One of the defining aspects of skateboarding is the sheer amount of styles one can pursue. Just like there’s different types of artists, there’s different styles of skating often defined by their preferred obstacle. One of the quintessential styles of skateboarding is bowl skating, which goes back to the DogTown days of skateboarding’s birth. Over the decades however, bowl skating has been redefined. It has also found itself rescued and taken back into the hands of the underground skate scene at a time when backyard pools are at an all time hard to find.
For the outsider looking in or even the novice and returning skater, there’s a ton of hermetic language in skate culture surrounding tricks and obstacles. We’re not talking about pejorative "brah’s" and "shred the gnars," but actual obstacle language that can mean all the difference between sounding like a kook or being accepted into the crew. If you’re looking to start skating bowls or just cement your skate knowledge (pun intended), we’re going to cover just exactly what is bowl skating, what you should know about it, some beginner tips to help you get started, as well as some of the other types of skateboarding styles to keep you in the loop.
What is Bowl Skating?
What is bowl skating? Skaters skating in bowls, duh! No, but seriously, while bowl skating is somewhat as simple as it sounds, it’s ultimately about culture as well. Bowl skating is at the heart of skateboarding's roots. If you look through the early decade pages of Thrasher Magazine or check out some of skating’s earliest contests photos, it was bowl skating that brought us the likes of Tony Hawk. Think about it: skateboarding began from the culture of backyard pools. Pools that were often illegal to skate and required hopping fences, running from cops and other pirated means. While pool skating continued to exist and still does to this day, skaters started constructing their own pools in the form of bowls, vert ramps and transition ramps. This not only gave birth to bowl skating competitions, but allowed for bowl skaters to push the envelope on what’s possible on a skateboard.
Skaters quickly found out bowl skating was (and still is) one of the most fun styles of skating. Skaters can piece together complex lines without ever having to pedal. With coping, surrounding walls, divots, nooks and crannies, no two bowls are the same. It’s why today no skate park is complete without a bowl and those with the best bowls are generally the most popular parks (i.e. Venice park). That being said, to really understand what is bowl skating, we have to look at how bowl skating is different from vert and transition skating and what it takes to skate a bowl well.
How is Bowl Skating Different from Vert and Transition Skating?
Remember what we said about skate language? Here’s where knowing the lingo is really going to help. Vert and transition exist in the same conversation but both need to be understood in their differences before their similarities. Imagine you’re looking at a quarter pipe, or the curved part of a ramp with coping (metal edge) on top. When you picture a vert ramp, imagine the half pipe Tony Hawk landed his 900 on. The last 2-3ft of the half pipe wall is completely vertical, thus it is a vert ramp. Where that wall of the ramp becomes vertical, or rather, transitions from flat into vertical, thus it is called “transition.”
Most skateparks have very few vertical walls but almost all of them will have “transition” walls, which skaters have shortened to transition or ‘tranny’ skating. This is because Vert is far harder and more dangerous to skate, with the average skater hardly maneuvering vertical walls. Transition can also exist in a lot more obstacles than vert, which generally only takes on the form of a halfpipe. Transition is also essentially present in every bowl, since the curvature of a skate ramp, bowl, or mini ramp is considered transition. Here we are again needing to learn the nomenclature of skate culture. While transition is a necessary condition in bowl skating, bowl skating is a specific type of tranny. Some rare instances, bowls will be vertical also. You’ll hear other lingo attached to these bowls as well, such as deathboxes, waterfalls, corner pockets, and other things depending on the bowl. Generally, bowls are placed in specific areas which will determine their size and verticality. In knowing where to find bowls, we can paint a better picture of what is bowl skating and how it differs from other styles of skating.
Where Can You Find Bowls?
Like we said earlier, bowls can be found at nearly every skatepark in the world. Indoor, outdoor, private and public skateparks almost all have bowls or some form of transition. However, because bowl skating took a backseat during skateboarding’s golden era of the 90s and early 2000s, not all parks will have a bowl. For instance, Stoner Park Plaza, North Hollywood Plaza, and El Sereno Park in Los Angeles, some of the city’s most popular parks; don’t have a bowl. This is because these parks are focused on street skating style, which often is the focus of cities hoping to get skaters off the streets and into the parks.
