Temples Of Wood

Ramp builders evolve their craft.

Skateboarders have been finding or building their own skate terrain since the sport took root in the late 50s. Popular mythology places the first concrete skatepark in Florida in late 1975, but O.G. pool-rider Tony Alva says the first one recognized by true skaters appeared about that time in Carlsbad, California. Before that, sidewalk surfers were propping plywood against a few cinder blocks and kick-turning off the top to simulate wave riding.

By the time the parks came around, rather sophisticated ramps with wooden frames were being used all over the country. While few skaters had the resources or skills to form concrete, everyone had access to a hammer, nails, and some scrap lumber.

Transitions and various curved surfaces appeared in the bowls and berms of the concrete parks, and it wasn’t long before plywood was fabricated to fit the needs of those unfortunate skaters living far from the new concrete meccas sprouting up in California and beyond. Early ramps were crude and often dangerous, but many advancements have been made in ramp design, surface materials, and construction since those early experimental years. Fortunately for skaters, modern ramp builders are still developing ways to decrease kinks, increase speed, and improve overall wear resistance.

Skatelite: 1-888-383-5533

Joel Klippert doesn’t build ramps¿he doesn’t even design them¿but he helps a lot of other people make strong, fast, and weather-resistant ramps. Klippert is the sales-and-marketing director at Rainier Richlite Co., a Washington-state wood-product supplier. Rainier’s most popular product among skateboard-ramp builders is Skatelite, a surface material used on many skatepark and contest ramps.

While it’s relatively new to skateboarding, Skatelite has actually been around for 60 years. It was invented for tool-and-die making at Boeing Aeronautics, and is also used for countertops and cutting boards. If you want to see Skatelite in action, visit your local Pizza Hut and check out the round pizza dishes¿they’re made from it!

Skatelite is made of plastic-impregnated wood fiber. During its manufacture, the contents are heated hotter than the seven hills of hell, at which point the wood and plastic molecules flow together. Once cooled, they form a super-strong sheet material¿perfect for ramp surfaces.

Available in two types, Skatelite Pro costs about 150 dollars per sheet, and regular Skatelite retails at 95 dollars per sheet. The former is used for pizza trays, and the latter is what you’ll find on most skateboard ramps. The two materials differ only in the amount of plastic resin found inside; skate-ramp Skatelite has 50-percent less plastic resin inside than the pizza-board variety.

Skatelite was first tested on ramps at a park in Washington state that’s subjected to heavy rain and generally bad weather. Based on the success it had there, in 1997 the Missoula, Montana YMCA ordered Skatelite for all of its ramps, and the product caught on by word of mouth. After a few trials, including the ESPN B3 contest ramps at Woodward, Pennsylvania, and Tony Hawk’s bullring ramp in Tijuana, Mexico, pros came to love the durability and speed that Skatelite provided. For Klippert at Ranier Richlite, it’s been a battle to keep up with demand ever since.

Skatelite comes in three colors: maple, brown, and black. The black Skatelite is made to absorb little or no heat, so it can be used outside. Sheets are available in the standard four-by-eight-foot sizes, and each weigh 50 pounds. No wonder the stuff’s so durable.

Team Pain: (407) 695-8215

Although many people can build skateboard structures, few have developed reputations as true craftspeople. Some of these builders work from drawings, others straight from their heads.

Today, one builder stands above the rest in terms of creativity and produivity. Tim Payne and his four crews that make up the Team Pain company have built some of skateboarding’s most memorable ramps.

Payne began building ramps in Florida more than 25 years ago, and to date he’s credited with constructing over 200 skate structures throughout the world. In 1984, Frank Hawk hired him to build ramps for the National Skateboard Association’s (NSA) arena contests, and building has been Payne’s business ever since.

Team Pain uses many different materials in their ramps and parks, including concrete, steel, Skatelite, and Finnish birch. Payne believes that design is the key element in creating a skatepark. “Constructing the best facility requires input from experienced skaters¿not only in the design process, but also in the building of the actual parts,” he says. Payne believes this is where his company has a powerful advantage.

