GOLD HILL — The only Tax Deduction still squatting in my house tosses his skateboard into his car trunk and heads out for a little Wednesday evening relaxation that only teenage skateboarders understand.
Ben Freeman needs clean concrete and good vertical walls with solid coping so he can catch the big-air and hit handstands on this last evening before six days of Rogue Valley rain, so naturally he and skateboarding buddy Mason Barone head straight to ... Gold Hill?
"I love this place," Ben tells his "Pops" between jumps. "The transitions are super-smooth, nothing's too steep. It's got features for Street skaters — the trick guys — and guys like me who like to go Vert(ical).
"So it's a good place to learn," Ben says. "Eventually, you can skate big air and eat it. And you will eat it."
While it might be wise to bring that medical co-pay with you, the Gold Hill park earns a solid 4½ skateboard rating out of a possible 5 boards for both Vert and Street skaters, earning it the highest ranking among local skate parks that Freeman and Barone judged on behalf of the middle-aged journalists in the Mail Tribune's Oregon Outdoors stable.
The seven parks these two sommeliers of skating have sampled regularly over the years all have their pluses and minuses, and none won the coveted 5-skateboard rating.
The rankings are broken into two skater genres. The "Vert" score is a rating based on its attractiveness for vertical skaters — those who like to catch plenty of air and by flying up not-too-steep walls. The "Street" score is what each park offers traditional street skaters who prefer flip tricks and rail-riding while staying closer to earth.
After paying homage to the Gold Hill Park, here are their ratings for the remaining six skate parks in Jackson County.
BEAR CREEK SKATE PARK — Vert: 4½ Street: 3½
The Bear Creek Park facility has been on regional skaters' radar for well over a decade, even getting visits from pro skater Nijah Houston and the legendary Tony Hawk during its 17-year history. But it brings more than nostalgia to the teens drawn by the multidimensional features.
"It's very open to Vert and Street skaters because there are so many options," Freeman says. "It's good for beginners and technical skaters."
The downside, Freeman says, is some of the clientele — a distinction that the discriminating, non-skating public might find ironic.
"There's just a lot of punk-ass kids who hang out there," he says.
The park is at the intersection off Highland Drive north of Barnett Road in Medford.
JOSEPHSON SKATE PARK, WHITE CITY — Vert: 2 Street: 4½
This park is designed for skaters who don't need air, because there are few chances to get it here.
"It's a Street park," Freeman says. "It's for kids who really like to do flip tricks and rails because that's what it has."
For the Vert-seekers, there's just a half-pipe.
The park is at 7800 Division Road, White City.
THE LEDGE SKATE PARK, JACKSONVILLE — Vert: 4½ Street: 1
The antithesis of White City, J'ville is the local Mecca for those who just wanna grab big air.
"If you're really good at Vert, J'ville is the best," Freeman says. "It's also probably the hardest to skate, so it's not a place for beginners."
Street-skaters rarely bother making the trek up the hill from the J'ville library parking lot to the park, which doesn't have any rails. At least not twice.
ASHLAND SKATE PARK — Vert: 4 Street: 3
The park's upsides are that it sports Street and Vert rails to hit as well as bowls to drop into and plenty of coping — the rounded metal corners on walls for grinding and stopping.
The downsides are that it's small in comparison to other area parks and it is popular with BMX and mountain bikers, Freeman says. It's akin to being a cat in a dog park.
"We get in each other's way," Freeman says. "When we collide, the skater always loses because the other guy's on a *&!@# bike!"
Built in 1999, the park is at the intersection of Hersey and Water streets in Ashland.
TALENT SKATE PARK — Vert: 2½ Street: 2½
The Talent skate park also is very popular with BMX bikers whose regular presence keeps most non-locals out, Freeman says. For those who try it, the park does claim some nice vertical features, he says.
A side note to parents, the park gets a 4-wine-glass rating because you can sit in the nearby Sweet Beet Station sipping vino and eating pork sliders while keeping an, ahem, eye on the kiddos.
Built in 1998, it's the Rogue Valley's oldest skate park and is at the corner of John and East Main streets, Talent.
HAWTHORNE PARK — Vert: 2½ Street: 2½
The features are "subpar" and the small facility is very cramped, making it a poor park for beginners, Freeman says. Its best feature: It's under the Interstate 5 viaduct through downtown Medford, making it skatable in the rain.
"If it wasn't covered, it would get 1/2," he says.
The park is at the intersection of East Jackson Street and Biddle Road, Medford.