All A Board

Are skateboarding, roller blading, mountain boarding and other wheelcentric sports fad or fixture? The answer appears to be “fixture” as what was initially a trend is now entrenched in a steady growth curve that shows no signs of abating.

Related Article: Sources & Resources

What the popularity of wheeled and “extreme” sports means to camps varies. However, there are some consistent threads throughout — safety, staffing and programming.

Wheel Safe

From a safety standpoint, the sports can be “extreme”, but they can also be regulated so that the extremities fluctuate up and down the scale, depending on what your program and campers dictate.

“Like any good camp activity, the higher the risk the more you manage it,” says Tom McGrath, director of Camp Conrad Weiser, South Mountain YMCA, Wernersville, Pa., who runs a mountain board program at the camp. “For example, area selection is important — making sure the area’s free of obstructions, that it’s not too high and that it doesn’t run into trees. Also, that it’s properly staffed, that they’re wearing appropriate safety equipment, and that the kids aren’t going outside the policy and mountain boarding outside the camp. It’s managing the risks and identifying in advance some of the things that can go wrong.”

So, regardless of the activity, setting parameters mitigates risk. In fact, the camps interviewed for this article reported that their insurance companies supported the new programming and thus far no injuries beyond a scraped knee or arm have been reported.

Though tabbed as “extreme” and accompanied by images of the sports equivalent of desperadoes hurtling down rocky slopes or flying and flipping 30 feet in the air off a ramp, the reality is and can be very different.

“We decided to go with BMX bike helmets so that their entire head, including their chins, are protected when they skate,” says David Miskit, director of Camps Kenmont and Kenwood, Kent, Conn.

Miskit and his wife, Sharon, are in their second summer of skatepark programming. The skatepark is about 60′ x 80′ with three- and five-foot half pipes, quarter pipes, spines, a combination rail and a more traditional rail.

Miskit says that they send in groups of 20 at a time and divide the kids up by experience and skill levels. The camp programs for both skateboarding and in-line blading at the park and Miskit reports that it’s been very popular and successful.

There was some concern that the kids would balk at wearing helmets and pads, particularly the bulkier BMX helmets. But that concern was never realized, nor does it appear to be a problem at other camps with similar programs, even at camps that specialize in it.

“You simply set the rules and people respond. A lot of the chitchat around the campfire for quite a few years was, ‘The people won’t come to camp because we have all these rules and regulations,’ but it hasn’t hurt the business at all. You just do it,” says Kim Larecy, a director at Windells Camps at Mt. Hood, Ore.

Windells offers snowboarding, skateboarding and BMX riding at its camp through such diverse programs as adult lessons, Olympic-style training for serious athletes and overnight camps that concentrate on the board and riding sports while offering a traditional mix.

“We’ve been doing it for a long time and were able to progress with the sport. So when we said, with snowboarding, ‘Sorry you have to have a helmet on,’ it wasn’t a problem,” says Larecy. “When you’re dealing with professional riders and people the kids respect, the kids are modeling their behavior. The people are so into so they really don’t care.”

Safety equipment cannot be compromised, so camps find that combining a consistent and unwavering policy with a message that’s communicated by management and staff in a positive light — as opposed to, “Yeah… We have to wear pads. Sorry.” — is effective.

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