Skate parks are man-made dreamscapes for skateboarders, inline skaters and freestyle BMX bikers. Skate parks are loaded with ramps, grinding rails, benches and boxes where freestyle athletes learn new tricks and hone their skills. Many cities and smaller towns build public skate parks as free and safe recreation spots for both young and old.
Despite the extreme nature of the sport, skate parks are surprisingly safe. Sadly, there are hundreds of skating- and biking-related fatalities every year, but almost none of them occur at skate parks. That's because most fatal skating and biking accidents involve cars striking riders on the street [source: Waters]. If your town doesn't have a public skate park, but you want your kids to have a safe place to ride, maybe it's time to build your own.
Skateboarding has always had a do-it-yourself ethos. The very first skateboards were cobbled together by off-season surfers from wooden boxes and roller skate wheels back in the 1950s [source: Hamm]. Even as boards have modernized, skaters everywhere build their own ramps and obstacles out of wood, metal sheets, mounds of dirt, and whatever they can find. In fact, skate parks are really a constructed version of street skating, which uses existing obstacles and components -- like curbs, benches, staircases and railings -- as the foundation for tricks.
A quick survey of YouTube videos proves the ingenuity of backyard skate park builders. You could be one of them. Keep reading to follow our 10 steps to building a backyard skate park. Step one: Call your insurance agent.
Before you even begin to dream of backyard shredding, you need to find out if it's legal in your neighborhood. Every city, town and municipality has its own zoning laws that regulate the construction of certain "accessory structures" like fences, gazebos, tool sheds, wheelchair ramps -- and yes, skateboard ramps [source: City of Berkeley].
There are zoning laws that regulate the height of backyard structures, their use, and their proximity to neighboring property. If your vision of a backyard skate park runs afoul of these rules, you will need special permits to proceed, which can cost extra money. One dad in Fairfax, Va. ended up paying $1,800 in permits and fees to construct a $1,400 tree house for his two sons [source: Starnes].
If you've thought about charging local kids a small fee to use the backyard skate park in order to defray some of the cost, think again. Doing so would convert your family fun time into a business, which would fall under strict regulation [source: Gilje]. Plus, you would have to apply for a commercial zoning permit, which is often impossible in a largely residential area.
If you get the green light from the local zoning board, don't forget to check with your homeowner's insurance agent. If the backyard skate park is exclusively for your family and you promise to wear helmets and pads, you should be fine. But if you tell your agent that you plan to open the skate park to the whole neighborhood, you could face a steep hike in your premium or a loss of coverage entirely [source: Fernandez].
Once you get your legal questions answered, you can start scouting locations for your backyard skate park.
Not all backyards are created equal. One man's weed-infested postage stamp is another's three acres of manicured sod. The amount of space you have available will impose one of the most significant limitations -- next to money, of course -- on the size and scope of your backyard skate park dream.
This would be a great time to include your spouse in the planning process. Not to generalize, but backyard skate park projects are often initiated by men, and men don't always consider the full implications of erecting a 12-foot by 16-foot (3.66- meter by 4.88-meter) halfpipe in between the rose garden and the detached garage. Your spouse may be able to provide some useful, if sobering, advice about how much backyard space can reasonably be occupied by ramps and rails.
Flat and level are two important words to remember. The cost and complexity of building a backyard skate park increase in proportion to the slope and unevenness of the foundation. If you start with a nice flat surface, it's a lot easier than trucking in gravel and fill and cement footings to level the property. Unless your backyard consists of a large, empty, bowl-shaped concrete swimming pool, in which case your work is done.
Next step, figuring out how much money you can spend on this skate park fantasy.
If wood only grew on trees ... oh, wait. Let's try that again. If only pre-cut 2x4s and wood screws grew on trees ... yes, that's more like it. Unless your rich Uncle Fritz is in the lumber and construction business, building a backyard skate park is going to cost you money. How much money? That depends on whom you ask.
Rick Dahlen is a dad from Minnesota whose free online halfpipe plans have garnered millions of page views from eager do-it-yourselfers. According to Dahlen, you can build his entry-level halfpipe from $700 in materials in roughly 20 hours [source: Dahlen]. That's assuming you already own or have access to a jigsaw, which run anywhere from $50 to $150 new.
