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SketchUp gets extreme with skatepark designer Dug Ketterman

Dug Ketterman is a world renowned skatepark designer with an impressive resume of projects under his belt, including multiple X Games courses. Dug is an active member of the SketchUp community, and we spoke with him recently to learn more about his insane collection of skatepark and ramp designs. He also shared some modeling advice, so even if skateparks aren’t your thing, we still think you’ll take away some rad SketchUp tips.

The 2012 X Games Street Course designed in SketchUp Pro

How long have you been using SketchUp?
Before SketchUp, I had spent years and countless hours drafting skateparks and ramps by hand. My dad uses SketchUp for woodworking and suggested I give it a try. This was back in 2006 and I’ve been using it ever since. The speed and no-nonsense way of modeling had me hooked. I’m attending the Art Institute of Portland for my bachelor’s in Industrial Design and have tried several big name 3D modeling softwares, but SketchUp seems to be the only one that works with my brain.

What is important in skatepark design?
There are many things that go into a good design, all of which cater to different types of skaters. Some enjoy transitions like pools and halfpipes, while others skate on flat-ground and never touch transition. However, the one thing that all skaters can agree on is flow. You need to be able to generate enough speed to take you from one feature to the next with a minimal amount of pushing and without running into other obstacles. As I am creating parks, I am constantly thinking about distances, heights, gaps, angles and materials to determine proper spacing within a given boundary. I refer to this process as 'Flow Analysis': the study of spatial relationships between skatepark elements.

The 2013 Global X Games Street Course held in Munich, Germany is one of the riders’ favorite courses to date. They all thought it had great flow. Co-designers: Brian Harper & Ryan Johnson

How does being a skateboarder and an architect influence your park design in comparison to an architect who doesn’t skateboard?
There is something commonly referred to as ‘the contractor's kink.’ This refers to the worst placement of seams and uneven skating surfaces that general contractors and architects unknowingly design into skateparks. There are many nuances to creating a well-skating park. This knowledge can only be gained through experience skating a wide variety of terrain. Rail heights, ledge angles, grind edge materials, seam and joint placement: these are just a few of the things that can make or break a perfect skate spot.

Contractor's Kink Example.jpg
A perfect example of ‘contractor’s kink.’ No space for speed, a large seam in the concrete, and a handrail that’s too high. Photo courtesy of

Out of all of 'em, what has been your favorite project?
It has to be the 2011 X Games Street Course held in Los Angeles, CA. I had free reign not only to design the park, but also to be on site to finalize every exacting detail, right down to the grass coming out of the faux cracks and the authentic graffiti tags decorating the brick walls. It was exhilarating working as an art director with a crew of 20+ talented concrete, wood, and steel workers to help realize a 10,000 square-foot sculpture that was about to be skated by the world’s best athletes on live television in front of millions of viewers.

X Games 2011 Street Render.jpg
The 2011 X Games Street Course designed in SketchUp Pro

XG 2011 Street.jpg
Photograph of the nearly completed 2011 X Games Street Course

What are your go-to SketchUp extensions?
The Super Section plug-in has saved me tons of steps when creating construction documents. It's a genius extension for creating layers and scenes in LayOut. Also, Bitmap to Mesh and Sandbox Tools are great extensions for creating mesh surfaces.

How do you organize your models?
Groups and components are king. I treat every element in my model as if it were a separate material in the real world: plywood, 2x4's, scaffolding, etc. Grouping each piece separately allows you to quickly scale and resize as you draw and make modifications. Components are great for updating multiples of the same object in your model all at once. And nesting of groups and components allows you to create layers and scenes with quickness and ease. This, in combination with layers, helps hide parts of the design to keep things lightweight while modeling, and make it easy to view specific elements.

What advice would you give to new and aspiring SketchUp users?
Groups, Groups, Groups. This simple habit will save you from having sticky blob models that are filled with line fragments and impossible-to-edit geometry. I would also suggest starting with basic objects around the house and drawing them with as much detail as possible. This will bring about new challenges and force you outside of your comfort zone.

Posted by Stephen Grant, SketchUp team

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Unknown said...

This is pretty awesome. I'm an industrial designer for a playground manufacturer and use Sketchup for equipment design and various park and indoor projects as well. It's been a great tool.