Skateboarders: A Public Menace?

by Leslie Perlera

It was a late Saturday night and I stood shivering on the edge of a curb in the illuminated parking lot of our old high school. My two friends were skating around in front of me and completely disregarding my presence. Without a skateboard I could not possibly partake in what they were doing, but their exhilaration was contagious. The driveway in front of the school was perfect—smoothly paved, lengthy, and, best of all, deserted. The cold, which penetrated my jacket, seemed to have no effect on these guys. One of them wore a thin, black V-neck, the other a light sweatshirt. I also noted that while one of them was wearing skinny jeans, the other wore a regular pair of faded blue jeans. The whirring sound of their wheels filled the night; they talked to each other only in intervals as they skated up and down the length of the driveway. Unlike most sports, skateboarding is an individualistic pursuit, and all it involves is the connection of your body and the piece of wood beneath you. The only opponent you have is yourself.

One of my friends was a new skater and the other a veteran. Jimmy, the newer skater, was timid when attempting a trick, often refusing to let his body jump completely off the board. The fear of falling is a mental obstacle that skaters must overcome.  In addition to the physical obstacles, one of the first tricks that new skaters must master is the Ollie. Invented in 1978 by Allan Gelfand, the Ollie serves as the basis for all other tricks.  It is a challenging, but a crucial first step in which the skater and board both jump into the air (Eng Seng). Jimmy worked on landing his Ollie; the older skater worked on a trick called “primo-ing” (Nguyen). This is a technique that causes the board to flip and land on its side. Both skaters frowned in concentration as they skated. Nothing made them happier than landing their tricks, and as evidence a brief smile would flash across their faces. But the happiness it gave them was momentary. Soon they were off, in pursuit of new goals or the attempt to land the same trick twice in succession. Both the newer and older skater looked to each other for approval whenever they landed a trick. Many near successes failed solely because the skaters would jump off the board at the last second.

After a while, Jimmy and Martin picked up their boards and went back to the car. As I sat there, I asked them about what motivated them to skate. Skateboarding has commonly been viewed throughout history as a rejection of rules and conformity.  In “Skaters Get Respectable,” Alison Kubler writes, “skateboarding has certainly even been considered counterculture” (Kubler). To my question Jimmy said, “I like to learn as many new things as I can and skateboarding is something that I don’t have to pay for every time and I can do it with my friends” (Tran). Martin agreed: “The reason why I got into skateboarding as a kid is because it was free fun. It was something I could run around and do outside and it could also take me to places” (Nguyen). The freedom and mobility articulated by both skaters highlights some of the main points of attraction to the sport of skateboarding.

As a mode of transportation, skateboarding is very cost effective and in some ways more convenient than other alternatives. For example, in “Skateboarding is a Growing BC Pastime,” students who live on Newton campus found that they could beat the bus to class by skating. One student said, “I can leave Walsh like five minutes before class and get there early” (Bowman). For kids, as well as college students, without the option of driving, skateboarding provides the possibility of mobility. That freedom to move around does give skaters some independence, however skaters are not necessarily motivated by the desire to be rebellious. Martin and Jimmy in particular skate because of the entertainment it provides, not because they are looking to defy authority or rules.

As I was on the lookout for skateboarding trends at Boston College (BC), I encountered a former skater named Ricky. I was curious as to whether or not skateboarding is a phase that people grow out of and what kind of people choose to skate today. Ricky informed me that “skateboarding is a pastime and that eventually other aspects of life take precedence over such activities” (Perez). Throughout my high school years, I observed that skating was an integral part of my best friend’s lifestyle. Outside of school, he spent the majority of his time on his board. Skating was the common interest that drew him and his friends together. It was a part of his daily routine; only the weather could prevent him from skating on any given day. I recall that late Saturday night I watched Jimmy and Martin skate. The biggest worry of the night was whether or not it would rain. When I told them that I felt rain on my cheeks, their expressions fell and both stared pleadingly up at the sky. In high school, rain had always produced the same reaction in my best friend. Practicing his tricks had been his only interest. A college student now, with increased academic responsibilities and a social life, my best friend is too occupied with other activities to focus much on skateboarding.

