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Skateboarding and BMX: Extreme in the Mainstream

6 Jan, 2014

By: Juli Anne Patty

Skateboarding and BMX are among the original extreme sports, popular among athletes who like an extra dose of thrill with the competition. But in recent years, these fast and furious sports have captured the imaginations of young athletes and spectators alike, creating a strong and growing popularity and catching the eye of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As both sports grow, communities build bigger, better and safer facilities to accommodate the demand, while skateboarding and BMX events welcome new athletes and consider their Olympic potential. 

Olympic Dreams

When you’re talking about BMX, first it’s important to know which BMX you’re talking about. Racing is currently the only Olympic BMX event, although the IOC is rumored to be considering freestyle BMX for inclusion in the 2016 Games, encouraged by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the international governing body for all cycling disciplines.

Freestyle BMX, as an Olympic event, would open up significant new territory for athletes, much like the introduction of Olympic snowboarding at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan. 

One of snowboarding’s most famous athletes, Shaun White, has been a force for the movement to introduce more action sports to the Olympics. Hoping for the chance to compete in both Summer and Winter Olympics Games, the double gold medalist made a public statement in 2012 supporting the inclusion of skateboarding, which, for a short time, was on the IOC’s 2016 shortlist. Skateboarding, however, faces a number of Olympic hurdles. 

“There is no real governing body yet,” says Heidi Lemmon, executive director, Skatepark Association International (SPAI). “USA Rollerskating became the governing body, but so far they aren’t doing anything and skaters are not interested in them as an organization.” 

Skaters have, in fact, gone so far as to petition against the possible addition of the sport in the Olympics, concerned that skateboarding will lose its integrity and independence. Instead, many skaters prefer the existing competition structure.

“We tend to look to world cup skateboarding for Pro and the Damn AM for sponsored amateurs. I helped set up Top Grom and Top Am, which is an international series under 18,” says Lemmon, whose name you will encounter at every skateboarding level, from grommets (youth) to the OG (Old Guys) Jam Series.

Olympic Impact

Regardless of what happens in 2016 and beyond, both freestyle BMX and skateboarding are clearly on the Olympic radar, but why is that important for the sports in general? Put simply, growth. Both sports are experiencing increasing popularity, which means more athletes and more events, and communities everywhere are paying attention and preparing.

“With [BMX racing] being Olympic since 2008, we see a general growth of the sport worldwide in Europe, Oceania, USA and South America,” says Louis Chenaille, press officer, UCI. “BMX riders used to change their BMX career for another sports career in the past (motocross, track cycling, cyclocross) at the junior/elite age. Nowadays riders stay in BMX itself because there are more possibilities to become a professional rider, and they have an Olympic dream.”

John David, COO of USA BMX, national governing body for BMX racing in the U.S., echoes this report.

“We’ve been in a growth pattern since probably 2008,” says David. “Our local membership numbers average an almost 7 percent increase every year. It’s kind of mindboggling, given the struggling economy.”

Answering the Demand

All of this growth in every BMX and skateboarding discipline means a greater demand for both facilities and competition. Many communities are responding by expanding existing facilities and planning for new ones, which makes this the ideal time for a little input from the sports’ experts.

“I like the idea of building a safe park, which is one that all users can use, because they will anyway,” says Lemmon.

What makes a safe skatepark? Lemmon’s organization can help. SPAI offers resources for every step of skatepark development, from building community support to design, construction and management. The Tony Hawk Foundation also offers a comprehensive guide to planning and building a community skatepark, including recommendations for square footage based on community size.

Freestyle BMX and skateboarding often both share a facility, though if demand is high for both, communities might want to consider a dedicated park for each. BMX racing, however, takes places on a track, and BMX racers and event planners have their own unique requirements. Dirt, for example.

“Indoor arena-based events are particularly challenging because to build a track indoors, we need a lot of dirt,” says David. “An arena that works well for us will have a large floor space and experience finding the right dirt. It’s a challenge, but we love those events because, being indoors, it’s a controlled environment, which gives us freedom in scheduling. We’re able to go to communities with an interest in BMX and quality arena, and we can say, ‘When do you need people here?’ We had an event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in January, when they have no tourism, and we brought in about 1,000 athletes.”

Chenaille has advice for communities aspiring to host a BMX racing world championships.

“A good bid requires three main components that can make it successful: potential for great courses, convenient infrastructures and a solid and realistic budget supported by the local government,” says Chenaille. “The biggest challenge for event planners that want to organize World Championships and World Cups is the eight-meter-high start ramp. It can be overcome by working with experienced ramp builders within the BMX sport.”

Extreme Homes for Sports

Fortunately for event owners in need of a venue now, America already has many safe, exceptional skate/BMX parks and BMX tracks, supported by enthusiastic communities and expert staffs.

Huntington Beach, California

Surfers looking to take their sport onshore created skateboarding, so it’s really no surprise that Huntington Beach, a.k.a. Surf City USA, has open arms for skateboarding and freestyle BMX.

