Skating through the wide bowls at Costa Mesa Skatepark, 17-year-old skater Carly Rodgers dreams about one day having a place to skateboard in her own community.
Rodgers, who lives and attends high school in Orange, is just one of many Orange County skateboarders that live in a city without a public skatepark.
“In the city I live in, there is no skatepark,” said Rodgers. “But all skateparks do is build community.”
Rodgers thought that it might take a decade to see a skatepark in her neighborhood.
Yet plans for a new public skatepark are on the horizon.
This coming week, Orange City Council members are scheduled to discuss hiring a skatepark designer for their new park.
The City of Orange will join 23 cities across the county providing recreational space for skateboarding.
Editor’s note: This is an occasional series where Voice of OC works with local community photographers to offer residents a first-hand look at the local sites and scenes of Orange County.
City council approved plans to construct a skatepark at Grijalva Park in November 2022, after years of petitioning by local advocacy groups and skate shops, such as Contenders Boardshop and Bridge to Skate.
“There is a present need for a skatepark at Grijalva Park,” said Chantelle Heroux, Director of Bridge to Skate. “We have struggled for what skateboarding has created, a place for people to come that is safe, and they can show up no matter what level they are at. That is rare in most sports.”
As of July 2023, a proposal to construct the 11,500-square-foot skatepark and an adjacent restroom facility was opened for bids.
Cities have to really pay attention to design issues, say those advocating for skateparks.
“One of the biggest issues with skateparks is that cities were accepting the lowest bid to build a skatepark, but the general contractor had no experience building a skatepark,” said Marc Conners, owner of Contenders Boardshop in Orange. “These parks came out horrible. Everyone who builds skateparks is usually a skater themselves. They need to be specialized in their field to understand the flow of parks and avoid collisions.”
Orange has not had a public or private skatepark since the Vans Skatepark, a private park located at the Outlets at Orange, closed in 2020.
One of the county’s oldest skateparks is Murdy Park of Huntington Beach, which was built in 1971 according to the city.
Murdy Park is a simple skatepark, featuring ledges and some banks, or small slanted walls.
“When skateparks were first popularized in the mid 1970s, the designs were very tame and flowy. Surfing still had a heavy influence on skateboarding, so the skateparks that emerged at the time were designed to replicate surfing a wave,” said Miki Vuckovich, Director Of Strategic Initiatives at California Skateparks.
By the end of the 1970s, skateparks had many of the features that skateboarders are familiar with today, such as bowls and pipes that allowed visitors to “ride beyond vertical,” according to Vuckovich.
Today, OC residents have gained access to more than 30 skateboarding parks with a variety of features throughout the county.
Anaheim has the most skateparks in Orange County with eight facilities.
Many cities across Orange County still lack a public skatepark, including Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, La Mirada, San Juan Capistrano, Yorba Linda, Laguna Woods, La Palma and Placentia.
Although there are skateparks spread throughout the county, half are concentrated in northern Orange County.
Regionally, there are 15 skateparks in the North, 6 in central Orange County, 6 in Southern and 5 in coastal cities.
It took many years of advocacy for Orange County’s skateparks to exist.
Cities were reluctant to build skateparks when the sport was gaining traction during the 1960s and 1970s.
“Skating boomed in the 60s and 70s, but cities didn’t want to build skateparks because of the insurance risk,” said Don Sheridan, 73, a longtime skateboarder and former contributor to Skateboarder Magazine. “There were lots of accidents, kids were breaking their arms and legs while skating. They didn’t want to take on the liability, especially because the insurance was expensive.”
In the 1970s, California voters approved a $250 million bond issue to provide funds for the future procurement of recreational land by state and municipal authorities. Hailed as the 1974 Park Bond Issue, this act pushed cities in Orange County to develop more public parks, and thus skateparks, according to former Irvine Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan.
“Skateboarding was a wild sport then,” said Sheridan, 88, who also served as executive director of International Skateboard Association, which promoted skateboarding safety and competitions. “When Irvine built its first skatepark at University Park in 1976, we required skaters to wear protective equipment, like helmets and elbow pads, which was uncommon at the time.”
Acting as Chairman of Community Services at the time, Sheridan was instrumental in having the skatepark constructed with funding through the 1974 Park Bond Issue.
Liability claims against the private owners resulted in the shutdown of many skateparks during the 1980s. This shutdown pushed many skaters to the streets and into other underground skating avenues, according to world famous skater and San Diego native Tony Hawk in a piece he wrote for Britannica.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that cities were able to limit liability, shielding them from injury claims.
A 1997 state law declared skateboarding to be a “hazardous activity,” protecting local governments from being sued due to injuries sustained at public skateparks by anyone 14 years of age or older.
The 1995 X-Games, an alternative sports festival, brought skateboarding back into the mainstream.
“Skate culture has been ingrained in Orange County culture for decades. What makes skating in Orange County unique is the positive and supportive community that surrounds it,” said Sara Linton, Production Coordinator at Volcom.
Ultimately, skateparks are meant to provide a safe environment for youth to skate.
“People love street skating, but it can be dangerous, especially for new skaters,” said Angela Banda, 28, co-leader of Sk8 N Meet Santana, an Orange County skateboarding group that promotes inclusivity in the sport. “Skateparks are a place for youth to learn, observe and get active. They make sure that the sport does not die out in the streets.”