I found, however, that there are students who manage to incorporate skateboarding into their daily lives. At Boston College, I befriended a guy named Ben who always has a skateboard nestled under his arm.  He uses a longboard for commuting at greater speeds than a regular board allows. Even in an urban area, “the campus, surrounding neighborhood, and city do lend themselves to cruising” (Griffin). Ben particularly enjoys racing with others in the BC parking garage. He often gathers up a few friends and goes there to “release stress” for a while (Ben). A highly active individual, Ben maintains his studies and also makes time for the things he loves, such as skating and breakdancing. Skateboarding has not been a mere phase in his life. Perhaps the reason why he has managed to keep it in his life for so long is that Ben has always had a good sense of balance. Skaters are often portrayed as “slackers who don’t take much else seriously” (Krentzman). However, Ben finds himself at one of the top academic institutions in the country and he can still be seen cruising through the streets of Chestnut Hill.

There are many people who hold the opinion that skateboarders are just punks who like to deface public property. My friend Felicia said, “I remember the skaters in middle school were the kids who liked to get high after school and write stuff on bathroom walls” (Krentzman). The skaters I interviewed have much larger interests than defacing public property. They skate for the thrill that they get from landing a new trick or the “adrenaline rush that comes from going really, really fast” (Ben). He continues, “there are those who disregard rules who give us a bad rep, but there are plenty more that follow the rules” (Ben).  On that Saturday night out in a cold isolated area, my friends skated because they had the time and opportunity to do so; they seized a small window of time to indulge in having fun. To many skaters, the act of skating serves as an alternative to other college activities that can land students in trouble.

My personal observations have confirmed the accuracy of Ben’s statements. On one occasion, I was walking through Boston Common with my younger sister. Set on a series of hills, Boston Common has many intersecting flat and sloping pathways. As we were approaching an intersection, I saw a skateboarder fly down the hill with enough momentum to make a curve at the bottom and fly back up path he came from.  Whenever a passerby approached the intersection, he waited patiently at the top of the hill for them to go by. This is a common example of how skateboarders respect other people’s rights to use public property. I have also frequently observed skaters pick up their boards and walk whenever they approach crowded sidewalks. In some ways, skaters are more attentive to the presence of others than the average person.

Respect can also be found amidst the skaters themselves. When I was observing Martin and Jimmy, I asked about what happens when someone falls. Martin said that within his circle of friends, “If you fall you’ll probably get laughed at, so you learn to laugh at yourself” (Nguyen). Yet, I had observed Martin and Jimmy instinctively ask each other if they were okay—even helping each other up—before laughing at each other’s expense.  In this regard, skateboarders fit comfortably within the larger culture of a society that has learned to take pleasure out of other peoples’ mishaps, as long as the unfortunate victim is not badly hurt.

Skateboarders have often been wrongfully stereotyped or misjudged. Perhaps this is due to the sense of envy surrounding the exquisite freedom skaters enjoy. Though it is not necessarily true that skateboarders are against rules and regulations, skateboarding is an incredibly free and diverse sport. In actuality, skateboarding is not just a sport. It is whatever the individual makes out of it—a lifestyle, a hobby, a mode of transportation. I have found skateboarders to be individuals that genuinely enjoy and derive satisfaction of the activity. Skateboarders comprise an inclusive culture in the sense that they are united by their enjoyment of the act of skating, but within this collective culture each individual brings a different meaning to the sport.

 Works Cited

Ben. Telephone interview. 30 October 2012.

Bowman, Allie. “Skateboarding Is a Growing BC Pastime.” The Heights 22 Mar. 2012, XCL ed., sec. B: 9. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.

Eng Seng, Koh. “Skateboarding Will Stand the Test of Time.” News Straits Times [Malaysia] 12 Mar. 1997, Young Times sec.: 7. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.

Griffin, Molly. “Skateboarding to the Future.” The Heights 18 Feb. 2008, LXXXVIX ed., sec. B: 1. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.

Krentzman, Felicia. Skype interview. 25 October 2012.

Kubler, Alison. “Skaters Get Respectable.” The Courier Mail [Brisbane] 18 Dec. 2010, sec.: 2. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 31 Oct. 2012.

Nguyen, Martin. Personal interview. 13 October 2012.

Perez, Ricky. Personal interview. 17 October 2012.

Tran, Jimmy. Personal interview. 13 October 2012.