Text by Nicholas Bennett, photography by Jake Darwen
First published in Manual #44, December 2011.
I always enjoy going back to Auckland. I get to eat Wendy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts—two of the things I miss most now I’m living in Wellington—and I also get to check out what’s new in Auckland’s ever growing skate park list. On my way through Auckland to Mangawhai Heads recently I stopped by to see how the Victoria Park skate park was coming along. At the time of my visit the Victoria Park bypass tunnel was near completion and the work on the permanent skate park was getting its final touches. The new skate park finally opened on October 7.
The initial concept for the new skate park was developed by Isthmus whose previous projects include the Barry Curtis park. P&M Civil was responsible for the construction. The concept was submitted to the council with Chey Ataria and Justin Watene as the skateboard consultants, Haimona Ngata speaking for the BMXers and with Owen ‘OJ’ Williams also giving input into the design. CAD drawings of the bowl area were drafted by Sean Tauroa and James Blas, with input from the whole team. The park features the Skatelite mini ramp from Jason Parkes’ company Premium Skatepark designs, which was initially built for the temporary park. The transitions and BMX jumps from the temporary park have been reinstated. Also featured are two artworks: one from New Zealand skateboard legend Lee Ralph and one from Ngati Whatua who is part of the local iwi.
I spoke to Chey Ataria about how the design of the park evolved. “We were able to take the Isthmus design and try to make it better by tweaking it during board meetings. Basically the way I see it is that they do apples, we do pears and everyone got a Nashi. If I were to design it from scratch then it would have been way different! I think when you design as a committee you’ll never get the best result. You should get the one best designer to take the brief and create what they think is best. But hey, we are lucky to get something at all. It was on and off for about eight months or more and it took many a meeting to make it happen.” Initially, it was planned that the park should be opened in stages. However, this hasn’t happened and they have proceeded with building the whole park at once.
David Read also checked out the park and noticed “some significant oversights that have come about from poor attention to detail. This is something your average contractor cannot see, only a seasoned skate park designer can. Chey and others have worked hard to fix some of these, but at the heart of the issue are some flawed construction methods and an inadequate consultation process.” Justin Keeley shared similar feedback that parks built by non-skaters end up with a “pretty average” end result.
Despite its flaws, the park sounds like it has many redeeming features. Brett Band, who skated the park during its opening weekend, shared his views: “The first day it was totally packed and of course 90 percent of people on the street park were kids, but I felt like one myself, trying to skate around and fit into the park’s layout. Initially it is odd (probably because we are so used to flat parks, with quarters, boxes, rails and stairs), but then you kind of get used to dropping off a platform, pushing towards a manual and the turning round on the flat bank afterwards. I reckon it is quite amazing.” He explains further, “it has street flow, meaning it kind of just flows everywhere, so long as you can ollie up a block or two and handle a couple stairs or manuals here and there. Screw it. Why are parks all designed to have one serious flow? Keep it street, make your own flow. It is the only park I have been to that requires a bit of cognitive learning before you can intuitively make your way around obstacles. It’s easily a pick above any other park in New Zealand, even Barry Curtis. It has loads of flatground; I have heard loads of people say, ‘why don’t they put a few more things in?’ Have you even rolled around the park at decent speed? Not only is the space perfect, but it’s pretty damn fun too!”
Both Justin and Brett agree that a major downside with the park is the lack of steel or marble edges on the park’s ledges, which causes problems not only with wear and tear but also makes you feel like you can’t actually skateboard there without worrying about catching an edge and knocking your head. This is a shame because it again detracts from some of the park’s better features.
With no skate park designer/builder overseeing the project from start to finish, clearly the new Victoria Park Skate Park is a bit of a mixed bag. The minimal input sought from Justin, Chey, Haimona and James has unfortunately not been sufficient to mitigate many of the problems that existed from the start. Lessons should be drawn from the project so that in future, skate park design and construction involves meaningful engagement and consultation between end users, notable skate park designers and construction companies. Wherever possible, councils should be using park builders and designers whose past work demonstrates that they know how to design and build skate parks that work. Although it’s not perfect by any means, the park sounds like it is very fun to skate. And I’m looking forward to checking it out next time I’m in Auckland.