19 March 2024

It's taken 13 years, but a new 'vert ramp' is coming to Canberra's biggest skate park. Is it enough?

| James Coleman
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woman doing a skate trick

Katie Pike at the Belco Bowl. Photo: Trew Photography.

‘Vert’ is the art of building up enough momentum on a skateboard or BMX bike to ride up a vertical slope, perform a flip or spin in the air, and land back on the ramp, wheels first. Preferably.

Canberra’s Katie Pike is a ‘vert expert’.

The 18-year-old moved from Scotland with her parents several years ago, and between when she received her first skateboard for her 14th birthday and today, she has already represented her country in qualifier events in Dubai and Rome for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

She might not have been successful, but her drive to improve remains undaunted.

woman holding a skateboard

Katie Pike has to travel interstate to practice her ‘vert’ moves. Photo: Aaron Hilborn.

“Most weekends, I have to drive up to Sydney to practice, as well as the occasional flight to the Gold Coast,” she says.

The problem is Canberra’s one and only vert ramp is located at the Tuggeranong skate park and Ms Pike says it’s “outdated and full of holes”.

But help is on the way because about 13 years after the plans were first floated, the prefabricated support pieces are being laid and the concrete poured on a new vert ramp at the Belconnen Skate Park.

“It’s going to help me save a lot of money,” Ms Pike says.

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The competition-standard ramp (or ‘half-pipe’) is funded by the ACT and Australian governments under the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program.

Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Sport and Recreation Yvette Berry said it answers calls for improvements to local skate parks by Canberra’s “very strong” skate culture.

“The half-pipe will take it to another level and extend its appeal as a destination right here in Canberra,” Ms Berry says.

“I’m totally stoked the ramp is on its way and can’t wait to see all the air and gnarly moves.”

render of the Belconnen Skate Park

A render of the new vert ramp at the Belconnen Skate Park. Image: ACT Government.

Constructed in the early 1990s, the Belconnen Skate Park is regarded as Australia’s top skate facility.

Its keynote feature, the ‘Belco Bowl,’ hosts the country’s longest-running skateboard event, the ‘Belco Bowl Jam,’ established in 2001.

Canberra Skateboarding Association (CSA) vice-president Brenden Wood says the nation’s finest skateboarders, lured by cash prizes and social media glory, descend on Canberra over a weekend in February to perform daring moves. The last event attracted close to 1000 people.

“It’s not rigorously structured like other skateboarding contests,” he says.

“It’s more focused on fun and getting everybody together and having a good time. It’s why we call it the ‘jam’.”

In 2011, the ACT Government and Manteena redeveloped the site, making it the biggest skate park in the Southern Hemisphere at the time.

New additions obstacles, mini ramps, shelters, seating, new lighting and viewing areas, but these came at a cost to the original vert ramp.

“There were plans in the original design for a new vert ramp, but these didn’t eventuate in the final build for a variety of reasons,” Mr Wood explains.

He suspects it might have been “logistically a little bit more difficult than they’d anticipated” because of an easement running underneath the proposed location.

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The new ramp is among a raft of suburban infrastructure upgrades in what the ACT Government describes as its “biggest ever program”. Other items on the agenda include shops, playgrounds and “other community facilities” like dog parks.

The government is also close to releasing its report on a committee inquiry into the accessibility of skateboarding and skateparks.

Tuggeranong Skate Park

Tuggeranong Skate Park has continuously been flagged as needing upgrades and repairs. Photo: Canberra Skateboarding Association, Facebook.

While Ms Pike and the rest of the skateboarding community are “super-stoked” to have the ramp return bigger and better, Mr Wood hopes the report outlines plans for the government to go further.

“We would love to see some of Canberra’s old skate parks upgraded.”

He notes the Tuggeranong Skate Park is 27 years old and “almost at the point it’s not useable anymore” and says the CSA has been “pushing hard” for upgrades to the facilities in Gungahlin and Weston Creek with no luck.

“Canberra’s been growing, and the popularity of skateboarders has been growing because of events like the Belco Bowl Jam, but we haven’t had any new skate parks since 2011.”

The new vert ramp is expected to open to the public in the second half of 2024.

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