An Interview with Joe Ciaglia the founder of CA Skateparks

If you don't know Joe by name, you're bound to recognise his skatepark designs

We recently caught up with CA Skateparks founder and CEO Joe Ciaglia. Whilst you may not be familiar with Joe himself, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen one of his companies skatepark designs, either in real life, or at Street League and the Vans Park Series. We spoke to Joe about his beginnings in skatepark design, what in his mind makes a good skatepark, design no-gos, whether we’re near over saturation and much more besides.

Interview: Jan Kliewer | Images: CA Skateparks

Taking it from the start, when you picked up your first board where would you go skate? What was the first park you skated and what did your dream spot look like then?

When I first picked up a board there weren’t really any skate parks to go to, I was a much more casual skateboarder so I wasn’t really seeking out parks. My dream spot in those days would have just been nice smooth surfaces, mellow hills, or just good curb cuts and little natural bumps and rollers.

What was the first ever skate obstacle you designed and built?

Well, the first skatepark we designed and built was for the City of Fontana and one of the key features of the park was the bowl we built. At the time cities only allowed for bowls to be four-feet deep, I flew some guys from the city up to Oregon to show them that bowls could and should be deeper and were still safe to skate. Not only did we convince them to allow us to build deeper bowls for that project, but we also integrated a shade structure and landscaping to the skate park, showing that skate parks can be aesthetically pleasing and resources for the entire community. The Fontana Skate Park won the CPRS 2002 Award of Excellence.

“We get to have the best skaters in the world testing the terrain out. This is a great way to push the boundaries and see what works the best.”

How did CA Skateparks happen? What was your mindset and motivation starting out? Has anything changed over the years?

I was designing and building custom residential projects which included hardscape, landscaping and swimming pools. I was drawn to the precision and sculptural forms of skateparks, and the Fontana Skate Park opened the door for CA Landscape and Design to branch off and form CA Skateparks. My mindset has always been precision and attention to detail, the motivation is second nature. I have always had an inherent drive to be the best at whatever I am doing, so that drive and obsession with detail hasn’t changed. But, as a whole, the definition of what a skatepark can be has changed. One thing that I am particularly proud of, that hasn’t changed a lot, is my key personnel. I have several people that have been with me 15-20 years, it’s a family. We all have learned to adapt and grow driven by innovation and quality. We learn something new with each project, and continue to evolve so that we can build on that wisdom and continue to get better at what we do.

You guys are shaping the face of skateboarding with your parks. What’s the hardest part about making a good skate park design?

I would say that the hardest part about making a good skatepark design is striking a balance between common, practical elements that are necessary for progression and unique, different obstacles. A park that is overly concerned with having equal opportunities for frontside and backside for every feature or for every ability level can end up being kind of stale, but a park that has all unique and wild elements and doesn’t consider all ability levels can end up not having as much ‘replay’ value, or can make it hard to progress. We make sure that every park that we do is different from the last one. They each have to have their own identity that is unique to the place where it is built, which can be challenging, but it is also what keeps it interesting.

Fontana Skatepark

How do you go about taking dreams and making them reality now? Where do you take your inspiration from? In skating as well as in terrain.

One distinct advantage that we have is that we build a lot of temporary parks for contests like Street League, X Games and Vans Park Series. We get to have the best skaters in the world testing the terrain out, this is a great way to push the boundaries and see what works the best. Another thing that is always there to draw inspiration from is just the ridiculous amount of skateboard footage that is produced on a daily basis. Skateboarding is constantly changing and evolving and if you are tuned into it there is always something new to see or some new direction that it is being taken. We also have a team with varied backgrounds in architecture, landscape design, engineering, art, and so on. It helps to draw from all the different disciplines in order to come up with new creative ideas or different construction methods. That’s what it’s all about for us, nothing is more fun than being a part of the evolution of skateboarding, and doing what we can to help push it forward.

Which is your favorite CA Skatepark? Do you have any other companies’ parks that you wished you designed? If so, which one?

So many skate parks are special to me for different reasons. I love the Vans ‘Off the Wall’ Skatepark in Huntington Beach because my friend Steve Van Doren and Vans do so many great things for skateboarding. It’s also in an awesome location and was just a lot of fun to do. I also loved doing the Lake Havasu Skatepark with the Street League Foundation. That park is a memorial to a fallen soldier, Patrick Tinnell, and we did a really cool custom sculptural feature in his honor. It was largely community funded and sits right on the edge of the lake. You just can’t beat that. It’s not always the biggest and the baddest that are the best though. We recently designed and built a project in Vail, Colorado that was sandwiched between two parking garages, a space only 7.5 meters wide but more than 100 meters long. It was definitely a creative challenge dealing with the parking garage footings, air flow restrictions, site access, etc., but the end result took advantage of all these constraints and is a great example of making really good use out of an otherwise useless space.

