DIY Skateparks: A Global Architecture of Rebellion

Richard Gilligan, DIY Skateparks
Richard Gilligan
Dicks Bowl, Oxford, UK

Between the mid-1970s and early-’80s hundreds of concrete skateparks popped up in almost every state throughout the U.S. They offered skaters a mixture of bowls, snake runs, cement reservoirs, full pipes, half-pipes, and quarter-pipes of all shapes and sizes. They had names like Hi Roller, Upland’s Pipeline, Kona, Del Mar, Surfin’ Turf. By the mid-’80s however, all but a small handful had closed, and bulldozers left no traces that they’d existed.

Skaters had to adapt by designing and building their own environments by way of backyard wooden half-pipes – vertical plywood and 2×4 structures that enabled skaters to continue perfecting aerial maneuvers and defying gravity, if only for a few seconds. Today, skateboarding is more popular than ever. Hundreds of city-sponsored and private “pay-to-play” skateparks flourish around the world, and although these new parks are now designed by skaters and for skaters and are smoother, faster and have better flow and obstacles, there are hardcore skaters who prefer to build their own DIY spots and avoid anything that might interfere with their sense of freedom.

For them, skating is not a sport, it is a way of life, and no park rules, laws, pad regulations, oblivious scooter kids, parents, or park attendants can intrude. For four years, the Irish photographer (and skater) Richard Gilligan traveled around Europe and the United States photographing these self-built skate spots and a new book by Prestel, DIY / Underground Skateparks, provides a look into this expressive subculture of skateboard architecture. Gilligan’s approach is more akin to large-format colorists like Joel Sternfeld, where the emphasis is not on skaters or their tricks but how the spots themselves exist within the surrounding landscape.

Richard Gilligan was schooled at the University of Wales, Newport where he studied for his BA in photography with social documentarians Paul Reas, Ken Grant and Paul Seawright. Gilligan’s approach is more akin to large-format colorists like Joel Sternfeld, where the emphasis is not on skaters or their tricks but how the spots themselves exist within the surrounding landscape. According to Gilligan, the project “has always been driven by an underlying sense of urgency that I had to somehow make this work about skate culture and my experience within this world.”

Most of these spots were built without any permission from the landowners, in abandoned lots or under highway or railways overpasses — the ugly wastelands so often found beside most industries, whether living or dead. They are locations taken over, cleaned of garbage and given a makeover that can be as simple as a few humps of debris paved over with inexpensive cement mix, or as complex and sprawling as Philly’s FDR park, which covers hundreds of square yards.

Many are shut down by police and destroyed mid-construction, while others endure under the radar for years and, eventually, earn protected status, of sorts — like Portland’s Burnside, which started illegally in 1990 and is now accepted by the city as a legal park. Gilligan’s images imply how these spaces expand or contract like living organisms, taking on new shapes and sizes; a few rough transitions ascend a vine-covered brick wall in Memphis; two oval-shaped bowls in Basel, Switzerland, sit under a layer of snow; deteriorating slabs of concrete on the waterfront in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, create an unintentional playground. They are quiet photographs imbued with beauty in both color and form where freedom, passion, manipulation of the surroundings, perseverance and risk-taking are at the heart of the work.

Craig Stecyk III, an early skate pioneer, artist and photographer, perhaps said it best: “Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11-year-olds that could see that potential.” In this book, Richard Gilligan offers a tribute to those minds and to the potential felt in each one of these photographs, and in every man-made obstacle his camera described.

Richard Gilligan is a photographer working in Dublin, London and New York.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions.

Related Topics: , , ,

Latest Posts

New York, New York. United States.October 17th 2014.#Dysturb New York.

Guerrillas in the Streets: The Dysturb Photo Collective Comes to NYC

Dysturb, a collective of photographers, takes to New York City's streets to bring photojournalism directly to the crowd

Read More
CARNIVORE’S DILEMMA PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated November 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof. No copying, distribution or archiving permitted. Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM. Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing. Mandatory usage requirements:1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image © Brian Finke/National Geographic2. Show the November cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image - you do not have to show the cover3. Provide a prominent link to: Mention that the images are from "the November issue of National Geographic magazine”Beef is big in Texas. Last year in the state, ten times as many calves were born, 3.85 million, as human babies.At the Big Texan in Amarillo—which offers free rides in a longhorn limo—you get your 72-ounce steak for free ifyou finish it in under an hour, along with the shrimp cocktail, the baked potato, the salad, and the roll.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 20, 2014

Courtesy Ginger Miller

#TIMEvets: Share Your Stories and Photos of Inspiring Veterans


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,510 other followers