This Skatepark Is A Sculpture You Can Ride

Los Angeles artist Steven Harrington was just designing the branding for a skate competition. Soon, he was designing a whole park.

When designer Steven Harrington was approached by The Dew Tour, a Mountain Dew-run skate competition turned music festival in Long Beach, California, the original brief was for graphics.


The soda giant wanted an artistic spin on the more corporate branding it had done in years past, and they liked Harrington’s graphic, colorful, and personality-driven illustration style. So Harrington and the team at his Los Angeles-based design studio National Forest got to work on the graphics and typography that would plaster the festival’s promotional material, signage, and custom skateboards.

[Image: courtesy National Forest]
But soon the brief changed. After some of the event organizers and team riders saw the initial ideas Harrington came up with for the brief, they started thinking about what his illustrated world would look like in physical form—and what it would be like to skate them. They asked him to build out a skatepark for the festival, rendered in the same style as his branding. The result was something between a whimsical skatepark and a sculpture garden, where bucktooth palm trees, undulating snakes, and overblown sunglasses become colorful ramps.

“When I was envisioning the park, I was imagining something like Claes Oldenburg sculptures,” Harrington tells Co.Design, referring to the sculptor known for his large-scale public art installations, like the giant spoon and cherry in Minneapolis or the towering lipstick on Yale’s campus. But when Harrington, who is also a sculptor, started the process of bringing his 2D sketches and characters to life, he ran into an unusual set of constraints: These pieces were going to be ridden by riders of all skills and abilities. Besides basic considerations like safety and functionality, Harrington and his team wanted to make the park fun for people of all skill levels—as appealing to an early skater, age 6, as it was to a pro. To accomplish this, he worked with California RampWorks, a company that builds massive ramps for events like the X-Games, to make sure the structures were faithful to his conceptual sketches but still fun to ride. 

[Photo: courtesy National Forest]
Harrington also wanted to harness a weirdness and youthful energy that would attract people with its playfulness. And he wanted the structures to be a fun challenge to skate. Skateboarders can grind on the sunglasses, for example, or treat the snake’s tail as a mini ramp for jumps. “Some of these obstacles take serious skill,” he says. “That’s what became alluring for the older skaters: ‘How do I shred up this kids’ toy?'”

[Photo: courtesy National Forest]
The Dew Tour ran for a few days in early December, and the skatepark was deconstructed after that. Yet the sculptures live on: They were transported to a local Long Beach skate park, where they’ll continue to be ridden as well as ogled.

“We made these perfect sculptures that are hand painted and looked nice when we finished,” says Harrington. “Once we cut the red tape and they started to be ridden, they got thrashed and wore down really quickly. The art I usually make is designed not to be picked up and touched: It’s usually exhibited in a gallery space. But this is meant for people to ride it and grind it and fuck it up. Seeing it in these parks is really cool.” 

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.