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Instruction, controlled environment make for safe skateboarding

This is an excerpt from Skateboarding by Ben Wixon.

Skateboarding is a positive and healthy kids' activity that is just as safe, or even safer, than many traditional physical activities. Studies indicate that one-third of all skateboarding injuries occur in a beginning skater's first weeks of skating. When injuries do occur in experienced skaters, those injuries are most commonly attributed to irregular riding surfaces or inconsistencies in the surface. The majority of skatepark-related studies also conclude that skateparks are a much safer environment in which to practice than streets or backyards (Kyle et al. 2002). From analyzing the accepted research and data, the logical conclusion is that the majority of skateboarding injuries are preventable if skateboarding is taught properly and practiced in a controlled environment. Skateboarding education and the proper teaching of fundamentals are the keys to creating the safest skateboarding experience possible for all skatepark users.

On the surface, skateboarding may still retain much of its image of being a dangerous and extreme activity reserved for daredevils and risk takers. In reality, the demographics of skateboarders have grown immensely. The craft of skateboarding continues to attract a consistently diverse following of fans and participants. With the integration of public skateparks into communities, it is now common to see a wide range of participants, from executives skating with their kids at lunch to stay-at-home moms sneaking off for skateboard runs while the kids are in school. When practiced safely and correctly, skateboarding is a healthy activity that can help fight the growing threat of obesity in youth. Skateboarding enables young people to learn an athletic activity that they enjoy and that they can continue to practice well into adulthood.

Skatepark Management and Operations

One of the most important aspects of creating a safe environment for skateboarding is ensuring that skatepark facilities are well maintained and properly operated. Routine maintenance of park facilities should be a top priority. These responsibilities will vary depending on the type of skatepark you are operating. Implementing a standardized checklist and maintenance routine for your skatepark is essential to operating a safe facility for all users.

Because skateparks can be found in both the public and private sector, several options and scenarios for supervision exist. Creating a safe and positive atmosphere in your skatepark can be accomplished in a number of ways. Although every skatepark is different, the need for an adult presence and high visibility levels is common to every skatepark. Chapter 9 of this book provides guidelines for the supervision and maintenance responsibilities for the various types of skateparks. Suggested checklists and outlines are also included in appendix A.

Determining how and when your skatepark will be used is another important step in creating a safe environment for skating. Wet and slick skatepark surfaces are one of the most dangerous scenarios for any type of skateboarding. If your skatepark is formally supervised, you should always close your park during wet weather. If your skatepark is informally supervised, you must clearly communicate unsafe skating conditions and closures through the skatepark signage.

Many skateparks that allow BMX bikes in the park will also designate separate times for bike and skateboard use. (BMX is an acronym for bicycle motocross and is a general term commonly used to designate bicycles or bike-riding styles that incorporate aerials, freestyle tricks, and riding on inconsistent terrain-that is, terrain such as dirt paths or obstacles rather than traditional places such as sidewalks or roads.) Bicycles and skateboards typically travel in different patterns within a skatepark, and allowing the two activities together may lead to an increase in collisions. Your organization should make an informed decision on usage policies based on the skatepark's design and the size of various user groups in your area.

Safety Equipment

The proper use of safety equipment can be a tool in preventing many types of injuries for skateboarders. All skateboard helmets and pads worn by participants should be properly designed for skatepark use. Commonly used protective gear includes knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards. Gloves are also sometimes worn. Low-quality equipment can be a safety hazard. Skaters cannot rely on this equipment to prevent injuries or to work properly for high-speed bailouts and knee slides. Skateboarding safety gear is not regulated by government standards, so check with your local skateboarding specialty shop to make sure the safety gear you choose is designed properly. Before beginners attempt to ride their skateboards or use safety equipment, they should first practice falling and bailing out. Techniques for falling properly are described in chapter 4. Guidelines for equipment and bailouts are also outlined in the National Safety Council guidelines included later in this chapter.

