Danielle Jackson doesn’t skate, but she is working hard to make sure Rainier Beach gets a skatepark. Jackson runs a local nonprofit, CHAMPS (Changing Habits And Motivating Personal Self-Esteem), that works on issues in the Rainier Beach community from poverty to safe streets.
Expanding access to skate facilities wasn’t really in their purview, but, she said, she “just kept seeing kids skating down Rainier Ave.”
Skateboarding’s BIPOC participation has increased markedly since the early aughts, when an ethnographic analysis in The Sport Journal noted that approximately 73 percent of respondents involved in skateboarding were white and 16 percent were Hispanic. Only 1 percent of skaters identified as Black. Recently, a survey by a digital skate community called the SPCC Project showed Black skaters constituted slightly less than 15 percent of respondents, meaning they are actually overrepresented in skateboarding, based on 2020 census data.
“My dream was to get more of the BIPOC community more involved. Our BIPOC community is still into basketball and football and soccer. Skating has been predominately white,” Jackson said, joking that, “There’s so much money to be made doing tricks on four wheels!”
Pro sponsorship dreams aside, she sees skateboarding as a positive thing for youth in her community.
“It’s not just the money, but the emotional and social aspects of it as well. For some people, skating is a home away from home,” Jackson said.
Highlighted in the city of Seattle’s 2006 Citywide Skatepark Plan, Rainier Beach Playfield is one of the many suggested sites in the South End that never saw ground broken. While skateparks are scattered across West Seattle and Seattle’s North End — there are public parks in Lake City, Northgate, Wedgwood, Crown Hill, Woodland Park, Delridge and Roxhill, plus a private indoor park in Fremont — South Seattle has only three. One of those is a small “skatedot” that’s difficult to access via public transit, which is important for younger users. Jackson says that every time she visited the biggest one of those three, at Jefferson Park, kids complained that it was too crowded on weekends.
Getting locals excited by the concept of a new skatepark wasn’t easy when she first floated the idea in 2017 at a series of meetings at the Rainier Beach library, she said.
“The participation wasn’t what I anticipated. It wasn’t many people showing up, and the people that were showing up were from, like, Spokane. Somebody came from Canada! Lots of people from the North End. I really wanted people from Rainier Beach to show up,” Jackson said.
When the project picked back up, after a coronavirus-induced hiatus, she decided to go digital.
“I got way more participation doing virtual,” she said.
Now, the project has lots of momentum. At a Zoom meeting on April 20, CHAMPS will unveil the draft design for the park, developed in collaboration with Evergreen Skateparks, advocacy organization Parents for Skateparks and local nonprofit Skate Like a Girl (SLAG). After soliciting one more round of feedback, a final design will be presented later this summer, on July 20.
“This skatepark will fill a much-needed gap in the Citywide Plan by serving the Rainier Beach community. Seattle has already made a name for itself as a world-class city for skateparks, and the Rainier Beach campaign will continue the realization of that vision,” said Scott Shinn, a longtime skatepark advocate and founding board member of Parents of Skateparks.
The park, proposed for an empty area at the playfield site, would fulfill some of the key promises made by the Citywide Skatepark Plan, which called for skateparks to be located close to public transit, well lit until late and protected from rain. So far, only one Seattle skatepark, Jefferson, has its own lights, and they only illuminate half the park. No park is covered, and Jefferson is the only one within walking distance of a light rail station.
The most requested features from the first community survey on the Rainier Beach skatepark, Jackson said, were a roof and lights.
The only hurdle is funding. The organization has raised about $500,000, which she estimated was only a quarter of what it would cost to build the park. With the requested roof and lights, it could exceed $2 million. But Jackson was optimistic that it would get funded. They’re working with the Seattle Parks Foundation, which will provide them with a dedicated fundraiser, and are exploring lots of creative funding options.
Besides the most obvious one — the Tony Hawk Foundation has helped fund more than 600 skateparks since 2002 — she’s planning to reach out to the local jocks.
“My goal is and my hope is to reach out to the Mariners and Kraken and Seahawks and Sounders, to go to some of the athletes already that are here to see if they’ll support our efforts,” she said.
Meeting or exceeding their fundraising goal would allow them to add a lot of features, she said. As the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, accessibility is super important to her, so she wants to explore wheelchair-friendly elements in the park. Jackson recently stumbled across a video of wheelchair users riding bowls, catching air and even doing tricks.
“I was like, ‘This is filthy!’” she said, sounding, for a moment, like she does skate. As exciting as the prospect of introducing extreme wheelchair riding to Seattle might be, she reiterated that the roof is the big draw.
“If we get a roof, everybody’s gonna be at the skatepark. We’ll probably get too many people!” she said.
That is her goal, though. Besides being close to the Rainier Beach light rail station, the park is extremely close to a number of community gathering places and schools.
“It’s in the perfect spot. It’s ideal,” Jackson said. It is situated between the Alan T. Sugiyama High School at South Lake, South Shore Middle School and Dunlap Elementary, and is within a block of Rainier Beach High School, the library branch and Be’er Sheva Park. The location, she hopes, will activate the space in a way that extends beyond skateboarding.
“We want this to be more than just a skatepark,” Jackson said. “We want it to be a place where we can come and gather and be community and be family. And barbecue! You know? Just enjoy being amongst each other.”
For more information on the Rainier Beach Skatepark project, or to find attendance information for the upcoming design meeting, vist rbskatepark.org.
Tobias Coughlin-Bogue is the associate editor of Real Change.
Read more of the Apr. 13-19, 2022 issue.