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Happy Birthday Burnside! Portland’s Savage Skate Park Turns 18

Halloween Marks 18 Years of Savage Skating Under Portland’s Most Notorious Bridge.

burnside skatepark

The Burnside Skate Park in Portland, Oregon celebrated its 18th birthday this evening in what was for me the most impressive Halloween party I’ll attend all weekend. Despite having been sunny and warm the last several days (a rarity for Portland in October), forecasters had pretty much guaranteed a precipitous and chilly Halloween. And sure enough, when I woke up this morning, it was to the sound of cold rain falling on wet concrete. By around 2 o’clock though, the clouds had split and rays of sunlight shone down in glory upon the streets of Portland. So, I grabbed my skate and caught the 75 down to Burnside.

The history of the Burnside Skate Park is pretty much legendary at this point. Back in 1990, a core group of skaters began cleaning up the destitute street under the east side of the bridge. They built a few concrete transitions into the massive walls and filled the forms with the filth and trash that was previously the only thing down there. These initial efforts were undertaken without any kind of city approval, driven instead by the visions of highly motivated and autonomous local skaters. And so it goes, from its conception, the park has represented the epitome of skater proactivity. Built, maintained, and governed by the skaters themselves, Burnside has grown into one of the most renown, gnarly, and awe-inspiring skate parks in the world. It has come to serve not just as a Portland city landmark and testament as to what skateboarding is capable of offering a community willing to embrace its cause, but as an international skate mecca attracting the stoked from all four corners.

Whether you are a participant or a spectator, any given session at Burnside has the potential to be life-changing. Last year I showed up early one Saturday and was happy to have the place pretty much to myself. Within an hour, however, I was ecstatic to realize I was skating amongst some of the most outrageous talent I had ever witnessed. I’m not going to drop names or anything, but to say that I was humbled by the level of skill being displayed that day would be a gross understatement. To say that I was stoked would be likewise. With my heart beating a million miles an hour, I went on to have one of my most memorable Burnside sessions ever, totally consumed by the aura of the park and its personalities. Not all Burnside sessions are so kind however, and there’s good reason the park is often dubbed gnarly, as well as intimidating. Everything is huge here! The transitions are almost all vertical and no matter what line you choose to run, you can find yourself flying around pockets and up walls that will have you thinking you’re defying the laws of physics. That’s what’s so scary. The physical laws are VERY real at Burnside; her concrete mountains and valleys exerting a gravitational force all their own, especially on the weary and uncommitted skater. If the hardened, Pabst drinking, rip harder than you, Burnside-4-Life locals don’t intimidate you, then the prospect of getting your trucks hung up on the coping in the lower pool will. Did I mention the concrete?

All intimidation and ruthlessness aside, this year’s Halloween at Burnside was a site to behold. A few additions to the park were unveiled including a new quarter pipe/bank transition connecting the upper bowl with the northeast parking lot. I saw a Roman gladiator go huge over the hip into a glorious hand plant on the upper wall. I also saw Paul Bunyan go tail to fakie off the upper east ledge, and that doesn’t even begin to summarize the session. Burnside was alive, teaming with energy and showed no signs of dying down as I left exhausted around dark. Every time I’m under the bridge I feel like I’ve witnessing something special. A piece of history. Today’s anniversary session was no exception. So, thanks and a Happy Birthday to Burnside!

Posted by Caleb on Saturday, November 1st, 2008 in Skateboarding.

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