“We are adamant about delivering parks with the highest level of craftsmanship possible – the best built parks in the world”

What type of skating gets you hyped? Which styles? What do you try to cater to with your designs?

I really like that the trend in skateboarding right now seems to be to skate everything, and there is a lot of crossover between old and new. It just seems like in general skateboarding is more open-minded then ever right now. The next generation of skaters has definitely arrived as well. I think there are going to be a lot of new household names in the next year or two for street, as well as transition. What we cater for with the designs to depends wholly on who we are designing it for. If it’s one of the contests we will cater specifically to the riders that are going to skate it, but if it’s a public park we will go and visit the place and listen to the people there and survey them to get a feel for what the skateboarders who will be using the park want.

What would you say a distinguishing characteristic of a CA Skatepark design is?

I would say that what distinguishes our designs is thoughtfulness, and I don’t mean like holding the door open for someone. What I mean by that is that we take very careful consideration of everything that we do – the height of every ledge, the approach to every rail, where we put each and every saw cut, the type of metal protection, cantilevers, coping reveals, transitional blends, concrete blends, coloring and aesthetics, and even all the way down to how we control where water has to flow. All of this is done with thoughtful consideration because we know that all of these little details add up and contribute to how well a park skates.  And quality, we are adamant about delivering parks with the highest level of craftsmanship possible – the best built parks in the world. Sometimes that costs us, but it’s more important to me that it helps raise the bar for skateparks and skating.

Vans “Off the Wall” Skate Park in Huntington Beach

Is there anything in particular, any obstacle that’s mandatory for your designs? On the other hand is there a no-go for skatepark design?

We definitely have a responsibility when it comes to the design, to make sure that there are stepping stones for progression, like a simple flat bar, ledge or basic transition elements, but I wouldn’t say that anything is truly mandatory because it all depends on the context. Actually, I take that back, we do have one mandatory rule for designs, and that is that no two can be exactly the same. Every park has to have its own identity and variety is absolutely key.  There are however, certain things that are no-go’s for skatepark design – blind spots, widths between things, amount of run up/run out, etc. but even these things are always open for debate if there is a good enough reason.

“If we can create spaces that inspire and stimulate skater’s creativity, and they can push skateboarding because of what we are creating, then we are doing our job right.”

You must have been getting the same question since starting Street League, but with the Olympics around the corner where do you see skateboarding as a sport going? What’s in store for skateparks and skatepark design?

I would echo what Tony Hawk had to say on the matter, which was that “They (the Olympics) need our credibility and they need our excitement level in their Summer Games”. I don’t really see the Olympics changing skateboarding, I think it is more likely that skateboarding changes the Olympics. As far as just skateparks and design are concerned, it is a very exciting prospect and something that we would love to help shape and be a part of.

What is your answer to people insisting on keeping skateboarding’s “core” values or fearing the artistic aspect of skateboarding being lost?

I think what they probably fear being lost is the authenticity, and I totally understand that. I think a lot of it is up to the skaters and being educated on what they are supporting. I don’t think it’s that different from picking what you eat, if it’s important to you to know where your food comes from then you buy accordingly. If you want skateboarding to maintain its core values, then support the brands and pros that represent that.

What do you think the main challenges with the Olympics are going to be? How can we pull it off so as not to feel alienated with skateboarding being a part of the mother of all major sporting events?

I think in order for skateboarding to be successful in the Olympics they will have to listen to the skateboard community and put it in the hands of the skaters to make sure it is governed by  skateboarders, judged by skaters, and designed and built by dedicated skatepark builders.

The man himself.

What’s your long-term goal with park building? Do you think there’s ever going to be a point of saturation?

Skateboarding is evolving and changing all the time and the possibilities are limitless. Every site offers a new challenge and every skatepark is different from the last one. That’s what keeps it fresh and interesting. I think the sky is the limit and it’s not even close to the point of saturation.

Where do you wish to take skateboarding with CA Skateparks and skatepark design?

I think in general skateboarding has a mind of its own, we can’t really predict where it is going to go, but what we want to do is allow for the creativity to flourish and to facilitate the progression of skateboarding. If we can create spaces that inspire and stimulate skater’s creativity, and they can push skateboarding because of what we are creating, then we are doing our job right.


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