As an inline and quad skate coach with over two decades’ experience, I worry when I see this popular question searched on Google.
Why do I worry? Because “beginner skaters” should not be in a skate park.
The global boom in roller sports, quad roller-skating in particular, particularly for women under 30, has brought a wave of inexperienced skaters onto the ramps and into the bowls of skate parks. From what I see on TikTok and Instagram, 95% of the skaters starting to ramp and bowl skate really ought not to be, because they do not possess the necessary basic skills to learn safely.
Without such skills a skater is taking huge risks, and must be prepared to slam repeatedly into the concrete – even if following one of the hugely watched YouTube tutorials on the subject. I do not believe that this is what learning should be like.
Sadly, I also see Instagram posts telling awful stories of serious injuries, usually involving one or more of a broken ankle, leg, arm, or wrist. Just in Brighton recently, roller skaters in skate parks have suffered four such serious accidents. Instructors in other countries with whom I speak regularly report a similar flood of skate-park accidents.
I would like to change how roller-skaters view skate parks. Yes, they can be fun and exciting, and there’s nothing like fear-induced adrenalin to make you feel alive. But we should learn, as a community, to see the skate park as a hazardous, advanced-level-only environment. If this were to happen, accidents would be far fewer, and of lower severity.
Must-have skills for Skate Parks on roller skates
There are two kinds of slopes in a skate park:
1. Flat ramps of varying angles,
2. The curved part of a bowl or half-pipe. While flat ramps generate acceleration (down) or deceleration (up) progressively, curved ramps generate these forces more aggressively.
If we have not trained ourselves to anticipate and deal with this different acceleration or deceleration, our alarmed brains, projecting the movement into the immediate future, will cause our bodies to automatically tense and stiffen in alarm. In such an “eek” moment, the protective brain/body response will even precipitate a fall just to stop the motion.
It is for this reason that the following skills should be in a skater’s repertoire BEFORE they even think of entering a skate park. Only then can they have the “wow” experience of gradually acquiring skate-park skills without repeated crashing falls:
1. Are you confident and fluent downhill skating, with high speed and a low recovery position?
This means recognising acceleration and lowering your stance in response. It also means having reliable means of slowing down, so that as you near your comfort threshold for speed you can safely and consciously reduce it to remain in complete control.
2. Are you confident with 180 jumps: forwards-to-backwards and backwards-to-forwards skating?
This means jumping 180 degrees from the starting position of a slight scissor, initiating all jumps with the upper body so that you always land with upper body and arms square in front of you. Most skaters in bowls and halfpipes doing 180 jumps at the apex are leaving a shoulder with a trailing arm behind them, creating a not-square upper body landing with one arm at their side, or worse behind their back. This is how arms and wrists get broken.
3. Are you confident and fluent doing heel-to-heel mohawk transitions on the flat?
This means stepped or hopped mohawks on the flat, both forwards and backwards. As with 180-degree jumps, the upper body needs to be comfortable creating the transition. The skates should not be the first thing to move: the upper body should turn first, and the feet last. This makes a transition fluent, and possible at higher speeds. If you’d like some help with these, check out this YouTube video on various Transition methods.
4. Backwards fluency on the flat: cruising, scissors x 4, backwards-to-backwards jumps.
Skate parks demand a mastery of backwards skating and comfort facing various challenges. Learning to cruise backwards safely with weight on the trailing skate, trains you for the basic backwards descent position on a ramp or bowl. But there are 4 scissor and weight positions backwards which should be trained on the flat. In each of these backward scissors check your weight is on the identified leg each time – 1. right leading, 2. left leading, 3. right trailing, and 4. left trailing leg. You should also be comfortable on the flat jumping backwards-to-backwards over imagined or real surface obstacles. Skate parks are all about jumping, and skate-park jumps are risky unless your landings are first entirely steady on the flat. Ramps, with their acceleration and deceleration, will make jumps more difficult and dangerous.
5. Backwards fluency with downhill slopes of various gradients.
Being comfortable backwards downhill, sensing acceleration and controlling your speed, means that when you encounter a gradient in a skate park your brain and your body will recognise what’s happening and not freak out. This is the skill which quad skaters in skate parts seem most to lack, and why I believe the vast majority of them should not be there.
6. Any of these killer stops: powerslide, power-stop, parallel/hockey stop.
You won’t be descending a ramp in a skate park with intent to stop suddenly, but there will come a time when someone is headed straight into you and you have no deviation options. Our instinct not to crash is so strong that often in such instances we will hurl ourselves to the ground – unless we have a reliable powerslide, power-stop, or a hockey stop. If you’d like some help these stops check out this Youtube video;
The above list of minimum skills will seem very severe to many, if not most, skaters. My hope is that it will make some of you think twice about what you had planned to do, or indeed may already be doing. If it even encourages you to tackle my list of pre-requisites alongside your skate-park skating, that will substantially reduce the risks you are taking.
If you are already active in a skate park, please wear a helmet and aggressive-sized knee, wrist and elbow-pads, and possibly some butt protection, too. Loco Skates have a great selection here. Be safe out there!
If you need some help getting started or more fluent with backwards skating, check out these Blog posts and videos for inline and quads skaters.