Guest commentary: Visions coming true for OB Skate Park
by MIKE RYAN, Ocean Beach
May 22, 2009 | 1207 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
About 20 years ago (1988), I and another Peninsula-area parent started a petition drive to convince San Diego City Hall of the need of safe places for our kids to skateboard at.

A lofty goal indeed, but we felt it was the responsible thing to do considering there weren’t any legal places to skateboard other than sidewalks. And especially since San Diego County was heavily involved in the manufacturing of skateboard-related products and home to the Action Sports Retail tradeshow, of which skateboarding is a big part.

At the time, the skateboarding situation in Ocean Beach was out of control. Not only had several local youths lost their lives while skateboarding on streets but pre-teens were actually being ticketed by police and having their skateboards confiscated. I know. I had to take my son to court over a skateboarding ticket. Plus OB business leaders were upset about kids skating in and around Newport Avenue.

After joining the Ocean Beach Town Council, I continued to fight for the right of skateboarders. Eventually, I met an architect who had designed skate parks in the ’70s. He convinced me to take a different tack. We still wanted a safe place for kids to skateboard, but it occurred to us that it wouldn’t be fair to limit the park to just skateboarders. Skateboarding was faddish (at the time) and we couldn’t predict what new “wheeled” sports might evolve. And we felt that it should be left up to the kids to decide how they wanted to use it. We called our new design an “urban contour park.”

And we were proven right! Today the (skate) park is being used by Rollerbladers, Razors and BMX bikers, along with skateboarders. We also knew that according to the available data at the time, skate parks did best when they were open and unsupervised. Yes, unsupervised! The thinking was that if there was someone supervising the park and a skateboarder got hurt then it could be argued that the person working there didn’t do his/her job. The law covering skateboard parks (AB 1296) eliminated liability issues as long as skate parks had warning signs posted and users wore safety equipment. In January, the Robb Field Skate Park was finally opened to the public free of charge and unsupervised!

California Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña has authored new legislation to eliminate the need for elbow and knee pads. Helmets are still required. I think this is a reasonable response to the park’s users who complain that knee and elbow pads cause injuries because they are cumbersome for street-style skate parks.

To be objective, there is still an ongoing problem with graffiti at the park, but just like we do with graffiti everywhere in the city, we just paint over it. Personally, I have more issues with the dirt-covered sections and plant life inside of the skate park. The landscaping was an original compromise I was never in favor of.

Despite these few shortcomings, I’m most happy to report that according to David Surwilo, San Diego Police Department community relations officer for Western Division, the initial problems of what he calls “growing pains” when the park first opened have “settled down.” And despite what local media initially reported as “turf wars,“ Surwilo says “there has never been a serious enough altercation at the park that police have had to respond to.” Surwilo thinks “it’s a positive place.”

If you haven’t seen what these talented young athletes are doing on modern equivalent to the steel-skate-wheels-nailed-to-a-piece-of-wood skateboards that some of us remember, you will be blown away — these kids are amazing! Thanks to a lot of good people in our community, the original dream of a safe and free place for our kids to skate has come true. The Robb Field Skate Park (urban contour park) is something we can all be proud of.

— Mike Ryan, Ocean Beach

Skate Park Committee
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