For decades, skateboarding has been an iconic staple of creative expression for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. Skating the streets, trying new tricks and finding new spots are critical aspects of the sport.
But, since its creation, skateboarding has been targeted by business owners, the police and government legislation, and UW’s 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 per a Wisconsin State Statute and UW Administrative Code 18.10(8). Those in violation are subject to a penalty of $210.50.
Three citations were issued for skateboarders in 2021, according to the UWPD's annual report. Since 2017, 13 citations were issued by UWPD for skateboarding-related offenses.
Pat Hasburgh, “spokesdude” for the Madison Skatepark Fund — an organization that raises money to build skateparks around Madison — said he noticed that UWPD has issued fewer fines for skateboarders in recent years. However, he still sees police officers shooing away skaters from popular spots such as Library Mall.
“It's illegal there and the cops will chase you away,” Hasburgh said. “I haven't heard about cops writing tickets in quite a while, but it's just not legal down there."
In 2010, the Madison Police Department started the Central District Skateboarding Initiative to educate skaters on the legality of skating in public roadways, according to a press release from 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 highlighted State Street as a popular spot for skaters. According to the initiative, the densely populated area creates a unique combination of pedestrian, bike and vehicle traffic which makes skateboarding a safety concern.
Geoff Kopski, owner of Freedom Skate Shop on State Street, said the sidewalk and street in front of his shop is a favorite spot for local skaters. Although, it can pose safety concerns for both skaters and pedestrians.
“The one thing is having to find the right places to skate, places that are not going to be in the way of a lot of pedestrians,” Kopski said. “We run into that problem with kids wanting to skate out from the shop here and having bus traffic, bike traffic and foot traffic.”
Despite legal and safety concerns, many continue to skate in these areas. State Street and Library Mall remain as some of the most popular spots for campus skateboarders.
Danko Rick, a student at UW-Madison and skateboarder, embodies skate culture in many ways: he can often be found wearing a Misfits sweatshirt, listening to punk music, envying skaters who can perform more advanced tricks than himself and practicing his own tricks. Danko splits most of his time between working, studying and attending classes; however, he can often be found skating class-to-class and for fun.
Because of this, Rick wishes that more skaters would come near campus and downtown.
“I wish I saw more people skating there,” Rick said. “You’ve got to be really bold if you want to skate down State Street because it's the premier spot.”
Hasburgh stated that he saw the appeal of Library Mall for skaters. Simple fixtures like stairways, railings, fountains and other obstacles are attractive spots for skaters to try new tricks and show off their skills.
“Library Mall for years has been an incredible and iconic skate spot in Madison,” Hasburgh said. “Essentially, it's a skate park in and of itself.”
Besides the easily skateable nature of these locations, State Street and Library Mall have another factor that makes them attractive spots to skate: they’re central spots to meet up with friends. The area provides a central location between downtown and campus that is easily accessible to students and skaters alike.
Kopski said that locations dedicated to skating, like Freedom Skate Shop, provide easy spaces for skaters to connect before going to find spots to skate. Other locations, like Goodman Skatepark, double as spots to gather, hang out and skate.
Goodman Skatepark, built in 2015 through fundraising efforts by the Madison Skatepark Fund, is located at McPike Park — two miles away from the UW-Madison campus. Danko said it can be difficult for students who don’t have access to a car to travel to Goodman Skatepark.
“A lot of these kids don't have cars,” Rick said. “Some don't even have bikes. It's not like you're gonna go a couple miles to get to because you want to skate.”
The Madison Skatepark Fund also finished building 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 Madison’s far-east side this spring.
Despite these recent additions to the Madison skating community, Goodman Skatepark remains the only skatepark in downtown Madison.
“[We] are creating more avenues for everyone to skate,” said Kopski, who is also involved with the Madison Skatepark Fund. “There's so many tennis courts and baseball diamonds and basketball courts and stuff like that in Madison proper, [but] we have one skatepark.”
When asked about building a skatepark on campus, Hasburgh said many more difficulties would arise. 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 unto itself. It's its own operation, and they have their own property,” Hasburgh said. “So to approach them would be kind of daunting, and it seems like even more red tape, believe it or not, than dealing with the city of Madison.”
Hasburgh remains hopeful that a dedicated skatepark could be built on campus. If the university was willing to donate land and contribute to the fundraising for its construction, Hasburgh believes that the Madison Skatepark Fund would be more than willing to aid their efforts.
“If they wanted to build a skate park, that'd 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 spots for skaters to show off their skills in front of a live audience.
“I remember walking down State Street once and there was a guy, just on a really nice small downhill, doing pop-shuvit after pop-shuvit,” Rick said. “It takes balls because you're doing it for all these people. If you can pull it off, it's the best feeling in the world.”
However, for many skaters, skating in the street or in public can be less than desirable. Beginners can be intimidated by performing — or trying to perform — tricks in public. Being watched by many strangers can create unwanted pressure. If a skater messes up, they suddenly have a front-row audience witnessing their mistake.
While safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, buses or other vehicles, a campus skatepark could also create a fun, low-pressure environment for skaters to congregate at and practice their moves. For someone like Rick, skateparks offer a location to practice without the risks, and potential fines, involved with skating in public.
As summertime approaches and the temperature climbs, more people are heading outside to skate. Some will make the trek to the skateparks around Madison, but the rest will descend upon spots like Library Mall and State, heading out into the streets and making the city their skatepark.
“It's unique. There's a lot of really cool people that came from the sport, and it's just a big passion of mine,” Rick said.