The folks at EasyHalfPipe.com sell plans for a slightly scaled-down version of Dahlen's halfpipe with materials running between $250 and $450, depending on lumber prices and location [source: EasyHalfPipe.com]. The plans, manual and a DVD instruction video cost an additional $30.
Does your dream skate park involve cement? That's surprisingly expensive, too. A full cement truck holds 10 cubic yards (7.65 cubic meters) of concrete, which sells for between $1,200 and $1,500, according to the manager of a San Diego skate park [source: Hamm]. To give you an idea of what it costs to build a large skate park, municipalities typically spend at least $350,000 to build a 10,000 square foot (929 square meter) public skate park [source: Balcom].
Before you begin to draft plans and entertain lofty fantasies for your backyard skate park, you need to decide -- with your spouse, of course -- how much money can reasonably be spent on this project. Unless your kid has Tony Hawk potential, this is probably not the time to take out a loan. Think of it as a long-term investment in your kids' physical health and coolness factor. If that's worth $1,000 to you, that's great. But that's up to you and your family to decide. Having a firm number before you start planning will keep costs and fantasies in check.
Now it's on to the planning stage!
To begin the planning process for your backyard skate park, you need to ask five important questions:
We've addressed the first three questions on other pages, but what about question number four? It's important to decide whether or not your backyard skate park is going to be a permanent installation or something that can be disassembled and stored away for the frigid winter months. If you live in an area with a long winter, you might want to build a single halfpipe, or a series of smaller wooden skate park components that can be broken down and stowed away when the weather goes south. If you live in a state where "winter" means a low of 73 degrees Fahrenheit (22.8 degrees Celsius), you can plan a more permanent installation.
And what about the fifth question? Who will be using this skate park and how serious are they about learning the sport? If you're introducing your 5-year-old to the sport, start small and simple. If you're building the backyard skate park as a sixteenth birthday present for your teenage daughter who is an avid and accomplished skater, then it makes sense to go all out.
Now it's time to choose your components. The classic is the wooden halfpipe. It works well for backyard skate parks because it is self-contained. You don't have to worry about building out an extensive blacktop or concrete surface. You can just plop the halfpipe onto the grass out back and provide hours of self-contained skating fun.
If you're stuck for space, start with a simple quarterpipe tucked into the corner of the driveway. If you have tons of existing paved space, like an unused tennis court out back, the sky's the limit: banks, spines (basically two back-to-back quarter pipes), rails, staircases with rails, benches, picnic tables and much more.
Draw a scale diagram of the space available and the components you would like to build. Make sure there's plenty of room between components and enough ramps and quarter pipes to pick up speed for grind rails, benches and other elements. In skater parlance, this is called "flow," understanding the different paths that skaters will cut through the park.
Now it's time to find quality construction plans and buy the material for your backyard skate park.
Thanks to the Internet, there are plenty of sources for both inexpensive and free backyard skate park construction plans. In a 2009 article, Popular Mechanics featured the free halfpipe diagrams and detailed building instructions of Rick Dahlen, the DIY dad we mentioned a couple of pages back. Dahlen's plans, which you can download here, are for a 3-foot (91-centimeter) high skateboard halfpipe or a 4-foot (1.22-meter) high inline skating halfpipe. We'll talk more about building a ramp or halfpipe later on.
If you don't mind dropping a few bucks for professional skate park construction plans, try a site like EasyHalfPipe.com, where you can buy detailed plans for a four-foot halfpipe. For a reasonable price, you receive a DVD video guide, large blueprints and a step-by-step instruction manual. RampHelp.com has inexpensive professional plans for halfpipes, fun boxes (raised rectangular wooden obstacles for grinding) and launch ramps (big air!).
When it comes to buying wood and other material for building your backyard skate park, don't skimp. Spend the few extra bucks per 2x4 to get quality boards, screws, concrete and other construction materials. When buying plywood, for example, make sure the sheets don't have any large knots in them, because those will be the first areas to crack. If you built your halfpipe to sit on the grass or another potentially wet surface, buy treated wood for the base.