Team Pain has a reputation for building unique structures and doing it quickly. They built the Charleston Hanger in South Carolina, the DC Shoe Co. Super Ramp, Tony Hawk’s bullring ramp and loop, and the infamous Powell-Peralta Animal Chin ramp, among others. They’ve also built concrete parks; the Crested Butte, Colorado park has a great reputation as a smooth and flawless facility, with hips and bowls for beginner and advanced skaters. While not as famous for their concrete work, Team Pain is continuing to build its reputation in that area, too.

Dave Duncan Designs: (714) 960-8636

Dave Duncan has been skating and building ramps since the 70s, and he toured with Tim Payne in the 80s, helping to build the NSA Savannah Slamma and other arena ramps. In 1990, Duncan used Finnish birch, rather than the usual masonite, on the surface of the Münster, Germany contest ramp. At the time, the only alternative was expensive steel. “Finland birch is super hard,” says Duncan. “It’s like eighteen plies, or so. Skaters just loved it because it was smooth, fast, and gripped really well.” The pricey birch has become a more common surface material in recent years.

Duncan continues to design parks¿both wood and concrete¿and of late, has been working on the new Vans Skateparks now being built all over the U.S. He recently finished the latest one near Washington, D.C., and is currently working on the Milpitas, California site. “There are no non-skaters building skateparks¿not good ones parks, anyway,” says Duncan. “Usually the landscape designers bring in skateboarders to help, or the cities invite the local skaters to help draw up the initial plans.”

The less involved skaters are, he says, the more problems the finished parks have. “The process between the architect, designer, and builder can get confusing,” he continues. “Once you get on location, the paper drawings can change in the actual building of structures. Adjustments are always necessary, and skaters have to be on location to prevent mistakes, because only a skater knows how a structure will be ridden.”

Ramptech: (703) 492-2378

About ten years ago Mike Mapp saw a demand for quality ramps and grind rails, and filled it with Ramptech. Having built many ramps around Virginia, Mapp has been involved in the East Coast’s most renowned ramp projects, including the infamous Cedar Crest Country Club ramp of the late 80s.

With the decline in vert skating through the early 90s, Mapp developed cargo-ready ramp kits, and later created Ramptech’s popular molded-plastic kicker ramp. He also developed grind-rail kits that became popular retail and mail-order items.

By the mid 90s, Ramptech was building top-notch custom contest ramps, including several for the Vans Triple Crown series. Lately he’s been engineering portable vert-ramp kits. The “RTV-40″ is his latest¿a strong, stable ramp for use at demos and contests. The company also outfits street courses for events, and short of providing the actual materials, offers ramp plans and consultation on public and private parks.

Big Daddy, Inc.: (714) 893-5621

Big Daddy specializes in sturdy modular ramp kits that are cargo-ready and easily assembled. Big Daddy ramps range from molded-plastic kickers to a ten-foot vert ramp, but its catalog of a dozen or so ramps consists mainly of funboxes and quarterpipes.

Manufactured in Europe and the U.S. with precision CNC (computer numerically controlled) routers, Big Daddy kits are precut and predrilled. “We’ve designed a prefabricated do-it-yourself ramp kit that anybody from a ten-year-old kid up to a senior citizen can assemble with a cordless screw gun,” says Big Daddy Logistics Manager Robbie Matusich. “It’s literally instant gratification. It’s a product that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of building.”

Lately, the company’s been busy supplying communities with skatepark packages, which Matusich sees as a less-expensive alternative to concrete. “We will go out and do installs,” he says. “But we really reiterate to our customers the simplicity of assembling the ramp kits themselves. It benefits communities because it can incorporate volunteers to come out and assemble the ramps, which can save them a phenomenal amount of money on installation.”

