Dylan Jeffrey at Woden skatepark. Photo: Cameron Markin
"Canberra is a boring, cold and almost eerily quiet wasteland. Please do not visit unless you’re on a school excursion, you really love Questacon, or you need to go somewhere to die.’’
Canberrans are pretty well used to this kind of review from out-of-towners.
But what makes Sydney-based skater Cameron Markin’s review of the capital on his Tumblr blog (its.a.pirates.life), different was how his view of Canberra changed looking through ‘‘a skater’s eyes’’.
Ben Hodge in stormwater drains in Hackett. Photo: Cameron Markin
As Markin testified after a recent visit, Canberra has a thriving skateboarding scene which could help bring some street-cred to the often maligned capital.
‘‘Canberra is a guaranteed good time, with a bunch of parks all within a 20-minute drive from the city centre, there’s never a lack of fun interesting terrain, and that’s even without scratching the surface of their abundance of street spots,’’ Cameron, 18, a photography student who travels around Australia scouting the best locations, said.
Belconnen boasts the biggest skatepark in the southern hemisphere after undergoing a $2 million upgrade last year, and there are about 19 other parks scattered around the city.
‘‘Part of the reason why I moved to Canberra is its abundance of good skate parks,’’ said Luke Brown, president of the Canberra Skateboarding Association.
The world class parks at Woden and Belconnen feature unique obstacles catering for beginners and pros, including Belco’s double jump skate run and a 100m-long street plaza.
‘‘There aren’t obstacles like that in skate parks elsewhere,’’ said Mr Brown.
Canberra’s biggest strength is having a formal representative body for the skateboarding community, the Canberra Skateboarding Association, which lobbies government and council to build or upgrade skate parks.
Mr Brown says the best way to get skate parks built is propose they be incorporated into areas already tagged for wider-scale upgrades, like the Tuggeranong precinct.
The ACT’s manager of park design at Territory and Municipal Services, Diana Hill, said providing purpose-built (and safe) skateboarding facilities means skaters aren’t forced to use spaces like stormwater drains or carparks, which keeps local council and communities on side.
‘‘The skating community have built a good culture and they almost self-regulate,’’ she said.
Mr Brown says the stereotype of skaters as vandals and rebels ‘‘trashing everything’’ is outdated. That’s not to say skaters won’t ocassionaly come into conflict with authorities when public spaces or Canberra’s distinctive open stormwater drains prove too tempting.
‘‘We’ve built a strong partnership with the ACT government and we really appreciate all the opportunities that they’ve given us and we really hope to build on that relationship.’’
National development manager at Skateboarding Australia, Richard Flude, said with declines in some traditional sport’s participation rates, more kids were getting into skateboarding.
SA runs learn to skate clinics at 21 ‘hub regions’ around Australia, including Canberra, where older coaches teach budding skaters all the tricks of the trade.
For two hours every Saturday morning, complete novices and seasoned professionals bond over ollies and wheelies.
‘‘Skateboarding is a brotherhood’’, said Mr Brown. ‘‘I can go to a skatepark in any town, say ‘how you going?’ and be included.’’
Newbies are taught how to skate and fall safely, as well as the delicate etiquette of the skateboarding community.
‘‘There’s a culture behind it and there are people that do take a lot of pride in the skatepark’’, said Mr Flude.
But that culture is a lot more relaxed than in other big cities.
‘‘Canberra’s a big country town really,’’ said Mr Brown. ‘‘It’s easier to get around, there’s a number of different spots you can skate during the week, areas unbothered, but in more popular cities skateboarding is more frowned upon, much more regimented, you can get kicked out of spots.’’
And with a ‘‘lack of other stuff’’ for young people in Canberra, providing structured activities and supportive programs is extremely important.
‘‘It’s ultimately a healthy social community which is based around skateboarding, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun,’’ Mr Flude said.