If you suffer from sticker shock at the hardware store, take an alternative approach. Think if you have any friends in the construction or contracting business who can buy material with a contractor's bulk discount. Or see if a local contractor won't sell you spare 2x4s for a cheaper rate.
If you're building your backyard skate park for your kids and their friends, you can get them into the fundraising spirit. One group of kids printed and sold T-shirts to build a neighborhood skate park. Yours might mow lawns or wash the neighbors' cars for a donation to the cause.
Now it's time to build! More on the next page.
The good news is that you don't need a lot of specialized tools to build a backyard skate park, especially if you are building components out of wood. For the standard halfpipe or ramp, the most expensive tool required is a jigsaw. Everything else can be done with a drill, hammer or screwdriver. Before you go out and buy a brand new jigsaw, ask the neighbors. Most folks are happy to lend you an inexpensive tool for a few days. Of course, if you break it, you're buying them a new one.
Building a backyard skate park should be a group effort. Don't try to do this alone, unless you are an experienced builder with lots of free time on your hands. The basic three-foot (91-centimeter) halfpipe designed by Rick Dahlen takes an estimated 20 hours of labor to complete, but that's only an estimate. If you're building the skate park for your kids, definitely get them involved. It doesn't take much experience to hammer a few nails, and you will need the extra hands when lining up joists and bending plywood.
If your kids will be inviting over a lot of skater friends to use the finished backyard skate park, get the whole crowd in on the construction. Set aside a few Saturdays in a row for building. The best part about involving the kids in the construction is that they'll feel invested in the finished product. If they have a strong sense of ownership, they will take better care of "their" backyard skate park.
In the next step, we'll share some tips on building halfpipes and other wooden ramps.
Ramps are the backbone of any backyard skate park. They provide speed, air, grindable ledges, and just look cool. Whether you are building a halfpipe, a quarterpipe or a standalone launch ramp, you'll need four basic components:
- Curved side pieces cut with a jigsaw
- Horizontal joists screwed into the curved side pieces
- A curved ramp surface made from plywood sheets screwed into the joists
- Coping -- made from PVC or metal pipe -- along the top edge of the ramp for grinding
The curved side pieces of the ramp require the most mathematical precision. Rick Dahlen recommends cutting one board and using it as the template for cutting the rest to match. The trick to creating a perfectly curved line is to use string and a thumbtack. For a three-foot high halfpipe ramp, you'll need a piece of string that is exactly 7.5 feet (2.28 meters) long.
- Secure one end of the string with a thumbtack to a piece of spare plywood lying flat on the ground.
- Tie the other end of the string around a permanent marker
- Lay a 4x8 foot (1.22 to 2.44 meter) sheet of plywood on the ground with the shorter ends on either side, then measure 3.5 (8.89 centimeters) inches up from the bottom right corner. This is the starting point for your curved line.
- Adjust the spare board with the thumbtack so that the string is taut and perfectly aligned with the right side of the 4x8 sheet of plywood.
- With the marker on the starting point, keep the string taut as you trace the curve up and to the left, all the way to the top of the plywood sheet.
- Use a jigsaw to cut the curved line, then use the finished side as a template for measuring and cutting the others.
To align the horizontal joists correctly, it's helpful to measure, mark and pre-drill the holes in the curved side pieces. That's easier than trying to hold the 2x4 foot (0.61 to 1.22 meter) joists perpendicular while measuring and screwing them in at the same time. Another essential tip is to place a double joist in the middle of the curved slope. The ramp surface is composed of two 4x8 sheets of plywood laid lengthwise. The total surface of the ramp is almost 8 feet, so there will be a seam halfway up the ramp. By installing a double joist at the seam, it will be easier to secure both sheets of plywood. See the halfpipe instructions for more detail.
Here's a helpful tip for bending the plywood sheets to form the ramp surface. Plywood has a smooth side and a rough side. The smooth side will face up, but if you thoroughly wet the rough side with water, it will cause the board to naturally warp inward and make it easier to bend.
