Skateboarding is illegal on campus, but that’s not stopping skateboarders
For decades, skateboarding has been a staple of creative expression for students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Skating in the streets, trying new tricks and finding new spots are essential aspects of the sport.
But, since its inception, skateboarding has been targeted by business owners, police, and government legislation, and the UW scene is no exception. According to the University of Wisconsin Police Department (UWPD), skateboarding on public streets, bike paths, and in business districts is illegal on campus in accordance with Wisconsin State law and UW Administrative Code 18.10(8). Violators face a penalty of $210.50.
Three citations have been issued for skateboarders in 2021, according to the UWPD Annual Report. Since 2017, 13 citations have been issued by the UWPD for offenses related to skateboarding.
Pat Hasburgh, “spokesperson” for the Madison Skatepark Fund – a organization which raises money to build skate parks around Madison – said he noticed the UWPD had fined fewer skaters in recent years. However, he still sees police chasing skaters from popular spots such as Library Mall.
“It’s illegal there and the cops will chase you down,” Hasburgh said. “I haven’t heard of cops writing tickets in quite a while, but it’s just not legal there.”
In 2010, the Madison Police Department launched the Central District Skateboarding Initiative to educate skaters on the legality of skating on public roads, according to a Press release of the city of Madison. This initiative included an “educational phase” where skaters would receive warnings followed by an enforcement phase.
The Central District Skateboarding Initiative has highlighted State Street as a popular spot for skateboarders. According to the initiative, the densely populated area creates a unique combination of foot, bicycle and vehicular traffic, making skateboarding a safety concern.
Geoff Kopski, owner of Freedom Skate Shop on State Street, said the sidewalk and street in front of his store was a favorite spot for local skaters. However, this can pose safety issues for skaters and pedestrians.
“The only thing is finding the right places to skate, places that won’t get in the way of a lot of pedestrians,” Kopski said. “We have this problem with children who want to skate from the store here and have bus, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.”
Despite legal and safety issues, many continue to skate in these areas. State Street and Library Mall remain among the most popular spots for skateboarders on campus.
Danko Rick, a student at UW-Madison and a skateboarder, embodies skate culture in many ways: he can often be found wearing a Misfits sweatshirt, listening to punk music, envying skateboarders who can perform more advanced tricks than him and practicing his own tricks. Danko divides most of his time between work, studies and classes; however, he can often be found skating from class to class and for fun.
Because of this, Rick wants more skaters to approach campus and downtown.
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“I would love to see more people skating there,” Rick said. “You have to be really bold if you want to skate on State Street because it’s the best spot.”
Hasburgh said he saw the Library Mall’s appeal to skaters. Simple facilities like stairs, railings, fountains and other obstacles are attractive places for skaters to try new tricks and show off their skills.
“The Library Mall has been an incredible and iconic skate spot in Madison for years,” Hasburgh said. “Essentially it’s a skate park unto itself.”
Besides the skate-friendly nature of these places, State Street and Library Mall have another factor that makes them attractive spots to skate: they are central spots for meeting up with friends. The area offers a central location between downtown and campus that is easily accessible to students and skaters.
Kopski said dedicated skate locations, like Freedom Skate Shop, provide easy spaces for skaters to hook up before going to find places to skate. Other places, like the Goodman Skatepark, also serve as places to gather, go out and skate.
Goodman Skatepark, built in 2015 through the fundraising efforts of the Madison Skatepark Fund, is located in McPike Park, two miles from the UW-Madison campus. Danko said it can be difficult for students who don’t have access to a car to get to the Goodman Skatepark.
“A lot of these kids don’t have cars,” Rick said. “Some don’t even have a bike. It’s not like you’re going to drive a few miles to get there because you want to skate.
The Madison Skatepark Fund also completed construction of a DIY skatepark at Warner Park near the Maple Bluff neighborhood in November 2021. Hasburgh said the fund plans to begin work on a second DIY skatepark at Elvehjem Park in the far east of Madison this spring.
Despite these recent additions to Madison’s skating community, Goodman Skatepark remains the only downtown Madison skatepark.
“[We] create more avenues for everyone to skate,” said Kopski, who is also involved with the Madison Skatepark Fund. “There are so many tennis courts and baseball diamonds and basketball courts and stuff like that in Madison proper, [but] we have a skate park.
Asked about building a skatepark on campus, Hasburgh said there would be many other challenges. While the Madison Skatepark Fund worked with the city of Madison to build its current skateparks, Hasburgh said working with the university would be a difficult feat.
“The university is basically a city in itself. It’s his own operation, and they have their own property,” Hasburgh said. “So approaching them would be a little daunting, and it seems like even more paperwork, believe it or not, than dealing with the city of Madison.”
Hasburgh remains hopeful that a dedicated skate park can be built on campus. If the university was willing to donate land and help raise funds for its construction, Hasburgh thinks the Madison Skatepark Fund would be more than willing to help their efforts.
“If they wanted to build a skate park, that would be great, and we could definitely help with that,” Hasburgh said. “We would definitely help wherever we could. That’s for sure.”
Until a skatepark is built near the UW-Madison campus, some skaters will continue to head to State Street and Library Mall. These locations provide places for skaters to show off their skills in front of a live audience.
“I remember going down State Street once and there was a guy, right on a really nice little downhill, going pop-shuvit after pop-shuvit,” Rick said. “You need bullets because you do it for all these people. If you can do that, it’s the best feeling in the world.
However, for many skaters, skating in the street or in public may be less than desirable. Beginners can be intimidated performing – or trying to perform – tricks in public. Being watched by many strangers can create unwanted pressure. If a skater gets it wrong, they suddenly have a front-row audience witnessing their mistake.
While safer for pedestrians, cyclists, buses, or other vehicles, a campus skatepark could also create a fun, low-pressure environment for skaters to congregate and practice their moves. For someone like Rick, skateparks provide a place to practice without the risks and potential fines of skating in public.
As summer approaches and the temperature rises, more and more people go out to skate. Some will make the trip to skate parks around Madison, but others will descend on spots like Library Mall and State, hit the streets and make the city their skate park.
“It’s unique. There’s a lot of really cool people coming out of sports, and that’s just a big passion for me,” Rick said.
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