Wearing a helmet at all times is strongly recommended for all skaters regardless of their ability level. According to a 2002 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (this report was reaffirmed in 2005), the majority of skateboarding injuries requiring hospitalization of the skater were head injuries (American Academy of Pediatrics 2002). The report indicated that small inconsistencies in skateboarding surfaces can easily lead to unexpected falls for any skater. The report concluded that helmets are the best way to prevent serious or life-threatening injuries from skateboarding. The proper use of safety helmets is especially important for small children. Small children have not yet fully developed their motor skills, and they typically have a higher center of gravity (because of the disproportionate size of their head to their body in comparison with adults or older children). Helmets should be certified for skateboarding use, and they should fit participants snugly without moving or wobbling back and forth from the skater's movements. The chin straps on helmets should be fastened at all times (figure 2.1). Helmet use should be strongly recommended or required for all skateboarding and skatepark scenarios.

In addition to helmets, many skaters choose to use safety equipment such as knee and elbow pads or wrist guards (figure 2.2). Although pads are highly recommended, they may not always be required. Some skaters prefer to wear pads all of the time, while others think that the extra padding can restrict their movements. Knee pads can sometimes limit a skater's movement when pushing a skateboard on a street or other flat terrain, but these pads are often required for riding larger obstacles and transitions such as vertical half-pipes and bowls. Elbow pads and wrist guards are recommended for skateboarding anywhere, but skaters should not rely on this equipment to break all falls.

Relying on wrist guards to break falls can create bad habits if skaters routinely use their hands to catch themselves from falling. More important, beginning skaters need to learn to fall properly by absorbing the impact of collisions with their entire body rather than with isolated extremities (i.e., hands and wrists). Novice skateboarders should learn to bail out and roll through their falls. For beginners and small children, a good rule is "the more pads, the better." This rule should be applied until a skater is comfortable and confident with riding and bailing out when on a skateboard.

Instructional Safety

According to the Recreation Management State of the Industry Report, skateboarding is the fastest-growing category of youth sports (Pinoniemi 2006).The same report found that North America alone had nearly 15 million skateboarding participants. Although the sport continues to grow and evolve, it still has no formalized curriculum or certification for skateboarding instruction. From its roots, skateboarding has embraced the ideals of individuality and creativeness while at the same time shunning the uniforms, rules, and structure of traditional organized sports. Although skateboarding may still celebrate these qualities of independence and individual style, the need for safe and effective instruction on the fundamentals has become evident.

Skateboard parks and skateboarding programming are new and rapidly growing fields within the parks and recreation industry. In the past, the majority of formalized skateboarding instruction has been reserved primarily for more advanced skaters in specialized lessons and camps. Today, with the tremendous growth of community skateparks throughout the world, the need for safe and effective instruction for beginners has become glaringly obvious.

Learning how to skateboard and navigate through a skatepark can be an intimidating experience for any beginning skater. Providing fundamental and progressive skateboarding classes in your community skatepark can help to reduce fears and prevent early (and often avoidable) injuries in skaters. Skatepark lessons and programming should always incorporate a safe curriculum, and staff members providing the instruction should haveproper training. All volunteers and skatepark staff who provide instruction should be properly screened and should be trained in first aid and CPR. In addition, staff members should be trained in a standard procedure for dealing with accidents and emergencies. This standardized procedure should be employed consistently throughout all park operations. The Guest Accident Report in appendix A is an example of an emergency form for documenting injuries and accidents. Because every skatepark is different, your organization needs to create its own standard emergency procedure. This procedure should take into account the geography of the skatepark and the availability of access for emergency vehicles.

Although a basic proficiency in navigating a skateboard is generally the only physical skill needed for teaching fundamental skateboard lessons, you should never attempt to coach or train skaters in any areas beyond their own ability levels. Ideal instructors have an in-depth knowledge of skateboarding culture and a background in teaching or working with children. The ability to quickly respond to accidents and emergencies is essential; also required is a thorough knowledge of all skatepark rules and policies. You must supervise skaters carefully as they learn to avoid injuries or other incidents. When teaching skateboarding lessons, keep in mind that you are responsible for supervising participants and enforcing all safety rules and requirements. Because skateboarding is a relatively young sport, very few accreditation programs are available for certifying skateboard instructors. Recently, programs such as Streetwise, which is sponsored by the Australian government, have begun to offer certification, insurance, and training for skateboarding instruction. You should have the universal skills for the safe supervision of traditional recreation programs, as well as an in-depth understanding of skateboard fundamentals. In addition, you need to use an educationally sound curriculum for teaching.

This is an excerpt from Skateboarding: Instruction, Programming, and Park Design

More Excerpts From Skateboarding