“By creating a space where people can be true to themselves, skating has brought a lot of positivity to peoples lives,” Linton said.
Here is a glance at a few of the county’s public and private skate parks:
Manzanita Skatepark of Anaheim
Manzanita Skatepark is one of eight skateparks within the city of Anaheim.
The 10,000 square foot park cost $1.6 million to construct in 2019, according to Anaheim Public Information Officer Mike Lyster.
The construction was funded by developer fees, alongside federal and state grants.
Designed by renowned skatepark designer Spohn Ranch Inc., Manzanita Skatepark replicates urban skating with grind ledges, rails, a 7-foot bowl and vertical ramp.
“I feel like I have had assumptions made about me as a skater. When parents see me, they assume I drink or smoke or spray paint, but I’m probably more well-behaved than their kids,” said Joseph Cruz, 18. “When people see skaters, they assume they are bad.”
“Skateparks bring the youth together, and gives them a place to be active rather than sit on TikTok or do drugs. It gets your body moving, gets your mind moving,” said Evan Mutter, 33.
Mutter, who has been skating for almost 23 years, said that he feels he was criminalized at certain points during his youth as a “skater.”
“If we were criminalized then, it’s probably because we were doing some things we weren’t supposed to. We climbed a lot of chain-link fences to get to areas we could skate. It’s different now, skateparks are more accessible,” Mutter explained. “It’s much more widely accepted than it used to be.”
Pat McGuigan Skatepark of Santa Ana
Centennial Skate Park was renamed in 2019 to Pat McGuigan Skate Park, to honor the late councilwoman who died of natural causes that year.
McGuigan was instrumental in the park’s construction in 2002.
Santa Ana resident Christopher Rodriguez, 23, feels that local skateparks are not promoted enough by cities in Orange County.
“Some people don’t have access to fitness parks or hiking trails in their neighborhood,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of people don’t know that skating is also exercise. The skateparks need to be publicized more as places to get active locally.”
“Skating is important for kids in Santa Ana. They can find a kind of serenity in skating. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle,” he added. “It teaches people how to fall and get back up again, and to persevere. That kind of skill is important for youth today.”
Pat McGuigan Park will be joined by a new skatepark later this year.
Located at the corner of Raitt Street and Myrtle Street in Santa Ana, Ed Caruthers Park is set to open sometime in the fall season, according to Paul Eakins, Public Information Officer for the city.
The project cost $16 million to construct, and received funding from the state’s Proposition 68 statewide parks grant, Proposition 1 integrated regional water management grant, and from “cannabis funding.”
Vans Off the Wall Skatepark of Huntington Beach
The Vans Off the Wall Skatepark is one of the largest, and arguably most well known, skateparks in Orange County.
The park is 35,000 square feet, containing bowls, stairs and other features.
The privately operated park is open to the public daily until 8 p.m.
Due to regulations put in place by Vans, the Voice of OC was not granted access to photograph the interior of the park.
Costa Mesa Skatepark
Located off Arlington Drive, skaters frequenting Costa Mesa Skatepark, also known as Volcom Skatepark, can enjoy an ocean breeze during a day of skating.
The 24,000 square foot park was opened to the public in 2005, through a sponsorship from Volcom.
The park features street skating elements, such as stairs and rails, alongside bowls of different sizes to accommodate different levels of skating.
“I use a skateboard for transportation to and from school. There is a big stigma around skateboarding on or near school property. There’s this assumption that if you’re skateboarding, you’re doing something wrong. Even if all you’re doing is getting to and from your home,” Carly Rogers said. “I do believe that there is some underlying racism in skateboard regulations at my school, as it’s seen as a Hispanic sport.”
Etnies Skatepark of Lake Forest
Hailed as one of the largest skateparks in the nation by Transworld Skateboarding at 64,000 square feet, Etnies Skatepark in Lake Forest was opened in 2003 as a joint venture between Etnies and the city.
The park cost $3 million to build, and an additional $125,000 for the design from SITE Design Group and California Skateparks, according to Scott Stewart, Senior Recreation Supervisor.
Today, it costs Lake Forest residents over the age of 18 years old $5 to enter, and non-residents of any age $6 for a day of skating at Etnies.
Normally, former Navy Seal and longtime skateboarder Charlie Aeschliman can be found skating with his granddaughters, but he had Etnies Skatepark almost to himself the evening of August 12.
Aeschliman recalled the early days of skating, when he rode a Hang Ten board with steel wheels, prior to the introduction of the urethane wheel to the sport in the early 1970s.
“It was incredible when they started building skateparks, because growing up there were none, you had to find ditches, banks, schoolyards, or a pool to skate in,” said Aeschliman. “When I was growing up, it was a lot more dangerous. Skaters were an unwelcome crowd.”
“I appreciate the skateparks because they are a safe, clean, monitored environment for young kids to learn how to skate. They keep a lot of kids off the street and out of the way from cars. Of course, there is still street skating, but it’s not safe for beginners,” Aeschliman said.
Erika Taylor is a Voice of OC photojournalism intern. Contact her on Instagram @camerakeepsrolling.
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