Skateboarders on edge about pad requirements

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Jun 20, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Skateboarder Jared Lee of Maggie Valley scoots his skateboard along a rail while performing tricks in front of the Waynesville Skate Park.

Waynesville's $400,000 skate park that has been in the works for more than a decade, is finally taking shape, but it will likely be the end of the summer before skateboarders can experience the thrills of the jumps, rails, ramps and slopes included in the design.

Large wooden frames for the structures are spaced across the park located near the town's recreation center, but the park will be a sea of cement upon completion.

At a recent meeting, the Waynesville Board of Aldermen passed a policy requiring skateboarders to use a helmet, elbow pads and kneepads at the unsupervised park.

North Carolina state law requires any operator of a skateboard park that is not supervised on a regular basis to enforce the use of safety equipment and post signs affording reasonable notice.

During a recent public hearing, Town Manager Marcy Onieal encouraged the board to approve the amendment to limit the city’s liability for park accidents.

“This is satisfactory to our insurance carrier and it’s typical to what the communities in North Carolina have done — those that have the skate parks,” Onieal said.

Onieal said she was working on getting signage put up at the skate park to inform the participants of the rules.

“The state park then becomes no different than someone walking down the street on our sidewalk” Onieal said during a public hearing. “If we are unaware of the situation, then we cannot be held liable for that. It’s only once we know of a problem, and fail to warn or fail to remedy that, the town becomes negligent.”

An anxious skateboarder

Skateboarder Jared Lee of Maggie Valley understands why the ordinance had to be changed, but hopes it won’t be strictly enforced.

Lee, who has been skateboarding for 15 years, said many would refuse to wear helmets or safety padding.

“You don’t see anyone in a street competition wearing pads,” Lee said. “It’s just a nuisance, with rubbing against your skin, and then you start sweating and chaffing — it’s horrible. Most parents, if you’re under 18, will want you to wear pads, so you do. But at a certain age you should be able to choose.”

The skate parks in Hendersonville and Cherokee stayed busy since the park is always unsupervised, Lee said.

“I want (the park) to be a success,” Lee said. “If it’s full pads, I know it will suffer. This will never be an issue where the skaters will agree.”

Rules of the ramps

Alderman Gary Caldwell has confirmed that the pads and helmet rules would be enforced. However, he also acknowledges that not all skateboarders will comply.

“Being an unsupervised park, there’s no way to monitor it or make anyone follow that,” Caldwell said. “I’m sure some will try to get around that. When we post the rules, that’s under their own conscience to do that. It just puts us not liable for it.”

Rhett Langston, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said it was necessary for all North Carolina skate parks to have the safety equipment rules in place.

“We’ll have the exact wording that we’re supposed to, and it will make sure we’re covered,” Langston said.

Langston said he thought Waynesville Skate Park would operate similarly to the Cherokee and Hendersonville parks.

“This is not a unique situation for us,” Langston said. “All parks in North Carolina are required to pass the ordinance the same way. Whether they’re staffed is up to the owners of the park. The (Waynesville) park will not be supervised, so I don’t see this park being run any differently than Cherokee or Hendersonville.”

The 8,000 square-foot park has been in the works for more than a decade. Once completed, it will feature a number of ramps, railings and slopes for skateboarders to use at no charge.

A long wait

Joe Moore of Waynesville has been a major advocate for the skate park since its inception more than 10 years ago. A skateboarding parent himself, he said he supported the ordinance as long as it wasn’t enforced.

“It’s a parent decision, not a (city) decision,” Moore said. “If they put someone out there to enforce it, we’ll just have a concrete park with no one enjoying it. The pads are uncomfortable and cumbersome. And the pads are not going to keep you from breaking your elbow.”

While visiting skate parks out of state, Moore said he and his son rarely see skaters wearing full pads.

“The Hendersonville Skate Park is always crowded because no one is there to enforce (the ordinance),” Moore added. “That’s the way it should be.”

Caldwell said the outdoor park had been made possible through a number of grants including a $60,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, a $20,000 grant from Waynesville Kiwanis Club and a $5,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation.

While the total cost of the park’s construction has yet to be finalized, the grants contributed to the $400,000 that was budgeted for this fiscal year to construct the park.

A skateboarder currently faces a $50 fine if he or she is caught riding a skateboard on sidewalks or streets in town. Town officials aren't sure what the fine will be for using the skateboarding at the park without pads and a helmet.

Langston was hesitant to give a final date of completion, but estimated that the park would be opening by the end of summer.

“It’s a happy thing going on in the community,” Langston said. “It’s been many years in the making. It should be something the skaters and the non-skaters in the community can do.”