Kid Culture Rules the Skatepark

How this mom learned to love watching her son skateboard.

November 22, 2016 | | Headwaters Nest

“Can you take me to the skatepark before it gets dark?” It’s a familiar refrain right now in my house.

With daylight a scarce commodity and frost in the air, there are a limited number of days until the skatepark will be all but abandoned until spring thaw.

When my son Adrian first went to the skatepark in Rotary Park off Second Avenue in Orangeville, it was an intimidating place for a six-year-old. Big guys and the occasional girl sped past on wheels – skateboards, BMXs or scooters. I cringed at every almost-wipeout and every loud voice. Watching my small boy on a big board, my heart thumped as he stepped out and tried a couple of pushes, careful not to get in the way of the others.

We spent many sunny days at the park – just observing. We watched the crisscross patterns and near-misses, eyes wide. It takes awhile to get to know the rhythm. The real-life Spirograph first seemed a tangled mess of chaos, but slowly emerged as a circular, rhythmic show of skill, moxie and grace.

There is a pecking order to be sure, but generally the guys look after each other. I say “guys,” because this is a world, a sport, dominated by boys and men. Older guys will sit and chat on their bikes and at the edges, flicking their boards or spinning their handlebars until they are ready to video their next trick, giving the slightest nod to a newcomer to take his turn until he’s ready. Older goes first, then young, while video is reviewed. Scooterers (if there is such a word) wait or weave between the bikes and boards, the most nimble of the crowd. In the background, the old tennis courts sit quietly and a town-approved graffiti wall provides a small slash of colour.

As Adrian has grown more confident over the years, he has learned the flow, when it’s his turn, when to tackle the quarter pipe, when he wants us there to watch, and when he would rather we sat in the car nearby. The speeds are wicked, the voices can be loud. Wipeouts that draw a bit of blood are regular occurrences. Once, a boy came to a slow stop and fell off his bike, in a seizure, reasons unknown. A call was made to 911 and the kids waited quietly. Enter this concrete world of curves and coping and rails and tabletops, and you will see the cultural care of the crowd.

There is an entire lexicon you will learn here – from the different types of edges, platforms and curves you can ride, to the grips, tapes, bearings and decks you can buy, to the grinds, flips and whips you can try and try again, until you perfect them.

What fascinates me about the park’s small society is that it is entirely unregulated. Sometimes when I take Adrian and his friends I’ve done a headcount – 25, 35, up to 40 kids between ages seven and probably early twenties. No refs, no flags on the play. No parents. No buzzers. Just kids and the tick-tick-tick of ball bearings, the pregnant pause before a rider drops in like a rollercoaster going over the apex – the point of no return.

So how does this happen, I wonder, when I hear of terrible fights breaking out in hockey stands, a parent jumping onto the ice and physically assaulting a child, football coaches at each other’s throats, and bullying text messages flying between players and parents over team lists and play times? Long lists of rules exist for all these sports, so why is the free-form skatepark so rarely the scene of fights or parental interference?

No parents. No buzzers. Just kids and the tick-tick-tick of ball bearings, the pregnant pause before a rider drops in like a rollercoaster going over the apex – the point of no return. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

No parents. No buzzers. Just kids and the tick-tick-tick of ball bearings, the pregnant pause before a rider drops in like a rollercoaster going over the apex – the point of no return. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

I think it’s that sometimes they just don’t need us. They just need the rush of air past their ears, a song in their head. We don’t believe they can work it out – but they can. Just like road hockey, a pickup game of tag, or kids in the backyard pool making up a synchronized swim routine that takes most of the weekend to refine – it’s just kids being kids. At the skatepark, imagination and the need for speed rule.

It’s also a world that is affordable and equalizing. When sports and team participation can cost thousands of dollars a year, and can inflate to tens of thousands when competitive travel is involved, this is a world where there is only so much you can spend on equipment, and there is little by way of formal instruction. Kids learn through their own will. I really don’t know a single parent who “pushes” their kid to be a skateboarder, but here they are.

Sure, there are blue words that make you cringe and the inevitable interloper kid who scowls and smokes at the edges. But I’m actually okay with that. It’s not perfect. This is a real world, a concrete social petri dish. Learn to live with it, have fun, and wait your turn. Brush off the falls and use your imagination to improve on your next turn.

More Info

For two- and four-wheeled fun

A fantastic online resource for those who like to ride, grind or bunny hop, lists public skate parks where you can ride for free in Ontario. Take your scooter, board or bike on your next road trip, but check out the gorgeous grainy photos here first and map your day. In the hills, the closest bets are Orangeville’s Rotary Park off Second Ave. or outside the Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness on Regional Rd. 50, north of Bolton.

Take your mud flaps!

Attention BMX riders and RC (remote control) car drivers – just outside Alder Street Recreation Centre in Orangeville is an outdoor dirt track for all your riding and racing needs. Free fun for riders, the town has been experimenting with times for RC car racing recently. Give it a try before the snow flies!

Winter solstice

Creature Quest in Hillsburgh is hosting a winter solstice Kids’ Night on December 20, 6 to 8:30 p.m. On the darkest day of the year, it’s all about fun, nature, animals and kids! Games, pizza, prizes and crafts – oh, and some marvellous real creatures. Ages 5 to 12. $30; $15 per additional sibling. Register at or 416-554-1940

Outdoor skating

Outdoor skating rinks are a great way to get the blood moving this winter. They are, of course, weather dependent. Here are a few notables:

  • Ralph’s Rink is a tiny outdoor rink great for pickup shinny or taking a few turns with your little one. Outside the Caledon Centre for Recreational and Wellness, north of Bolton.
  • Gage Park at Main St. S. and Wellington St. W. in Brampton is a winding skate trail through the trees of Brampton’s twinkling downtown. Warm up by the fire pit or visit a food truck to the sounds of the DJ. Children under 10 require supervision.
  • Alton Millpond is a great place to skate outdoors when the weather dips low enough for long enough. Watch for the Alton Mill’s great family events this winter.
  • Opening soon! An outdoor skating park at Chinguacousy Park in Bramalea – this multi-use facility will include an outdoor “canal-style” ice skating trail.
  • Orangeville Lions Club Sports Park on Diane Dr. is lit up for great nighttime skating!

Report card time – need help?

Help Your Child Succeed at School: Tutoring Skills for Parents is a free workshop on December 1 that offers practical information about how your child learns, and how to assist in a way that’s effective and enjoyable, and could help your kids improve grades, confidence and self-esteem. It’s from 7 to 9 p.m. at Parkinson Public School, 120 Lawrence Ave., Orangeville. Contact Dufferin Parent Support Network at or 519-940-8678

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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