Warning: The following blog entry is heavily related to my series of boring editorials about skateparks in Coventry and why they aren’t good enough and why the council should be looking at other areas of the UK for inspiration when it comes to designing parks. If you’re sick and tired of these articles then skip right past this. Having said that it has photos and video stuff so it is the kind of article where you can ignore the text and simply look at the images and video work! Don’t say I don’t try to please everyone.

Andy Buswell - Pivot Fakie.
Andy Buswell - Pivot Fakie.

So today I went to Burton Upon Trent skatepark. For those of you who don’t know, Burton Upon Trent is a large town straddling the River Trent in the east of Staffordshire. It’s a brewery town, and is home to the Marstons and Coors factories, where yeasty smells float around as alcoholic beverages are brewed for the masses. The marmite factory is also in Burton, so next time you’re enjoying a marmite sandwich think of the folk who slave away on making it. I dislike marmite – I’ve said many a time that it looks, tastes and smells like the kind of thing that grows in the devil’s fingernails.

One thing it has in common with Coventry is that it’s a factory town, where a single commodity (yeast) has lead to a healthy economy, just like for many years cars were a major benefactor towards Coventry’s economy. The skate scene in Burton appears to be small, but the skatepark that has been built there is well used and attacts many visitors, as the area the park is in is well used and has a very skate friendly atmosphere.

The build quality of the park is amazing. The floor is as smooth as glass and the ramps have been moulded perfectly. Some say the mini ramp is a little too whippy but it takes about two minutes to get used to, and after that it’ll feel the same as any other small mini ramp. The reason I’m mentioning all of this is because Burton Upon Trent skatepark has so far been an outstanding example of what many Coventry skateboarders have pointed to when discussing what our skateparks should be like. I’m not saying that all skaters in Coventry want a replica of Burton in the Memorial Park (as with any skatepark, it’s impossible to skate there day after day, we all need to travel once in a while to skate something different), but in terms of what council’s are providing in other parts of the country, especially in places as close as Burton, this is a shining example that for £100,000 – with consultation costs included – you can get an awesome skatepark that is fun for all experience levels. The ramps here are small enough for beginners to learn on, as no ramp is larger than 4 foot, but the layout is so perfect and so interesting that it keeps experienced skaters coming back time and time again.

eastmidburtSo what is it about this park that’s so special? Why is this design and layout so good? Well, first of all,  just take a look at the plans for the skatepark (on the right). Now to those who don’t skate, this may look the same as any skatepark we have in Coventry. In which case, it’s time to learn something about skateboard parks. There are noticeably more ledge type obstacles dotted around this skatepark. Flat ledges, ledges with banks leading up to them, ledges placed in close proximity to quarter pipes, ledges that form the tops of flatbanks, and ledges that merge into quarter pipes. Now there’s a lot of different types of ledges here, which is where we learn our first lesson: Variety is the spice of life. This rule applies to the various traditional “quarter pipe” ramps in the park as well; we have a mini ramp with a bowl corner at the end which incorporates a large mellow quarter at the end, and then in the opposite corner of the park you’ve got a taco shaped quarter pipe that allows for transfers as well as individual tricks on the lip of the ramp. As well as this, you have a bowl with no coping (the metal railings embedded into quarter pipes that allow for lip tricks) – this resembles ramps from Livingston skatepark in Scotland, providing something strange (yet extremely fun) to the skatepark that will gain the interest of any ramp skater.