The consistency of the CNC manufacturing process, says Ramp Designer Richard Argent, offers several key advantages over custom-built ramps. “While most ramp builders specialize in custom ramps, we offer a standard range of ramps that communities feel a little safer with. They know that if that guy down the road has a quarterpipe, and they were to buy a quarterpipe, they’re going to get the same thing.”

Over time, as weather and use take their toll, the Big Daddy ramps can be repaired by the same nonspecialists who may have set them up. “They communities very much like a maintenance scheme,” says Argent. “Instead of flying out the ramp builder again, we can just send them out the piece of the kit which is broken, and they can get one of their laborers to replace it.”

Since the Big Daddy system was designed to be modular and ammendable, users can start with just a couple basic ramps and add pieces over time to widen halfpipes or modify funboxes. When designing the mini-ramp kits, for example, Argent made the transitions on the four-, five-, and six-foot ramp the same: “You could combine the ramps together so you’ve got a six-foot extension on a five-foot mini, or a five-foot extension on a four-foot mini, or a combination of all of them, and you can vary the flatbottom. The more you look into it, the more the possibilities go berserk.”

Matusich says that, while Big Daddy has been busy with the recent stampede of public and private skatepark projects, the company serves a diverse market, including individual skaters, retail shops, parents, resorts, and event companies.

Future additions to the Big Daddy catalog include a bowl kit, a Southern California rental kit that includes a 24-foot box trailer stuffed with street obstacles, and a lower-priced set of ramps that shops could sell for under 300 dollars. “We’ve been doing a little research and development,” says Matusich. “And this is something where they could make a substantial markup by actually stocking a ramp kit in their stores.”

Bowl Construction AG: 011-41-71-666-76-60
www.bowl.ch

Out of Switzerland comes a product¿or process¿that could easily change the way wooden bowls and ramps are built. In 1997 Ralf “Pogo” Vogt, a skater and ramp builder, hooked up with Erwin Rechsteiner to form Bowl Construction AG. The two saw too many disappointing bowls built at skateparks, and Rechsteiner noted that excessive amounts of tension is placed on plywood sheets when they’re bent into a transition or bowled corner. This causes kinks to develop, and nails and screws literally pull themselves out of their anchoring.

Rechsteiner and Vogt’s idea was to mis and consultation on public and private parks.

Big Daddy, Inc.: (714) 893-5621

Big Daddy specializes in sturdy modular ramp kits that are cargo-ready and easily assembled. Big Daddy ramps range from molded-plastic kickers to a ten-foot vert ramp, but its catalog of a dozen or so ramps consists mainly of funboxes and quarterpipes.

Manufactured in Europe and the U.S. with precision CNC (computer numerically controlled) routers, Big Daddy kits are precut and predrilled. “We’ve designed a prefabricated do-it-yourself ramp kit that anybody from a ten-year-old kid up to a senior citizen can assemble with a cordless screw gun,” says Big Daddy Logistics Manager Robbie Matusich. “It’s literally instant gratification. It’s a product that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of building.”

Lately, the company’s been busy supplying communities with skatepark packages, which Matusich sees as a less-expensive alternative to concrete. “We will go out and do installs,” he says. “But we really reiterate to our customers the simplicity of assembling the ramp kits themselves. It benefits communities because it can incorporate volunteers to come out and assemble the ramps, which can save them a phenomenal amount of money on installation.”

The consistency of the CNC manufacturing process, says Ramp Designer Richard Argent, offers several key advantages over custom-built ramps. “While most ramp builders specialize in custom ramps, we offer a standard range of ramps that communities feel a little safer with. They know that if that guy down the road has a quarterpipe, and they were to buy a quarterpipe, they’re going to get the same thing.”

Over time, as weather and use take their toll, the Big Daddy ramps can be repaired by the same nonspecialists who may have set them up. “They communities very much like a maintenance scheme,” says Argent. “Instead of flying out the ramp builder again, we can just send them out the piece of the kit which is broken, and they can get one of their laborers to replace it.”

