A State Of Safety

Recent legislation has given California skateparks some of the toughest regulations for helmets and pads.

These requirements can be attributed to the overwhelming amount of skateboarders in California. According to the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), there are sixteen-million skateboarders in the United States-half of whom live in California.

The California law that went into effect on January 1, 2003 states that any child under eighteen years old riding a skateboard, Rollerblades, or scooter must wear a helmet that’s certified by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

The CPSC standard bicycle helmets use a hard foam material called EPS (expanded polystyrene). Traditional skateboard helmets are designed for multi-impact and use a softer, more comfortable foam. According to this new law, any California skateboarder who wants to “legally” skate a park must buy a CPSC-certified helmet.

After six months of unsupervised skating at their skatepark, Vista, California officials noticed that skaters weren’t wearing the requisite helmet, elbow- and kneepads. As a result, the park was closed for a week, and reopened with a wrought-iron fence and park security to monitor the use of safety gear.

Media skateboards pro Frank Hirata was involved with designing the Vista park. He explains that since the addition of the fence and security person to sit there and regulate, usage of the park has been affected. “Nobody ever goes there anymore,” he says.

Despite the legislation, California skaters don’t want to wear their gear any more than other skaters do. Much like the Vista skatepark, Carlsbad, California’s public skatepark requires full pads-kneepads, elbow pads, and a CPSC-certified helmet. Lynn Diamond works in Carlsbad Police Department’s records division. Diamond says 277 skateboard-related citations or warnings were given in 2002. “The vast majority of those were for equipment violations at the park-almost every single one,” she adds.

When compared to other regions, California’s safety requirements seem disproportionate. Some communities in other states even have skater-owned parks that are both self-policed and self-maintained, with no pad requirements. Portland, Oregon is home to Burnside, the park that broke the mold.

The Portland skaters built the park, fought to keep it open, and now it’s theirs. Judy Koontz, from Portland’s parks and recreation department explains that Burnside is under no one’s jurisdiction: “They have an agreement with the mayor’s office that they’ll keep their noses clean and the area clean.

“It was built by the kids on the land, and when it finally got built-I mean, what could we do? It would be unpopular to shut it down, and it’s in a great spot.”

Steve Stachurski is the resident park manager of the Chehalem, Oregon parks and recreation department, which is responsible for the maintenance and pad enforcement at Oregon’s Newburg skatepark. He explains the decision to require a helmet was based on the board of directors’ initial inspection of the park.

Unlike most Oregon parks, Newburg has a park security guard to enforce the helmet requirement. Other northern Oregon parks like Donald, Lincoln City, and Aumsville require a helmet, but it’s more of a formality than anything else. The rules are seen as a suggestion, rather than a law, and lack of enforcement reinforces that belief. Local skater Jered Bogli comments, “Cops don’t give out tickets at skateparks like in Southern California. Here in the Northwest, it’s all about personal responsibility.”

Louisville, Kentucky has a popular skatepark that’s open and lit up 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Jason Sissel, from Louisville’s parks and recreation department, says the decision to require a helmet at the park was due to a legislation that recently passed. In the past year that it’s been open, the park hasn’t seen any liability issues. Sissel explains that skaters understand they’re riding at their own risk. “We have the rules prominently displayed.

“There’s a button at the park-if it’s pressed, the emergency police and ambulance come down to the park. Half the time when they’re called, the injured kid has gotten up and walked away.”

Arizona has well-known skateparks with relativley lenient safety requirements as well. The park just outside Phoenix in Chandler, Arizona opened in March of 2000. Chandler’s Park Planning Superintendent Mickey Ohland explains the skatepark has a relatively lenient safety-gear requirement. “Safety equipment is suggested-not required,” Ohland says. Asked how it affects liability and insurance, Ohland is clear: “It’s a skate-at-your-own-risk facility, and we have it signed as such. We don’t supervise the facility, so according to our legal people-our city attorney and risk manager-that protects us.” The park has been open for three years, and Ohland says their safety record is spotless: “We haven’t had any claims to date.”

With an estimated eight-million skaters in California alone, helmet manufacturers had to change their ways. According to the new law, the multi-impact helmets skateboarders used prior to January 1, 2003 can no longer be sold in California. Capix’s General Manager Dan Opyc explains how the new law is affecting both helmet manufacturers and California skaters: “This has put a monster damper on a lot of people. Real skateboarders want to buy that (traditional) helmet.”

But this new certification seems to merely be a formality. Opyc explains that as long as a skater is wearing a helmet, he or she is safe-at least from harassment. “That’s the catch-skaters who already have them (the uncertified helmets) are psyched because even if a cop stops a kid, he’s not going to ask him ‘Can I see your helmet? I need to see what certification that is.’ If the cops get educated, they can check, as you can tell the difference, but that’s never going to happen. If you have a helmet on, you have a helmet on.”

Opyc explains how the certified helmets are different: “The CPSC helmet is designed to take impact at a higher speed. The harder foam (of the CPSC certified helmets) will protect you from a greater impact, such as getting hit by a car, whereas the softer foam (of the noncertified helmets) will protect you from normal skateboarding slams.”

Despite running a safety-gear company, Opyc is also a skateboarder and understands why some skaters cringe at pad requirements: “I know when I was a kid there was no way I was strapping a helmet on when I was first starting. It would have been a deterrent for me to even start skateboarding.”

Asked to comment about the general aversion from safety gear by skateboarders, Pro-Tec’s Category Manager Jonathan Brown feels the reason is flexibility. “What is offered in the form of protective gear is usually hard-capped pads that are really intended for ramps or vert skating,” he says.

California has the largest amount of skateboarders per capita and some of the strictest safety-gear requirements in the country. A growing number of skateboarders are creating a growing concern for liability, as evidenced by the high standard of protection. If skateboarding continues to grow, then perhaps like in California, skateparks in Oregon, Kentucky, and Arizona will be forced to tighten the reins on their safety requirements as well.