What some self-appointed skate historians tend to forget is how essential bowl skating was to developing street style in the 80s. Skaters took the maneuvers they learned on the coping of bowls and started landing them on ledges. Thankfully, in the last ten years or so, contemporary skaters began to realize how much bowl skating helps their street skating. Pros today are really incomplete unless they can skate bowls, with the best ones being really amazing at both bowl skating and street. Even without the pros bowl skating has been making a comeback as more and more parks prioritize bowls in their designs.
Backyard bowls have been sprouting in backyards again and some of skateboarding’s premier skate shops have private invite only bowls. Most notably the Supreme Bowl in Brooklyn. While the average skater isn’t privy to private bowls, bowls are still relatively easy to find. Next time you head to your local skatepark, keep your eyes peeled on the transition section. You’ll surely find a bowl there or some form of quarter pipe. If not, look online for a park in your general vicinity. In skateboarding, it’s all about turning what you see in your mind into reality. If you really wanted, you could even build your own bowl or find a backyard pool. We want to help you achieve your goals of skating a bowl, so once you’ve found your local bowl spot, here’s some beginner tips to ensure your success.
Some beginner tips on Bowl Skating:
- Nervous of skating a skatepark bowl? Go early before noon to enjoy an emptier, more beginner friendly park.
- Wear knee pads. Nobody likes looking like a beginner but bowl skating can lead to serious knee slams. All the best bowl skaters wore pads at some point.
- Longboards and longboard wheels are not bowl skating friendly due to their lack of sliding on surfaces. You need quick maneuverability for reaction based skating.
- Bowl skating is only recommended for beginners skating bowls smaller than 5ft. The higher you are, the longer you fall down. Everyone falls, so know your limits.
- Know drop in culture: like surfing, respect the locals and know when you’re getting in someone’s way. Bowl collisions are some of the worst slams in skating.
- Avoid the coping: the metal outline of the bowl is where skaters do grinds and slides. It’s also where beginners commonly ‘hang up’ and get their trucks stuck causing you to fall from transition to flat bottom… ouch!
- There’s no rush. Have some fun and embrace the learning curve. Bowl skating is friendlier to people of all ages. Be nice to the older folks on the ramp and maybe they’ll give you a few pointers.
What Are Some Other Types of Skateboarding Styles?
For most of skating’s history, there have been two dominant archetypes: street skating and vert skating. However, it would be a disservice to skateboarding to say there’s only two styles. While vert skating is traditionally tied to a vert ramp, street skating has a plethora of styles within itself. Vert skating also has styles within itself, but they are tied more so to tricks produced versus the obstacle. That being said, generally with most skateboarders not having access to vert ramps, the archetypes skaters use in 2020 to describe another skater’s style usually surrounds the obstacles they skate most. For instance, a ledge skater versus a rail skater, both are street skaters but one is a tech-guru on ledges, while the other is a face-melting rail junky.
Skaters do their best to be well-rounded but ultimately their skills and passions lead them into certain directions. A skater will be ‘more tech’ and skate ledges and manny pads, doing combos and lines with an emphasis on flip ins and flip outs. Whereas a ‘hessian’ rail skater might maneuver a basic trick like a 50-50 or a smith grind, but do so down a 20 stair handrail. While the tech skating takes a tremendous amount of skill and patience, the rail skating takes a tremendous amount of courage and commitment. Depending on the obstacles you prefer or the style you find yourself more skilled at, these factors will most likely ultimately dictate your style. Combine these maxims of obstacles with locations, another layer of styles is unlocked.
A skater can be “cutty” by hitting quick-footed obstacles found in a city metropolis. Or a skater can be “hesh” and do a lot of boneless grabs or slash grinds in the backyard barn ramps of farmlands. Styles of fashion, mixing unorthodox tricks from other obstacles, or even switching things up as your skate life progresses, means your skate style is always evolving. The same goes for skateboarding as a whole. It’s one of the reasons it's such a liberating form of expression. Go out and create your own style and skateboarding will be sure to welcome it. Maybe start off in a bowl. After all, it’s one of the best styles in skateboarding.