Let's go to the Park!

This May, ESPN announced its plan to eliminate women's vert skateboarding from the X Games event lineup. This left the women of skate with just one official discipline, Skateboard Street, at the industry's annual mega event.

Since women's skateboarding at the X Games began in 2003, a number of additions, subtractions and general evolutions have transpired. Jam formats have changed, demos and exhibitions have been staged, the gender prize-purse discrepancy has been torn down and the features beefed up.

Spectators at Summer X 2011 will find four main skateboard elements -- the street course (men and women), Big Air (an 80-foot drop-in over a gap and into the 27-foot quarterpipe), Vert (halfpipe competition) and the park course (transition-based concrete-and-wood hybrid playground).

While an argument over accessibility, ease of entry and general interest in women's Vert continues to be a burning topic among female skateboarders, I can't help but believe the question that should be falling off more lips (and hips and pools) is: Why not women's Park?

At present, there are approximately 3,000 skateparks nationwide, with more concrete poured and set every day. Accessibility on the rise means there is a wellspring of talented railrats proliferating at a cement site near you.

Letting the women loose in the park is hardly a novel ideal. In fact, if you were to dust off the official news release from X Games 4, the first-ever women's gold medal was presented in Skateboard Park to Vanessa Torres. Most of us remember it as "street," and the contest name eventually went forward as such, but the fact remains. The street skaters we know and love have been skating park forever.

… And so have the women of vert.

In second place in that "park" competition way back on Aug. 15, 2003, was Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, perennial X Games Vert victor with three gold medals, three silvers and a bronze to her credit from 2003 to 2010.

Said Torres of Vert's exit from the X Games this year, "It's not affecting me or the street girls, but those [vert] girls are my friends and I know it's a pretty serious letdown for them. What are they gonna do now, ya know? X Games is a huge event, the girls look forward to coming and skating X, the vert ramp here is really amazing, and it's good money. I know they're disappointed."

When asked whether Park might be a formidable replacement, Torres said, "I really hope so. I mean, I love skating that stuff. A lot of the girls that skate street love skating the park. If they had a park contest at X, would I be out there? Of course.

"The street girls would all be in, and the vert girls could enter, too."

With the X Games and Dew Tour cutting women's vert contests, the participation and relevance of women in the halfpipe is on the skids.

Four-time X Games gold medalist street skater Elissa Steamer spoke with espnW in a telephone interview: "I never got into vert, but I feel bad for the girls that skate it; obviously, they don't have a contest now."

When asked about her interest in a women's park comp at X, Steamer said, "They should have a women's park contest, for sure. As a matter of fact, I would absolutely be into that. And I know Marisa [Dal Santo] would show. I bet all the street girls would show. That's gotta happen. Maybe that's where it is going. … They're already gonna have the park set up, so they should just let us in there."

With interest from the pros already in place and a groundswell of new talent being baptized in the name of concrete every day, I pose this question to the women of skate who, like a pack of raring Jack Russell terriers, have perked their ears and tipped their heads in unison as the obvious inquiry echoes:

"Hey ladies, do you want to go to the park?"

Mary Buckheit is a freelance journalist based in San Diego. She can be reached at MaryBuckheit@hotmail.com.

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