Coping is the smooth, rounded surface on the lips of pools that skaters like to recreate on halfpipe ramps. All you need is an 8-foot (2.44-meter) piece of 2.5-inch (6.35-centimeter) diameter PVC pipe or metal pipe. Drill holes through both sides of the pipe and enlarge the top hole to allow a screwdriver to pass through. Screw the pipe to the lip of the ramp to provide a smooth, grindable surface for lip tricks.
You can treat your wooden ramps with waterproof sealant or paint them to provide added protection from the elements. If the ramp is small enough, cover it with a tarp when not in use to protect it from the rain.
Next let's talk about building grindable components like rails, fun boxes and benches.
Grind rails are a skate park staple. Grind rails of different heights and lengths help kids master basic grind tricks like ollies and toe grinds. You can buy a basic grind rail for under $200, but if you have access to welding tools -- or a helpful neighbor with welding tools -- it's easy and inexpensive to make your own.
A grind rail has three main parts: the long metal rail, two short metal legs and two stabilizing metal bases. DIY Skate has some detailed and free blueprints and instructions for building various kinds of steel grind rails. To find the steel for the rails, you might have to look beyond the big box hardware stores and look up local steel yards and steel fabricators. You can use either round or square steel pipe and consult the DIY Skate instructions for the exact dimensions.
All of the elements of these steel grind rails will have to be cut and welded with welding equipment, which is not suitable for beginners. You can take the plans to a fabricating shop or a neighbor with welding experience, but it's not something that should be attempted by a newbie.
There are ways to build a steel grind rail without using welding equipment. Both DIY Skate and the Rick Dahlen halfpipe instructions have blueprints for simple grind rails built from a single metal or PVC pipe screwed into a wooden base. This might be the best starter option for those without access to welding equipment.
Outside of grind rails, there are other grindable components that you can add to the mix, like boxes, ledges, stairs and benches. DIY Skate offers an amazing variety of free plans for cheap and simple grinding surfaces, including a cinder block ledge that doesn't require a single nail, screw or weld. You simply line up four cinder blocks side to side and adhere them with liquid nails, or another construction-quality adhesive. Cut a rectangular piece of plywood to fit the top surface of the ledge and stick it on with more liquid nails. Buy two long pieces of angle iron, a piece of flat iron bent to a right angle. Adhere the iron along both top sides of the ledge, an there's your grinding surface.
Consult DIY Skate for more ideas and schematics for grind boxes, benches, stairs and advanced projects like funboxes with built-in ledges.
Next, we'll jump into the world of concrete bowls.
Some of the coolest skate parks are concrete jungles, undulating landscapes of ramps and bowls and unexpected curves. The very first skateboarders sought out empty swimming pools to practice their off-season surf moves. The rounded concrete pool bottoms and walls provided the perfect surface for nonstop "wave" action. A few bold amateurs have built concrete skate bowls in their backyards, but this is usually a task reserved for the professionals. Again, if you have a pool, drain it and your work is done.
Concrete is an unforgiving building material. It dries fast, which means that mistakes are made for eternity. If you're going to attempt a backyard concrete bowl, spend some time working with concrete on smaller projects first. Get used to working with rebar, gravel, wooden forms and the concrete itself. Once you know that you have a good feel for all of the elements of forming and casting concrete, then you're ready for the planning stage.
Unlike building a wooden skate park component, building a concrete bowl requires lots of planning. To create the bowl, will you be digging down or piling up? Digging down requires a backhoe or lots of energetic friends with shovels. Piling up requires a few truckloads of soil and gravel, a bulldozer, or lots of energetic friends with pickup trucks and shovels.
The wooden frames for the concrete bowl will be made in small sections, with each board cut to precision lengths and nailed together at exact angles. Rebar must be bent and welded together leaving no more than 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) between each bar [source: SkateParkGuide.com]. When it's time to pour the concrete, you can either rent a small mixer or buy a whole truckload, depending on the size of your project. If you think a small concrete bowl wouldn't be fun, take a look at what these guys made.
For more details, SkateParkGuide.com has an excellent and in-depth introduction to concrete bowl construction and working with concrete in general.
