Falling with style, and other life lessons from a neighborhood skate park
This fall, we’re celebrating all the ways parks unite us: with one another, with our neighborhoods, and with the world. We envision a future where everyone in America feels at home in the outdoors—whether that’s a trackless wilderness, a convenient multi-use trail, or your local neighborhood skate park.
The first trick any skateboarder has to master is learning how to fall. “Skaters have to know how to handle a situation if you’re about to lose your balance,” says Thuy Nguyen, who runs the San Francisco Skate Club. “There are things you can do to stay on your feet, or at least fall in a way you don’t get hurt.”
Learning to fall is just one of the sport’s lessons that extend way beyond the skate park, says Nguyen. Through the San Francisco Skate Club, which she co-launched in 2007, she’s helped hundreds of San Francisco kids learn how to skate. The club’s headquarters is the launch pad for field trips to skate parks all around the Bay Area, not to mention an open door for kids who might not otherwise have a supportive place to hang out after school or on weekends.
But for most of the club’s existence, options for skateboarding in the neighborhood were few and far between, even though their headquarters isn’t far from Hilltop Park, which is home to one of California’s first skate parks. Dubbed “The Dish” by local skaters, the shallow concrete bowl opened in 1980, when skateboarding was a relatively unknown subculture brewing in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Since then, skateboarding has morphed into an Olympic sport and a global phenomenon. But by the early 2000s, the Dish—like the rest of Hilltop Park—was in need of a makeover. “We never used to take kids there. It was too small to have more than one or two people skating in it at a time,” says Nguyen. Many San Francisco skateboarders had moved on to bigger, more elaborate facilities elsewhere in the Bay Area. When Hilltop’s rundown playground was removed, the park was left with a bare field and little to attract kids and families.
So when the San Francisco Skate Club found out a few years ago that The Trust for Public Land was working with local advocates to renovate Hilltop Park, they jumped on board. “We joined planning meetings, and our skaters had a big presence at park clean ups,” says Nguyen. They encouraged their skaters to weigh in on the plans for the state-of-the-art skate park that would replace The Dish—while staying true to the park’s place in the history of skateboarding.
In late 2016, their skaters were among the hundreds of people who turned out to celebrate Hilltop Park’s grand reopening, following a total overhaul. And today, the bigger, better skate park at Hilltop is a regular haunt for Skate Club meetings—and for any kid in the neighborhood with a board, an appetite for challenge, and a desire to grow.
“Skateboarding is a way for kids to creatively express themselves,” says Nguyen. “There’s no right way of doing it. Everyone has individual goals they’re working on and styles they develop for themselves, and appreciate in others.”
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