Photo0005Arguably the most fun thing in the skatepark is the quarter pipe on the right. It’s 4 foot high, but has 1 foot of vert. It’s whippy as all hell, and extremely hard to skate. However, it’s ridiculously FUN. I can’t do a damn thing on it, yet it doesn’t stop me trying because every time I attempt to do anything on it I have so much fun just trying to reach the top. This is often how many skaters, from beginner to professional, feel when they skate something like this – they try as many tricks as they can, no matter how basic, because the obstacle is so hard to skate that it’s fun just to try a trick on it. It’s something so simply designed yet so well thought out at the same time. No skatepark in Coventry has a quarter pipe like this and that’s because whoever was giving the go ahead final plans on our parks wasn’t thinking outside the box. I’d even go as far as to say that they don’t skate and never will, so don’t understand what it is that’s so fun about a whippy 4 foot vert wall. You wouldn’t let a non-golfer design a golf course so what’s so different about a skatepark?

I think I can safely say that sums up the second lesson of this article: Skateparks should be fun to skate. Simple, I know. It sounds easy, sure, anyone can design a skatepark. Even Anneka Rice. Well, actually, she can. She went to Birmingham in the mid-nineties and built a skatepark as part of her “Challenge Anneka” TV show. The skatepark is fun for about 30 minutes, but it’s dangerous as all hell, and it looks like something that was built in the seventies. It’s a lot of hard work to skate and although it’s the kind of park that people have called “fun”, they do so in jest as it’s extremely rough, horribly whippy and offers nothing whatsoever to beginners. It’s the kind of park that offers an uphill struggle (literally in some areas of the park), and only really consists of a 60 foot long stretch of concrete that kind of crumples up on itself in the corner of the skatepark creating some kind of “toilet basin” shape, featuring the two toughest humps/hips to skate in human history (depicted below).

Daryl Nobbs - Crailslide. Photo by Alex Burrell
Daryl Nobbs - Crailslide. Photo by Alex Burrell

The issues with the Anneka Rice park in Bearwood are mainly down to build quality and a poor use of space – BMX riders seem to love it but we don’t all have nice rubber tyres to roll over rough tarmac with. Smooth concrete, a good use of space and some quirky bits and pieces are usually the way to go. A mix of what’s familiar (a mini ramp, a nice sized bowl, some ledges) with something utterly bizarre (Bearwood would actually be good if there was a nice floor and a healthy number of decent obstacles dotted around the rest of the park) provides something timeless and a seal of approval from all skaters who know their parks. For further examples of parks with fun obstacles check out Stoke Plaza in Stoke on Trent, with it’s ever loveable group of ledges and banks, combined with an awesome quarter pipe wallride, a strange quarter pipe that feels like a steep bank with a ledge concreted onto the top and the steep banks with blocks that stick out in the middle, providing a carving challenge that everyone can enjoy.

Photo0003They say a good, traditional skatepark can be tested by one test; Push once, and try and get around the whole park just by pumping the ramps. Burton skatepark achieves this easily, with a design that allows for all sorts of time trials schenanigans. I don’t need to go into any more detail about that, but for any park that is aimed at ramp skaters, this is a key rule for a skatepark. Those of us who don’t really skate a lot of ramp can have fun playing on the hidden gaps between ledges or bring some technical skill to the centre of the main open area of the skatepark. There’s literally something for everyone in this park and that is a point I can’t express enough. Everyone is catered for with Burton’s skatepark – in Coventry everyone is certainly NOT catered for, and even the people who skate our skateparks feels disappointed by the layouts on offer. They’re all very basic and don’t really tantalise our creative spark.

My final word on this park is that it’s roughly the same size as the Memorial Park skatepark, and from what I hear (from a council employee!!) £130,0o0 was spent on that skatepark, including consultation costs. Burton skatepark was £90,000, and everyone agrees it’s a much better use of space. The key ingredient here was skater involvement. Skaters were continually consulted on this facility, and were the MAIN AREA of consultation – schools and youth clubs were asked, but it was the skaters alongside the UK Skateboarding Association who held the reigns. The skateboarders, BMX riders and rollerbladers who use these facilities are the ones who should be working equally with the council. Get the right people involved and you’ll get better value for money, and that is extremely important. That is our final lesson for this article, and the key thing that people should remember.

I’ll leave you with an edit of the footage we got from today – ENJOY.