Since the Big Daddy system was designed to be modular and ammendable, users can start with just a couple basic ramps and add pieces over time to widen halfpipes or modify funboxes. When designing the mini-ramp kits, for example, Argent made the transitions on the four-, five-, and six-foot ramp the same: “You could combine the ramps together so you’ve got a six-foot extension on a five-foot mini, or a five-foot extension on a four-foot mini, or a combination of all of them, and you can vary the flatbottom. The more you look into it, the more the possibilities go berserk.”

Matusich says that, while Big Daddy has been busy with the recent stampede of public and private skatepark projects, the company serves a diverse market, including individual skaters, retail shops, parents, resorts, and event companies.

Future additions to the Big Daddy catalog include a bowl kit, a Southern California rental kit that includes a 24-foot box trailer stuffed with street obstacles, and a lower-priced set of ramps that shops could sell for under 300 dollars. “We’ve been doing a little research and development,” says Matusich. “And this is something where they could make a substantial markup by actually stocking a ramp kit in their stores.”

Bowl Construction AG: 011-41-71-666-76-60
www.bowl.ch

Out of Switzerland comes a product¿or process¿that could easily change the way wooden bowls and ramps are built. In 1997 Ralf “Pogo” Vogt, a skater and ramp builder, hooked up with Erwin Rechsteiner to form Bowl Construction AG. The two saw too many disappointing bowls built at skateparks, and Rechsteiner noted that excessive amounts of tension is placed on plywood sheets when they’re bent into a transition or bowled corner. This causes kinks to develop, and nails and screws literally pull themselves out of their anchoring.

Rechsteiner and Vogt’s idea was to minimize the tension by laminating wood veneers with the compound curves that form the bowl. To do this, they use furniture-quality beech veneers, and laminate them into one-inch-thick pieces. The resulting sections are strong enough to hold a carving skater between a free span of four feet, reducing the need for an underlying structure. This makes the bowled corners both easier to build, and suitable for portable ramps.

The wood is also fast and quiet. Rechsteiner says that pressing veneer in a cylindrical form (like a transition) is fairly easy, but bending it bi-directionally (like a bowl corner) is no cake walk. They tackled this problem through a proprietary technique, for which they hold a patent.

Using computer-integrated manufacturing methods to produce precisely cut-and-drilled components cuts down on set-up time at the contest or ramp site. Once the prefabricated pieces are assembled, you have a smooth, kink-free, super-fast skate structure.

Rolling On

As televised events increase interest in skateboarding, and with new liability laws diminishing legal problems, skateboard parks will continue to flourish. Advancements in design and materials are also making the process easier and the results better. As concrete continues to be the material of choice for public skateparks, ever more elaborate contest ramps and private skateparks will continue to be the testing grounds for the latest and greatest ramp designs and materials.

o minimize the tension by laminating wood veneers with the compound curves that form the bowl. To do this, they use furniture-quality beech veneers, and laminate them into one-inch-thick pieces. The resulting sections are strong enough to hold a carving skater between a free span of four feet, reducing the need for an underlying structure. This makes the bowled corners both easier to build, and suitable for portable ramps.

The wood is also fast and quiet. Rechsteiner says that pressing veneer in a cylindrical form (like a transition) is fairly easy, but bending it bi-directionally (like a bowl corner) is no cake walk. They tackled this problem through a proprietary technique, for which they hold a patent.

Using computer-integrated manufacturing methods to produce precisely cut-and-drilled components cuts down on set-up time at the contest or ramp site. Once the prefabricated pieces are assembled, you have a smooth, kink-free, super-fast skate structure.

Rolling On

As televised events increase interest in skateboarding, and with new liability laws diminishing legal problems, skateboard parks will continue to flourish. Advancements in design and materials are also making the process easier and the results better. As concrete continues to be the material of choice for public skateparks, ever more elaborate contest ramps and private skateparks will continue to be the testing grounds for the latest and greatest ramp designs and materials.

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