The History of Skateboarding in Portland

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Oregon is home to the world’s best concrete public parks, with 150-plus parks spread across the state, from Portland to small coastal towns. The often drizzly city may be one of the most skateboard-friendly towns in America, featuring deep concrete bowls, over-vert cradles, and tons of transitions to link up. Basically, it’s every skater’s dream… But how did it all start?

An Illegal Skatepark

There’s something about Portland having its skating roots in an illegal skatepark that just feels… right. Skating in itself was made for the underdogs and the people who didn’t feel like they fit in with the rest of society. It’s only appropriate that it was a bunch of Portland skaters who built an illegal skatepark in a trash-strewn area under a downtown bridge that started it all. Among the skaters was Mark “Red” Scott and Mr. Dahlgren, who built concrete ramps under Portland’s Burnside Bridge — a place for the homeless to camp out and for addicts to get high.

Blazing the Trail for More Skateparks to Follow

Bit by bit, obstacle by obstacle, and addition by hand-mixed concrete addition, the team of skaters built a huge skatepark of flowing transitions that eclipse city-built skateparks in size and quality. While the skatepark became legal a few years later, it was still a part of the city and could be shut down at any time. To show that the skatepark had value and deserved to be there, the skateboarders highly respected the area, picking up trash, sweeping stoops for nearby business owners, and shooing away homeless people. As skateboarding became more popular and the Portland skate community exploded, skaters began lobbying for more parks, and for a say in how they were built.

The Birth of a Citywide Skatepark System

As the skateboard population grew not only in the US but in Portland, more and more concrete parks were built. When you have friends in high places, though, the sky's the limit. Tom Miller, chief of staff to Portland Mayor Sam Adams back in 2008, was a skater himself and helped the citywide skatepark system actually come to fruition. He lobbied for the idea, which led to a volunteer position with the campaign of Sa, Adams, who was running for city commissioner. Once Adams won the election, Miller became an insider and was offered a job as chief of staff. Months later, Portland’s city council approved a plan to create the skatepark system.

A Part of Portland Culture

Since the installation of the skatepark system plan, Portland skateparks have popped up across the city. Most are woven into existing city parks and are among the most popular attractions in the city. One of the best things about them is that they attract skaters ranging in age from grade school to late 30s. While skaters across Portland can rejoice for a space that is so wholly theirs, seeking out new and illegal places to skate will always be the bread and butter of skateboarding culture.

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