Skateboarding goes mainstream with mall skatepark

WOODBRIDGE, Va. - Skateboarder Nathan Hauk was so desperate to visit the world's largest indoor skatepark that he hawked a stack of his favorite video games to raise some quick cash.

Then he got up at dawn and drove three hours from the suburbs of Philadelphia to get in a full day on the ramps, rails and empty swimming pools of the park.

''When I heard about it, I knew I had to get here,'' Hauk, 20, said as he dripped sweat following a workout on the pool's 8-foot-high walls.

Welcome to the latest fantasy playground for the modern skateboarder: The 61,640-square-foot Vans Skatepark, which opened last month at the Potomac Mills Mall.

As communities across the country ban skateboarding in town squares and on city streets, skateboard retailers Vans Inc. has brought the streets indoors - and to the mall.

Skaters who honed their skills flying off courthouse steps and scraping across park benches can challenge the kidney-shaped pool, the 40-foot-wide halfpipe, or the simulated street course with stairs, ledges and benches.

''It's so much like the street it's unbelievable,'' Hauk said.

And there is an added benefit: ''No cops,'' said Jordan Wegner, 15, of Fredericksburg.

Once an outlaw sport, skateboarding has gone corporate mainstream.

The $4 million park, the fourth and largest to be built by Vans opened April 15, following others in Orange, Bakersfield and Ontario, Calif. Vans plans to open more parks in Milpitas, Calif., Houston, Westminster, Colo., Orlando, Fla., Detroit and Toronto.

Skateboarding has become a multibillion-dollar industry with its own glossy magazines, fashions, touring competitions and stores, said Neal Lyons, president of Vans' retail division.

Vans, based in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Fe Springs, has 126 retail outlets across the country that sell sneakers, baggy shorts and all the other gear necessary to be a fashionable skatepunk.

Top-notch skating facilities were a logical step, Lyons said.

''The kids are sick of just playing baseball or football or basketball,'' Lyons said. ''The whole alternative sports movement is dominant in youth culture.''

Skateboarding is no passing fancy and the sport will continue to grow along with other ''extreme sports'' such as snowboarding, said Steven Marotta, an analyst with Wasserstein Perella.

On a recent afternoon at the Woodbridge park, the crowds picked up after school let out.

Posters of skateboarders engaged in various gravity-defying feats adorned the walls. Music from bands such as Metallica and Nine Inch Nails blared as errant skateboards clattered and clanged away from tumbling skaters.

Teen-age girls - none of whom were seen skating on this afternoon - hung out on benches nearby and flirted with pierced and tattooed skater hunks.

This is not your parents' roller rink.

Even so, a few bold moms and dads - whose children had yet to reach the age where they are embarrassed by their parents - hung out and watched.

Evelyn Heard of Falls Church brought her 13-year-old son, Robert, to the park because she liked the policy requiring helmets and pads. She also liked the fact it was at the mall.

''I can watch him or I can go shopping,'' she said.


On the Net:

Vans Inc. site:


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment