A few dozen teenagers gather every afternoon at the new skate park in Herzliya, a large and sophisticated facility containing a series of special paths and a skating arena. It has been attracting skaters ever since it was launched six weeks ago, and its proximity to the train station makes it accessible to skaters from outside Herzliya as well. The park provides a venue to experiment and practice and, no less important, take part in a subculture with its own distinct dress, music and appearance.
The combination of tattooed young men alongside small children taking their first skating steps is remarkable and even touching. All skaters wear helmets (a rule enforced by a guard at the entrance ) and show great respect for one another.
The new skate park, stretching over three dunams, was planned by the Zur Wolf landscape architecture firm. It comprises the southernmost link of Herzliya's Sportek, designed by the same firm a decade ago. It is located south of the Air Force House and constitutes what Lior Wolf calls a festive finale to the pedestrian road inside the park. The skate park is connected to the city on its eastern side by bicycle paths and a smooth cement walkway several dozen meters long that serves as a kind of preview of the activities inside.
The Zur Wolf office is the current incarnation of the renowned landscape architecture firm of Israel Prize laureates Dan Zur and Lippa Yahalom, which was established in the 1950s. Yahalom died in 2006, and his place in the company was taken by Lior Wolf.
Over the years the firm designed many of Israel's national landscapes, such as Jerusalem's Sacher Park, Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, and Gan Hashlosha (also known as the Sahna ) near Beit Shean.
The skate park was an especially interesting challenge because it offered an opportunity to work with design and sculpture of the ground surface on the one hand, and urban proportions on the other. "To me this is a project no less important than any other landscape," Wolf says.
Avi Lozia, an internationally known skateboarder, served as consultant in planning the skate paths to make them suitable for skaters of all ages and levels.
Construction workers on skateboards
In the first stage, the ground surface was worked into planned topographical shapes. Then iron netting was put in place at the bottom of artificial hills and valleys. A team of American construction workers from the Grindline Company, all of them skateboarders, supervised the casting and polished the cement on the skating ramps by hand. Every few hours they got on their skateboards to check the results up close. Their work method insures completely smooth skating surfaces without seams or protrusions - an important element in the creation of safe skate paths.
The park has a series of cement pools connected to each other by smooth surfaces in various shapes, including a cradle and a snake run, which looks like a twisting snake. Alongside the skate surfaces are steps with reinforced sides for practicing additional maneuvers. There are shady sitting areas around the pathway for observers, including parents who've come to watch their children.
The bleachers allow for competitions and other events. On opening night, for example, 500 skaters took part in a large show. "The planning took into account every kind of user," Wolf says. "The skater, blader (rollerblade skater ), observers or just anyone who happens to be in the park and becomes curious."
The skate park raises an interesting question connected to the culture of skating and its close ties to marginal cultures and urban landscapes. The first skaters, who appeared in the late 1960s in California, were in effect frustrated ocean surfers who grew tired of waiting for days with good waves. In the '70s and '80s the sport developed and, after a small downturn, it picked up momentum again in the mid-nineties.
Long before the advent of skate parks, skaters used cities as the ultimate skating arenas, and searched for interesting corners and challenging spaces in order to demonstrate their prowess. They developed their own characteristic dress and close ties to the culture of punk and graffiti.
The existence of a skate park contains an inherent paradox. On the one hand, it expresses skateboarding's transition to professionalism and, on the other hand, reflects the removal of skaters from their home ground and from the immediacy of culture in the city center.
The skate park in Herzliya is located in a place that is as much the antithesis of "alternative" as one can imagine. It is surrounded by Air Force House, a mall and well-groomed playing fields. It is hard to imagine that an alternative culture can develop in such a place.
One of the city's goals was to distance the skaters from the center in order "to prevent vandalism by skaters in the streets, entertainment areas and stairways," says Wolf. The question is whether such a protected and safe place, manned by guards and devoid of graffiti, will manage to preserve this unique culture as well.
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