Do-It-Yourself skateparks are as old as the sport itself. But they’re hardly ever talked about, despite being central to skateboarding culture.
That’s partly because skateboarders rarely show outsiders the often-illegal parks, which skaters build in desolate locales like empty lots in Belfast and abandoned houses in Ireland.
Irish photographer and lifelong skateboarder Richard Gilligan, however, knew all about underground DIY parks — even if he didn’t know where every one was. Over the course of four years, Gilligan used his many friends, acquaintances, and contacts in the skateboarding world to find and document DIY parks both big and small all over the world.
For a man who credits skateboarding with shaping his identity, it’s no surprise that he calls the project his “love letter to skateboarding.”
Skateboarders build most of their parks in abandoned and forgotten locations. “These are places that no one would think of or venture to unless they were a skater looking to build a quarterpipe,” Gilligan says.
Derry, Northern Ireland
Over time, skaters add to the park feature by feature. “It starts with one quarterpipe or bowl and then someone builds something else,” Gilligan says. “It’s like a disease that starts to spread and evolve.”
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.
The Flora Bowl in Hamburg, Germany was built in 2006 behind the Rote Flora building, a former theatre squatters have lived in since 1987. The bowl began as a single quarterpipe that was progressively built out and made more complex over the course of several years.
Because most parks are built illegally, location is key. The more out of the way a park is, the longer it is likely to last.
The Peach Orchard was a skatepark in New Orleans, Louisiana built between a highway overpass and railroad tracks beginning in 2010. By the time it was demolished in 2012, it had become a mecca for skaters in Louisiana. In response to the demolition, skaters began constructing a new park nearby called Parasite, which the City of New Orleans eventually recognised.
Skaters who build parks usually don’t have much experience in construction. Gilligan says that many learn by doing research online, getting tips from other skatepark builders, and by trial and error. It can make for some interesting and difficult terrain.
This skatepark in Hannover, Germany was built by independent skateboarding club 2er in an abandoned industrial park. When the club started construction, it had no experience building a large-scale park.
Swedish pro skater Pontus Alv and a group of friends built the Black Cross Bowl in Basel, Switzerland over the course of 10 days in 2008. The bowl is difficult to ride and has been called “bumpy, tight, and treacherous.”
If a park gets big or popular enough, the city government will often recognise and support the park. The New Bird Skatepark in Liverpool was built by volunteers on privately owned wasteland in 2009. It is now maintained by the Liverpool City Council.
The FDR skatepark is a famous park located below an I-95 overpass in Philadelphia. The park was built by a team of volunteers in 1994 and has been constantly worked on and improved ever since. It is considered a recognised park by the City of Philadelphia and hosted the Gravity Games in 2005.
The FDR park was built on unused public land and has been funded by millions in donations from Nike, Adio, the Tony Hawk Foundation, the City of Philadelphia, and countless community benefits and concerts.
Gilligan says that every DIY skatepark attracts a cast of wild characters. Loudini Bermonte is a local skate hero in Philadelphia and was one of the original builders of the FDR park.
Skaters prefer D.I.Y. parks, according to Gilligan, because they are built by skaters, who understand what other skaters are looking for in a park.
“What skaters love about homemade skateparks is all the inconsistencies. They’re not perfect. They’re hard to skate. They’re frustrating,” Gilligan says. “You can’t show up and do all your tricks. You have to work to learn how to navigate them.”
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