HomeInspireLife

7 Original 1970s skateparks that show why they should be protected

BY Patrick Quinn and Iain Borden

1st Feb 2024 Life

5 min read

7 Original 1970s skateparks that show why they should be protected
The urban treasures that are 1970s skateparks have cultural, architectural and historical value. Here's why...
Historic Environment Scotland—whose function to date has largely been confined to protecting standing stones, cairns and castles—is proposing to add to its roster the Livingston Skatepark near Edinburgh, signalling an interest in heritage of an altogether newer kind.
Designed by local architect Ian Urquhart, the Livi, as it is known, put the small Scottish town on the skateboarding map, when it opened in 1981. Visits from luminaries including American superstar Tony Hawk and the Bones Brigade have nurtured a still-vibrant local skate scene.
When polyurethane wheels were introduced in 1973, they ushered in what historians term skateboarding’s “second wave”. Skaters in California began to emulate surfing moves in sloped school yardsdrainage ditches and empty swimming pools. The first skateparks appeared shortly thereafter, with hundreds following across the US, the UK and beyond.
The Livi was one of the last to built before the sport’s booming popularity waned in the early 1980s. Our recent study notes that most have since been bulldozed, infilled or just forgotten about. Here are seven originals that demonstrate the immense wider cultural, architectural and historical value these rare structures wield.

1. The Rom, London, UK

Built in 1978 in Hornchurch, on the outskirts of London, this is the world’s largest remaining original skatepark. Local skaters restored it after a fire in 2018, but the structure remains at risk.
"Outside of the US, the UK was the biggest hotspot for skatepark building in the 1970s and has many relics"
Its centrepiece is a smooth white bowl based on the fabled keyhole pool at Skateboard Heaven in Spring Valley, California and the San Diego Soul Bowl. Other features include a half-pipe, a massive “performance” bowl, a four-part “cloverleaf” bowl, a slalom/downhill run, a sinuous “snake run”, moguls (concrete versions of the eponymous ski feature) and a large open reservoir, inspired by the empty water-storage structures favoured by skaters in the early days.
Outside of the US, the UK was the biggest hotspot for skatepark building in the 1970s and now has the highest density of relics, including big parks in Harrow, Southsea and Stevenage.

2. The Kennington Bowl, London, UK

This modest 1978 bowl, tucked away in the corner of a south London park, is a rare extant example of an above-ground construction. Prefabricated concrete parts were ordered from the Radical Banking catalogue, craned on to a flat surface and bolted together.
Developed by the UK-based Great Outdoors Company, this modular system was an innovative response to rampant demand from local councils to build skateparks, during the short-lived 1970s boom.
The Kenny is currently being renovated, its metal feet—designed to level out the structure over time—having long since seized up.

3. The Bro Bowl, Tampa, US

Bro Bowl in Tampa
This small, shallow concrete bowl opened in 1979. In 2013, local skaters campaigned for it to be added to the US National Register of Historic Places—a world first. That recognition did not mean protection, however. The following year, the site was redeveloped—but not before its precise curves and humps were scanned.
The replica Bro Bowl opened nearby, in 2016, to mixed reactions. The fact that it lives on, though, is testament to the power of the skateboard community. The Long Live Southbank campaign to save the Undercroft, much favoured by skateboarders at the South Bank Centre in central London, is another notable example.

4. Pista de Skate do Marinha, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Built on the banks of the Guaíba lake in 1978, this long concrete half pipe gradually deepens into a large bowl and is well suited to the early surf-inspired skating, as emulated by the legendary Zephyr Team. AKA the Z-boys of Santa Monica, these skaters brought crouched, flowing moves to waves of concrete and asphalt.
"This long concrete half pipe deepens into a large bowl and is well suited to the early surf-inspired skating"
Skateboarding has long been popular across Latin America (check the mind-blowing street moves of Argentinian pro skater Milton Martinez). Notable other survivors across the region include the Nova Iguaçu, near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the Parque Bustamante in Santiago de Chile, and Pista du Gaúcho in Cuba.

5. The Snake Run, Albany, Australia

Pupils at the local high school in Albany, western Australia, campaigned for this 150m winding downhill snake run to be built. When it opened, in February 1976, US pro Russ Howell famously rode down it doing a handstand on his board.
"For the park's 40th anniversary, it was added to the Heritage Council of Western Australia State Register of Historic Places"
Howell then visited again for the park’s 40th anniversary, as documented in the 2016 film The Snake Run. That same year, the park was added to the Heritage Council of Western Australia State Register of Historic Places.
Modern skateparks tend not to feature these sinuous free-form snake runs, so popular in the 1970s. Other notable examples include the Seylynn in Vancouver, Canada, and the Netherlands’ Oldenzaal park.

6. Automobilen Skatepark, Falkenberg, Sweden

Tucked away by a rural junkyard is a unique pretzel-shaped concrete creation that is quite possibly Scandinavia’s only remaining original skatepark.
Renowned US pro rider Tony Alva—the godfather of skateboarding—is thought to have visited it while touring Europe the year it was built, in 1978. This makes it a must for any determined skate tourist wishing to connect with the early years of the sport.
The intervening decades have seen the privately built park largely abandoned; it now lies flooded for much of the year. An application to have it heritage listed in 2010 was rejected on the grounds that it was too decayed.

7. The Surfin’ Turf skatepark, Milwaukee, US

The multiple bowls of this large indoor skatepark, built in 1979, would still be challenging today’s riders had they not been infilled and the building demolished in the 1990s.
Groundworks for an adjacent road junction exposed part of the buried park in 2010. Local skaters painstakingly dug out one of the bowls by hand. After intense campaigning, the rest of the park was excavated in 2020. Plans are afoot to turn it into a rideable museum.
Similar efforts to resurrect Spain’s first skatepark, Arenys de Munt, near Barcelona, are documented in the 2012 film Digging. And in 2015, parts of the bulldozed Del Mar Skate Ranch were unexpectedly uncovered during earthworks. Legends including Tony Hawk, who had honed his skills there in the early 1980s, came down to skate it.
Second-wave skateparks are unique sporting heritage structures. They’re also rideable relics of a phenomenon whose indelible influence in urban design and contemporary culture far exceeds the sport itself. Protecting them matters.
This article originally featured on The Conversation
Banner photo: Southsea Skatepark (Tim Sheerman-Chase)

K
eep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
Loading up next...