy can have a go on his plastic scooter.
Clueless parents at skateparks have always been a problem. They are entitled, rude, and think they understand skateparks better than you. They take offense at the mere mention of anything that might make using the skatepark more harmonious or less dangerous for their child. As a father of a toddler, I honestly cannot understand the mindset of some of these people. I am constantly trying to make sure my kid isn’t in the way or in danger. I totally understand just wanting a second of peace whilst your kid occupies themselves, but a big piece of concrete with full grown men whizzing around is not the place for that.
With nowhere else to go, this attitude of entitlement and outright petty rudeness has increased. They think the skateparks have re-opened just for them, instead of realising that actual skateboarders sat down and did the work to sell these spaces as a safe place that you could use responsibly without catching a disease.
I want my daughter to learn to skate, and I can’t wait to get her learning. But as an experienced skateboarder, I can’t in good conscience take her on a busy skatepark until she has at least learnt the basics of not only skateboarding, but spatial awareness – this is something a lot of parents just aren’t getting. Young kids should not be given full reign of the skatepark when they still lack confidence riding on flat ground, and definitely not when the park is busy with many other riders. Common sense should tell you (as it did for all of us when we started skateboarding) to learn the basics when the park is empty, or find a quiet area to get to grips with it. Most parents seem to just throw toddlers in at the deep end and think it’ll be alright.
A kid on a plastic scooter who could barely ride in a straight line fell from the top of a 6 ft quarter to the ground and busted his face open during one of my recent Sunday Morning sessions, and the parents were too busy nattering on the other side of the skatepark to notice straight away. Skateparks have re-opened with the expectation that children who do not know better will be properly managed by their parents: watching someone else’s kid faceplant in the worst possible way doesn’t fill me with confidence that these other parents understand what is being asked of them.
Skateboard England’s rules are also written from an idealistic perspective where skateboarders who have used parks for years can use common sense and act sensibly. This isn’t always the case in real life. Saying that “small skateparks” must only have 3 people on at a time, whilst “big skateparks” can have 10, sounds fine on paper, but realistically what constitutes a small or big skatepark? And I don’t know anyone who would go down to their local park, see 10 people skating, and then say “Ah there are too many people, better go home!”, even with the threat of an airborne virus that suffocates you to death. I didn’t even do that, and I suffer from panic attacks, and horrendous, crippling anxiety over life-threatening diseases.
My local park, in Leamington Spa, is that confusingly awkward middle ground between small and big – it takes up a lot of space by English skatepark standards, but it’s layout definitely does not encourage large numbers. It is tight, and encourages quick reflexes, and funnels people into the middle of the park when there are many people riding. It is a perfect example of why Skateboard England specifies only one person should be riding a park at any time. The planning consent for the park was granted on the accordance that it is to be used by people aged 8 & over – so there should be no argument here, parents shouldn’t be letting toddlers onto the skatepark.
Having the knowledge to figure out whether one of these parks is safe to ride can only come from experience and actual skateboarding knowledge, and there is no way your average mum is going to know whether a skatepark is large enough to hold 10 riders at a time. I saw first hand, the busier the place got, the more parents strolled over, carrying a scooter adorned with cute, cartoon animals from CBeebies, followed by an excited 3 year old who has utterly no concept of social distancing or spatial awareness. And these same parents scowl at you as you ride around at top speed past their spawn on this concrete that “their taxes paid for” (it’s worth noting that in most cases, “their taxes” didn’t pay for it, skateboarders applied for grants from appropriate funding bodies to pay for it).
Why does this matter and why does it annoy me so much? Well, as stated, actual skateboarders worked hard to get these skateparks re-opened. Playgrounds are still shut. Not many places that people can use to stay active and healthy are open at all. The fact skateparks have re-opened has one of two outcomes: they become germ epicentres and spread the virus, or they are used responsibly and help forge a path for how we can still live remotely normal lives in this horrendously dark timeline. If people completely ignore the shit Skateboard England is telling them, and don’t apply common sense, then we veer closer to scenario A, and I don’t think any skateboarder wants that.
We are responsible for the parks we skate and for our wellbeing. We must do all we can to protect the spaces we feel comfortable in. Fair enough, we could all just go back to the streets or skate DIY parks, but if we all go into hiding what happens to the future skateboarders? If they have no place to go and skate, how do kids get to know how fun skateboarding can be? If we don’t “lead by example” (in the words of Skateboard England) then how will our scenes grow and expand and evolve? There was a kid down the park the other day who was learning to skate, who we encouraged to learn new tricks and get better. If we aren’t there to provide guidance and encouragement to young kids like that, who only learn what skateboarding is about from actual skateboarders at skateparks, then we might as well admit we don’t care about skateboarding all up.
There are so few things like skateboarding that can bring people of all walks of life together, and if people can just follow some simple rules for what is a blip in their entire lifetime, we can continue to have something positive to fuel us while we battle Coronavirus, Racism, Police Brutality, Tory Hypocrisy, Donald Trump and any other horrendous bullshit 2020 wants to throw at us.