Legendary designer Wally Hollyday says Sacramento’s Granite Regional Skate Park is his best work yet
A skateboarder since the early ‘70s, Wally Hollyday made a name for himself when the first wave of concrete skate parks hit America. He designed and built several legendary parks in the late ’70s, including those in Lakewood and Cherry Hill, N.J. Now, with California Skateparks, Hollyday, 48, is a much-sought-after design guru who has created more than 40 skate parks around the country. He’s currently overseeing the finishing of Sacramento’s new 40,000-square-foot Granite Regional Skate Park, scheduled to open this fall. At the same time, he’s also working on the construction of a 15,000-square-foot park at Tanzanite Community Park in Natomas. SN&R interviewed Hollyday at the Granite Regional construction site during his weekly visit.
SN&R: What happened to the parks of the ‘70s and ‘80s?
Hollyday: People got into other things. A lot of people talk about the insurance, but basically it was users. If you don’t have users, you can’t pay your insurance. … A lot of these 16-year-old kids that were really the pros, I mean, they grew up, started getting girlfriends, going off to college and stuff, and they got out of skating. And they came back to skating, but there were no parks left when they came back.
In the mid-'90s there was a skating resurgence. That’s when cities around the country started putting in municipal skate parks. What brought that on?
The main thing that brought it on, that brought it to their attention, was that kids were a nuisance. I mean, they’re out there; they’re downtown grinding ledges and goin’ off the stairs. Police were taking their boards away, and, you know, basically labeling them criminals. Parents don’t like their kids being labeled criminals.
So it created quite a backlash, and one of the great things that came out of that was these kids realized that, politically, they could go to a council meeting and say, “Hey, you need to provide me with a place that I can ride, ’cuz I am a skateboarder and I’m gonna ride someplace and you need to provide it.” … This is a great civic lesson.
That was one of the beautiful things that came out of this. There were a lot of people that saw a very politically charged group of very young kids that really didn’t get that the system works for them. They looked at authority as someone who’s always telling them what to do. The idea that they can tell the authority what to do is a very mind-opening experience.
What are the best skate parks out there today?
This one [Granite Regional] … This baby right here.
What makes this the best?
Variety. Size. Those two things work together. When you have the size, you can put the variety in. … You know, one thing about this park is there’ll be many, many people whose favorite element in the park or favorite bowl in the park is something that gets used the least. But, yet, that’ll be what the park’s known for. Now in a park this size, that’s fine—you want the park to be known for something. You need an identity.
If it was a small park, I don’t care what people think, I’d want to put the stuff in it that gets used the most. But this is a large park, so there’s a lot to do here.
A lot of talk right now with this park is about how to operate it—as far as fencing, hours, supervision, and all of that stuff. What do you think the best operational model for a skate park is?
It depends on the community and the design of the skate park itself. There’s not one design that works for every community. The size of the community is important—probably more than anything. … Some communities supervise membership parks really well because it reflects, you know, the kind of gated community that you have in Orange County.
I like unsupervised, low fence, keep the spectators out. They’re going to put up a larger fence here, and I’m not opposed to that, but the reason why we were going to put the lower fence in was to keep the spectators out. You could walk up to the fence [and watch]. But if you’ve got a high fence, no one wants to look through it.
Now one of the reasons I don’t mind the high fence here is that the park’s so large that spectators are going to come in the park, and it’s designed for spectators to come into the park. There’s a lot of green space in it. It takes you a while just to walk around the park, so people will want to come in. They’ll be curious and want to walk around it.
Do you know if there are plans for low safety fences around the larger, deeper bowls?
No, because there’s grass and berms. There is landscaping. But while you basically accept the fact that you will have spectators in here hanging around, that doesn’t mean you let young kids run free in here. You know, there are a lot of verticals and elevation changes.
A skate park is a dangerous place; everybody knows that. When people come and see a skate park, their first reaction is, “Kids are going to get hurt!” And, you know, that is the right reaction. Kids get hurt in skate parks. Skaters know it and the parents better know it. You’d better not buy your kid a skateboard and then come out here and cut him loose. You’d better make sure they know how to skate before they come to any skate park, not just this one.
You come to a skate park and you look at it and you go, “This looks dangerous.” Well, skating’s dangerous—just like other extreme sports. Football is dangerous, too, and baseball. Skateboarding’s obviously dangerous and we make no claims that it’s not.
You’re also working on a second Sacramento skate park at Tanzanite in Natomas. What’s that going to be like in comparison?
It’s a smaller park. It’s about a third the skating size and it doesn’t have the large green space, so it’s not spread out as much. It’s more of a community park. But that one’s got, percentage-wise, a little more street … a little more beginner. But it has an advanced bowl. It’s a pretty fun park.
What has Sacramento done well as part of this process?
I think Sacramento’s done its part, No. 1, in the scale in which they’ve addressed this. I mean, they looked at this area as an area that needed development and realized that a skate park would be a good way to address that development.
And [the city recognized] the fact that an area like this needs a park this size. There are very few large cities out there that are doing large parks. It’s the small cities that are doing the large parks because they’re in better touch with their kids. You get into the big cities, there’s total detachment from their youth. You go into a city of a couple hundred thousand people and they know what their kids want to do—and it’s skateboarding.
I think it’s to the credit of Sacramento that they’re not just doing one park, but they’re doing Tanzanite, and I’ve even heard there’s another one, and we’re doing it right. We’re doing a regional [size] park in the regional park and then we’re doing residential [size] parks in the residential parks. With this regional one, it will also take pressure off the residential ones.
Do you go back and visit your parks after they’ve been open a while? Skate them, see how they’re operating?
What I do like to do is come back a year later, because I try and make my skate parks very unique and different to skate. So, I want to see how the skaters have adapted to what I’ve given them. Skating’s all about adapting. I mean, learning how to skate backyard pools is adapting to a backyard pool. Learning to skate stairs and ledges is adapting to those kinds of shapes. And that’s basically what a skate park is. It’s just a variety of different forms and shapes, and kids learning to ride them.
Click here to read the full interview with Hollyday and see more photos of the local skate parks.