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California Skateparks' Snake Run

A return to skateboarding's roots through innovative design and construction at Camp Woodward

by Graham Hiemstra in Design on 19 June 2012

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Designed to mimic the sloping school yards and dried concrete waterways of Southern Califorinia, where skateboarding's roots reach deepest, the snake run is the most fundamental form of all skatepark designs. While most snake runs are characterized by a long narrow path—or ditch—flanked by banks and berms to channel the rider through without pushing, the freshly poured concrete at Pennsylvania's legendary camp Woodward resembles something significantly gnarlier. Designed and constructed by California Skateparks, arguably the world's best skatepark builders, Woodward's snake run stretches over 1,000 feet punctuated with head high jumps and quaterpipes.

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Since welcoming BMX riders in 1980, Woodward has become the most recognizable name in action sports facilities. While the camp has always been about innovation, the construction of the 20,050-square-foot Target Plaza by California Skateparks in 2009 marked the end of an era dominated by wooden ramps, proving a dedication to staying ahead of the curve in terms of concrete skateboard and BMX park design. Now, with the completion of phase two of the snake run, Woodward is returning to skateboarding's roots while still keeping an eye on progression.

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In terms of design, California Skateparks builder, former professional BMX rider and 22-year Woodward veteran Ron Kimler explained "there was never a drawing for anything." The design and building processes seem to happen simultaneously. Only the base and quarter-pipes require rebar and wooden support forms, the rest are simply sculpted by hand. "All the mounds and berms are piled up dirt. You shape it, then throw the gravel base on, then go around and shape it up with rakes and shovels," says Kimler. The construction then culminates with the pouring of concrete and the hand shaping of every angle, a primitive process which gives the experienced riders and builders the vital, final touch.

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Rather than stick to the idea of building a glorified golf cart path, Kimler and rest of the California Skateparks crew encouraged something better, and as the dirt was piled and concrete poured it grew. "They'd say make it two feet tall, and I'd make it three feet tall," says Kimler, laughing. This playful attitude helped the more-than-1,000-foot path develop into a destination for campers on both boards and bikes. To make it more appealing for users of all abilities Kimler and the crew built the lower portion at a mellower pitch, allowing it to be ridden in both directions. "I can just cruise through here, get most the way and turn around, take one pedal and come back," says Kimler. "You can ride most of the whole section back and forth, no sweat, just cruising through the rollers."

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By building the snake run in phases, California Skateparks is able to adjust their designs on the fly, adding or removing features at will. Even with all the pieces connected after more than 10,000 man hours, Kimler still sees the project as a work in progress. "Next year we can continue to add," he says. "Maybe we need pocket here, lip there, berm here—it'll get created, whatever's awesome."

For now the snake run stands as is for the many months of campers to come, but keep an eye on Woodward online for updates on future iterations. For a closer look at the construction and completion of Woodward's snake run see the slideshow.

Images by Graham Hiemstra

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