Skatin’ in San Diego: Turning your passion into a career

July 2, 2015 Kanten Russell

How a lifelong passion for sport became a professional career in design


Have you ever worked on a project that kinda tells your life story? That’s what I felt when we finished the Encinitas Skatepark in Southern California. How? Let me explain a little about being a young skater-turned-pro skater who then became a designer … all in my hometown.

Growing Up San Diego
Growing up in San Diego I was exposed to a lot of things that you only see in Southern California’s beach culture-driven scene. After playing traditional team sports when I was younger, I discovered skateboarding with the help of my best friend who was deep into the surf and skate culture. I soon realized skating was a unique outlet for creativity and individual expression … something that I had never experienced before. For me, pushing the limits of physics and defying gravity became a way of life.

Skating also kept us safe. We were so focused on pushing each other to learn new things on the neighborhood’s street terrain that we didn’t have time to discover drugs the way some kids unfortunately did. With the exception of a few trespassing tickets issued for skating in prohibited areas, we remained unscathed, healthy, and driven. Before I knew it, my passion for riding a skateboard became a 12-year professional career.

Weighing the Pro
Traveling the world as a professional athlete was a great opportunity to skate and try the new street spots and skate parks that were popping up throughout Asia and Europe. We were able to experience different architecture and old world materials like brick banks, granite ledges, marble ledges, and wide-open, inviting urban plazas that featured integrated spaces. In San Diego, we had no skate parks and I built my career largely skating street spots illegally and getting chased away by the police. Considering the large local skate scene that grew in San Diego, it was very frustrating we had no natural street terrain to legally ride with all the trick elements for jumping and grinding. There was a void to be filled for the sport here, and that never left my mind.

Bringing, Building a Lifetime Back Home
After transitioning years later from being an expert on the board to an expert skatepark designer, I got the chance to design my childhood dream for San Diego. Ideally, we wanted a new space in Encinitas (a smaller town in greater San Diego) that featured all of our favorite skate spots over the years into one skatepark. We wanted a place so authentic that you felt like you’re not in a skate park, but a public plaza that we experienced overseas. It’s the type of place where your friends want to hang out all day and enjoy the environment in and outside of the traditional skate areas. You’re not going to get in trouble for skating “outside designated areas” because the whole plaza is for skating.

When we began community design workshops to gather input from the local skaters, it was clear they wanted the same thing. Using feedback and experience, the finished product included a classic clover-shaped amoeba bowl. By having the opportunity to ride different kinds of terrain like an urban plaza and a backyard style pool in the same facility, it allows a skateboarder to grow and be adaptive to different riding styles. We also celebrated the look and feel of Encinitas by using colors you see in downtown and near the artsy beach areas. The geometry of the paving patterns were more artistic, like the sun burst design at the northeast entry to mirror local designs. The local skaters also wanted the skate park to look unique, edgy, and unpredictable with elevation changes and features jutting up into the air like the big six foot tall red hipped bank (you can see me do a trick here on the video included here).

With the collaborative efforts of our entire design team helmed by Mike McIntyre, we were able to create something that really harnessed the feel of Encinitas.

Nothing measures success of a skatepark more than seeing it well used and enjoyed by the community. In the case of Encinitas, the results are in … the plaza is packed everyday. Interested? Take a look at the video we created to help tell the story.


About the Author

Kanten Russell

A long-time fixture in the professional skateboarding world, Kanten Russell is a lead designer for our Action Sports Group. Growing up in Southern California—the birthplace of skateboarding—Kanten quickly became a leading figure in the region’s skateboarding scene and was a professional skateboarder for 12 years.

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