2023 In-Depth

Canberra: a skateboarding city?

“We’ve got this reputation as a great skateboarding city, and it’s slipping through our fingers.”

Brendan “Woody” Wood

They’re the words of Brendan Wood, or simply “Woody”, as the skateboarding community knows him. Woody is Vice-President of the Canberra Skateboarding Association (CSA) and he, among others, are vocalising their concerns about Canberra’s skateboarding infrastructure.

A man sits on a concrete ledge with his skateboard in hand. He sits confidently on display. He wears all black, has a beard and tattoos on his arms. His skateboard is clearly rough from use.
Brendan “Woody” Wood, Vice-President of the Canberra Skateboarding Association is calling for better maintenance of skateboard infrastructure

The reality is that over the last decade, Canberra’s reputation is declining. With the city growing and broken promises, the skateboarding community can’t help but feel they’re being neglected. Mr Wood, along with the skateboarding community, now eagerly await the outcomes of an inquiry submitted to the ACT Legislative Assembly into Canberra’s skate infrastructure.

Canberra has long been considered a leader in skateboarding infrastructure. From the legendary Erindale ‘Brick Banks’ to the Belco Bowl Jam, anyone involved in the skate community will express how valuable these areas are to Canberra. 

Mr Wood recalls being a young skater seeing the development of skate infrastructure as the city grew.

“It seemed as so every ten or so years we’d get some new facilities again and again and Canberra had bit of a reputation for getting new skateparks as the population and scene grew,” he says. 

“We were ahead of Melbourne and Sydney in terms of facilities. There was a lot of envy coming our way from people living in those cities.”

The last time any skate infrastructure project was completed was in 2011, which revitalised the Belconnen skatepark. The upgrade brought new life to the area which Mr Wood says is a great example of using a skatepark to activate a space and make it safe for everyone.

“It’s interesting how that area’s changed, the old skatepark is where the new one was and it was before all the apartment buildings were there. There was no lights at the old one, it used to kind of be nothing there. Now it’s like a very busy, active part of Belconnen, we’ve got all these apartment buildings looking down on the park.” 

Apartment buildings surround the skatepark. The skatepark has many parts that increase and decrease in height for skaters to use. The park is empty, but you can see that it is placed in a busy area.
The revitalised Belconnen skatepark has helped transform the area into an active, safer area

That’s where the upgrades end. The Canberra Skateboarding Association has wanted to see the Tuggeranong skatepark receive upgrades but think now it’s too late.

“It’s over 25 years old and pretty much falling apart. It’s just too far gone and not worth fixing because it’s outdated.

“Around the 20-year mark they go from a little rough to just falling apart.”

Deteriorating concrete, lack of lights and an outdated design are just some of the concerns around the skatepark, but as the government rolls out suburban upgrades and reimagines the Tuggeranong foreshore, the skatepark misses out again.

“It would be a monumental task to fix the surface and probably cost more than it would to build a new skatepark. They are government assets, they should be maintaining them, upgrading them, looking after them.” 

Part of the CSA’s lobbying includes asking for new obstacles at existing parks, such as a vertical ramp, and a guideline on how to better maintain skateparks. Despite the government saying they would commit to these measures; the CSA feels neglected.

“We asked for that at the last election, along with the vert ramp. Then ACT Gov committed to building the vert ramp and doing the skatepark guideline. The next election’s about to roll around and we don’t have either of those things yet.” 

The CSA hopes that after the inquiry is handed down, the government will develop safe skate infrastructure in growing parts of Canberra, including redeveloping existing infrastructure to make skating accessible to all residents. 

“I would hope after this inquiry that one of the outcomes is that ACT government return to form in provisioning new skateparks.”

The neglect of skateboarding infrastructure maintenance is being felt right across the skateboarding community.

Ayesha Pang is a downhill slalom skater, and she, like Mr Wood, has witnessed the decline in Canberra’s reputation. Ms Pang echoes Mr Wood’s comments about the state of the Tuggeranong skatepark.

“In places like Tuggeranong, the surface is, in my opinion, dangerous,” she says.

“The layout is a bit old and the vert ramp, the vertical, is frankly dangerous. There’s holes in it, there’s screws that are loose.” 

The Tuggeranong skatepark sits by the foreshore. It's empty. Damage to the surface is clearly visible, with cracks and worn down ledges on display. The skatepark looks dirty from not being cared for.
Deteriorating concrete and damaged surface make the Tuggeranong skatepark unsafe for skateboarders to use

Ms Pang compares Canberra’s infrastructure to other infrastructure she’s seen in other cities, and feels that because of the lack of maintenance, it hinders any career progression.

“Canberra is probably one of the few places left where skateboarding seems to be for the feeling, and the vibe, and the fun of it. Whereas a lot of the major cities are moving towards competition-based skateboarding.” 

Ms Pang believes that Canberra has the potential to raise world-class athletes in skateboarding, but a lack of care is stopping that. 

“I think it would be really beneficial to see a bit more of both of those things (competition and leisure) but I think in that aspect we do need some help from the government.”

“It’s not up to just organisations like Canberra Skateboarding Association to put on and plan and bankroll these events. It’s a lot of responsibility and it’s a lot of work and I think having a bit more assistance from the government in some of those endeavours would be extremely helpful.” 

While Mr Wood, the CSA, and the wider skateboarding community await the findings of the inquiry, they remain hopeful that Canberra will hold onto its reputation as a great skateboarding city.

“We’re hopeful the ACT Gov will build us some new skateparks as a result of it,” says Mr Wood.

“There’s some big things in the works right now and if we keep pushing, we can get some commitments from them.”