Visit the next page for safety tips when building a backyard skate park.
Safety should really be at the heart of each step of planning, building and using a backyard skate park. Safety starts with the planning process. Sure, it sounds cool to build a 20-foot (6.1-meter) halfpipe. But have you ever ridden on a 20-foot halfpipe? How about your friends? Don't plan on building anything that will guarantee a trip to the hospital. Plan to leave a lot of space between skate park components, and don't build where there are overhead obstacles like tree limbs or electrical wires.
During the construction of your backyard skate park, ensure that you and everyone involved in the project is aware of basic safety precautions. Don't let inexperienced and younger helpers use the jigsaw. That's the most dangerous tool that's required to make most wooden components. Always wear protective glasses when operating the jigsaw. And always unplug the jigsaw or remove its battery pack before making adjustments to the blade or replacing the blade.
If you decide to use concrete to build your backyard skate park, wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves, and protective glasses, since wet concrete can irritate the skin and eyes [source: SkateParkGuide.com].
Once the backyard skate park is finished, you should strictly enforce a helmet and pads rule for your kids and their friends. Helmets are a critical component of skateboard safety. You can recover from a broken bone or stitches, but a brain injury is irreversible.
For lots more information on skateboarding and backyard fun, explore the links on the next page.
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Author's Note: 10 Steps to Building a Backyard Skate Park
When I was a kid, the older boy across the street and his dad built a 4-foot quarter pipe in their driveway. I begged my parents for a skateboard for my birthday, and they went along with it, buying me a Kmart special that was still the coolest thing I'd ever laid my hands on. As I tried to stay upright, making tentative turns in my driveway, I would see the kid across the street pulling wicked tricks on his ramp, stalling for a second on the lip or turning a quick 180 at the top of the ramp. I dreamed of the day I would be good enough to walk across the street, roll up to that ramp and pull some insane air. But that's all it ever was for me -- a dream. Turns out that falling down hurts, and pain isn't really my thing. So much for Extreme Dave.
- Balcom, Chad. Skaters for Public Skateparks. "Ten DIY Skateparks." May 10, 2011 (July 20, 2012) http://www.skatepark.org/park-development/2011/05/ten-diy-skateparks/
- City of Berkeley. Berkeley Municipal Code. "Accessory Buildings and Structures" (July 20, 2012) http://www.codepublishing.com/CA/Berkeley/cgi/NewSmartCompile.pl?code=Berkeley&ext=html&key=336&path=/ca/berkeley/html/Berkeley23D/Berkeley23D08/Berkeley23D08.html
- Dahlen, Rick. "Halfpipe Plans." (July 20, 2012) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cm/popularmechanics/pdf/skateboard-ramp-plans.pdf
- Gilje, Shelby. The Seattle Times. "Skateboard Ramps Tests Neighbors' Nerves and City Codes." July 8, 1990 (July 20, 2012) http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19900708&slug=1081202
- Fernandez, Kim. In Sync from Erie Insurance. "Going to Extremes." Summer 2005 (July 20, 2012) http://www.kimfernandez.com/clips/InSyncSummer05.pdf
- Hamm, Keith. ESPN. "The Rising Costs of DIY Skateparks." January 20, 2012 (July 20, 2012) http://espn.go.com/action/skateboarding/story/_/id/7484738/rising-costs-diy-skateparks-calif-pacific-nw-bring-new-challenges-skateboarders
- Skateparkguide.com. Resources for Modern Skateparks. "Concrete Skatepark Construction" (July 20, 2012) http://skateparkguide.com/how_quality_skateparks_are_built.html
- Starnes, Todd. Fox News. "Dad Fights Zoning Board's Order to Destroy Backyard Tree House." October 17, 2011 (July 20, 2012) http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/10/17/dad-fights-zoning-boards-order-to-destroy-backyard-tree-house/
- Waters, Teresa. Skaters for Public Skateparks. "2011 Skateboarding Fatalities." January 30, 2012 (July 20, 2012) http://www.skatepark.org/park-development/2012/01/2011-skateboarding-fatalities/#fatalitiesActivity