5/20/2011Posted by LCS
Eisen Teo, Journalist
For skateboarders, by skateboarders
Although there are now more skateparks, many are poorly designed, skateboarders tell Eisen Teo
MORE than ever before, skateboarders have no shortage of skateparks to hang out at in Singapore.
The number of such parks has almost doubled in the last three years, from eight in 2008 to 14 today.
They can be found all over the island, from Woodlands to Bishan and Eunos. Singapore
Polytechnic’s skating club also assisted in the construction of the school’s own skatepark, which was completed last December.
One of the largest skateparks in Singapore, the Xtreme SkatePark in East Coast Park, occupies an area of 2½ football fields and was opened in 2009 at a cost of $7.6 million.
Skateboarders think that after years of being dismissed as “troublemakers” and “time-wasters”, the steadily growing sport is finally being recognised by the authorities as a legitimate one.
Mr Sheikh Zeeshaun, 29, owner of skateboarding shop Boards & Stuff, recalls that the skateboarding community numbered only “a few hundred” when he started practising the sport 17 years ago, but estimates it to be more than 2,000-strong now.
Skateparks also keep skateboarders off the streets, where they may disturb members of the public with their noisy stunts or damage property such as curbs and rails. Such situations have contributed to negative perceptions of skateboarders.
But participants are unhappy with many of the skateparks built for them, especially the ones nestled in HDB neighbourhoods.
Their beef: They were not consulted on the construction and layout of these parks, they say.
As a result, they find that many of them are too small to accommodate more than a dozen skateboarders at any one time. The skateparks in Queenstown and Fengshan Community Club in Bedok are good examples – they are roughly the size of a basketball court each.
There could also be too many or too few ramps, quarter-pipes, rails and other obstacles in each park.
“There are too few obstacles in the skatepark in Bishan,” said Andrew Restan, 16, a Sec 4 student from St Gabriel’s Secondary School and a skateboarder of two years. “Not everyone can use it at the same time. You have to wait for your turn. It’s very irritating.”
Furthermore, these obstacles may not be well positioned or constructed. As a result, the more skilful and experienced skateboarders are unable to do more difficult “tricks” with them.
Another case in point: the skatepark in Yishun, which was built in January and officially opened in April.
After trying it out once in January, Andrew dismissed it as “not the best park around”. He said: “The ramps are too steep and the obstacles are not placed well. You can’t ‘play’ much with them.”
Even the type of flooring matters. At the skatepark in Bedok Adventure Park, near Bedok Central, “the floor is very rough and if you fall down, you’ll cut or scrape yourself”, said Syed Luqman, 16, a Sec 4 Tampines Secondary student and skateboarder of one year.
No input from users
Town councils, community clubs or the National Parks Board (NParks) usually oversee the building of skateparks. A check with them revealed that some, such as those in Queenstown, Bedok and Bishan, were indeed constructed without input from skateboarders.
Other factors that could thwart the best plans on paper: the lack of space in crowded neighbourhoods, residents’ objections and a tight budget. The lavish cash poured into the Xtreme SkatePark is an exception – other skateparks usually cost between $50,000 and $400,000, town councils let on. It does not help either that in most skateparks, skateboarders are not allowed to bring in their own obstacles, usually for safety reasons.
But skateboarders are not buying these reasons. Said Muhammad Umar Al-Siddiq, 24, a full-time skateboarding coach: “The standards of skateparks must be higher, or else skateboarders will not skate at these places and it will be a waste of land.”
The Somerset skatepark and Xtreme SkatePark are notable exceptions – they are packed almost every day of the week, especially on Friday evenings and weekends. For the skatepark in Somerset, the National Youth Council consulted skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX (motocross bicycle) professionals. For Xtreme, NParks and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports engaged Convic Design, a professional skatepark design firm from Australia.
The result? Excited, satisfied skateboarders.
“There are so many rails and ledges for me to grind,” said Ahmad Naziif, 16, a Sec 5 Tampines Secondary student and skateboarder of two years, of the Xtreme SkatePark. Grinding is a skateboarding trick.
Johann Seow, 15, a Sec 4 student from Ang Mo Kio Secondary School and skateboarder of 1½ years, agrees. “It’s a ‘street’ kind of place, with variations in the terrain,” he said. “Street” is a slang term for urban features that are suitable for skateboarding tricks, such as staircases, but are usually off-limits to skateboarders.
With these two skateparks fast becoming overcrowded, skateboarders suggest upgrading the other unsatisfactory parks. Also, “the west needs a park on the same scale as the ones in Somerset and East Coast”, added Mr Ethan Lou, 20, a skateboarder of three years.
Mr Eddie Goh, 58, owner of skate shop Go Sports, suggests returning skateparks to their intended users: skateboarders. “Give them a flat space, let them manage it and decide what they want to put there and subsidise their building efforts.”
He added though that he has given feedback to town councils “many times”, but to little avail.
But at least one skatepark builder has listened to skateboarders’ advice. After Lion City Skaters, a local skateboarding website, gave a poor review of the Yishun Skate Park in January, the park’s contractors engaged the people behind it to make changes to the park’s layout in time for its official opening in April.
Recalled Mr Jason Sim, 35, managing director of Playpoint: “They told us to change some ramp positions and add more rails... we had the chance to do what is best for skateboarders. After all, they are the end-users.”
Johann approves of the changes. “It’s definitely way more ‘skateable’ now,” he said.
Skateboarders hope with more of their kind using improved skateparks all over Singapore, negative perceptions of them will change. Said Andrew Restan of St Gabriel’s Secondary School: “When I did tricks in the past, people would just stare but, now, when I land a trick, people would praise me.”