“Recently we hosted the Vans US Open of Surfing, and although this event has a main focus on surf, it’s very much a celebration of all extreme sports,” says Briton Saxton, film and sports commissioner, Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau. “For the week of this huge event, temporary skateboarding and BMX bowls are set up right on the sand of Huntington City Beach. This year (2013) the bowl was modeled after the famous Marseille Skatepark in France and painted by well-known street artists.”

Skateboarding and freestyle BMX are growing steadily in Huntington Beach, with younger athletes joining the ranks all the time. To meet the need, Huntington Beach committed to a completely new official Vans Skatepark, a 30,000 square foot lighted park, expected to be fully operational in, if not by, 2014.

Lincoln, Nebraska

“BMX [racing] is definitely a growing sport, and our national BMX competitions, which we host every other year, grow every time,” says Derek Feyerherm, director of sales and operations, Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We held our first event in 2010, expecting 500 to 600 competitors. We got 800. For the 2014 Cornhusker Nationals, we anticipate over 1,200 entries and 3,000 total people attending.”

Star BMX, Lincoln’s premiere BMX facility, has been meeting the demand and raising the bar. Using local tourism grant money, which is funded by the area lodging tax, Star BMX is asphalting the track corners, an update that enhances the competition as well as safety, eliminating the possibility of loose or wet spots in the turns.

A new, private skatepark also just opened in Lincoln. Created primarily to provide a safe place for at-risk youth, The Bay is a not-for-profit venture that offers a high-quality facility and skateboarding lessons, as well as a coffee shop, concert venue, art gallery and mentoring programs.

Ocean City, Maryland

The Dew Tour is a centerpiece of American action sports, and Ocean City, Maryland, welcomes it every summer.

“The Ocean City Dew Tour has been a marquee event in Ocean City for three years in a row, the most recent in June 2013 when BMX and skateboarding pros from around the globe competed in a specially constructed venue located right on Ocean City’s beach and adjacent to our world-famous boardwalk,” says Donna Abbott, tourism and marketing director, Ocean City.

Ocean City is also home to the world’s oldest operating municipal skate park, the Ocean Bowl, a 17,000 sq. ft. concrete-based park with a completely renovated bowl and vert ramp, open to skateboarders and inline skaters of all ability levels.

Alamance County, North Carolina

BMX racing is 40 years old now, and, according to John David, that has created a unique family participation. “Families are bringing their little guys out, and it’s only a matter of time before the parents start racing again too,” says David.

That helps explain the BMX track at Fairchild Park in Burlington, North Carolina, which is owned by the city of Burlington Parks and Recreation, but operated by the all-volunteer Burlington BMX Parents Association. The organization, which has focused on maintaining a safe and continuously updated facility, hosted the ABA BMX Tarheel Nationals three years ago, and just got news that the Nationals will come back in 2014.

Eugene, Oregon

A well-planned skatepark can bring new life to an outdated facility. Just ask the city of Eugene, Oregon. Colette Ramirez-Maddock is the recreation programmer for the City of Eugene River House Outdoor Program, overseeing a number of programs, including skateboarding.

“None of our skateparks are covered, so that’s been an issue for us in the Northwest,” says Ramirez-Maddock. “That was a key reason to build the Washington-Jefferson Skatepark + Urban Plaza.”

When it opens next spring, W-J Skatepark will be the country’s largest public covered and lit skatepark, and the 23,000 square feet of skating – designed by Dreamland Skateparks – will be the centerpiece to a revitalized park area.

“This park, located under the Washington-Jefferson Bridge, has been underutilized, and the skatepark was a great way to revitalize the area,” says Ramirez-Maddock.  “We’re offering mentoring and leadership programs, and it’s close to the downtown core, close to public transit and bathrooms. We will encourage parents to come and work closely with the police to make sure it’s a welcoming and safe environment.”

Oceanside, California

In many cases, a local skateboard or BMX shop will act as the cornerstone for event planning and educational programs. Oceanside, California, where the skateboarding history is long and rich, is a great example of that kind of partnership.

“Our local skate shops (and there are many) are very supportive of new skate parks. We now have five: three concrete and gorgeous and two ‘old style’ metal ramps,” says Eileen Turk, neighborhood services division manager, Oceanside Parks & Recreation Division. “We recently hosted two street skate contests through Sun Diego Board Shops, and we’ve had many inquiries about skate contests. We’ve been evaluating the use of the parks before launching any big events.”

Fresh & Ready

As skateboarding and BMX grow, so do the opportunities for event planners. Clinton, Iowa, is a great example of an enthusiastic, fresh market. 

“Our facility, Riverview Skate Park, is an open-air, drop-in park for bikes, blades and boards,” says Carrie Donaire, director, Clinton Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We don’t have any events currently, but Clinton would welcome the opportunity to plan something!”

With an established skating and boarding community, a venue ready for action, and plenty of enthusiasm, communities like Clinton offer new places where skating and BMX events can go and grow.

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