The sun peers through the window on a weekday morning; it is just another typical day for Samuel Stokes. He throws on his clothes and gets ready for his day. His attire, nothing more than casual. Skin tight blue jeans, a simple, solid one-colored hoodie, and his favorite pair of brown vans will suffice for what the day has in store for him. A normal day for Sam involves his part-time job at a warehouse, full-time school schedule balanced with his one and only love, skateboarding.
Skateboarding has always been a way to escape the stress and pressures that life provides us with on a daily basis. Like Sam, everyone has their own way of dealing with life, his way is definitely unique. Skating has been engrained into Sam’s daily life for quite some time now. “I began skateboarding when I was twelve; it was something to do. It is much more than that now” Sam explained in a nice sit-down interview. “I got involved originally only because of my brother. As a kid, I looked up to him and wanted to be like him. I did the things he did and liked what he liked” Sam is currently twenty one years old which makes him a pretty experienced skater who has been skating for the last nine years.
Skateboarding is a common and well known subculture that is prone to some extreme criticism. According to wikia, skateboarding is the act if riding and performing tricks using a skateboard and, at the same time, can be seen as a recreational activity, an art form, a job, or a method of transportation. The sport has its roots in the 1950’s when it first came onto the seen in California. The thought behind the original idea on skateboarding was that it could offer the surfers of California to be able to “surf” on the street. It has evolved into something much bigger and more significant over the course of time. The first skateboards were made from flimsy cardboard or wood with roller blade wheels attached to the bottom. As you could imagine, this did not make for the safest way to “surf on the street”. Injuries early on were followed by development. The boards have transformed overtime to be safer, more effective, and way more appealing than they were sixty five years prior. Not only did the boards change, but the sport did as well. It expanded and grew into what it is today. With the addition of the X-Games to the calendar in 1995, it really shows how much the sport has grown in recent time. The addition of young kids picking up a board and giving it a shot is something that keeps occurring generation after generation. “I got my younger brother involved along with a couple cousins. Once they got into it, they were hooked” Sam explained. It begs to ask the question, how far can skateboarding go? If it has traveled that far in a relatively short time, there is no telling how far it can go and what it can become.
The early years of skateboarding is symbolic to the sport itself. Being filled with injuries, skateboarding is a dangerous activity that puts skaters in danger whenever they perform. Most skaters accept the fact they could be hurt, “I have broken my wrist once while skating. That was the worst of my injuries but I have seen a lot worse” Sam explained “the threat of an injury doesn’t stop skaters from skating. Most are thrill seekers that absolutely embrace that fact” With that being said, people skate on regardless of the threat of injury. The Nationwide Children’s Hospital reported that “an estimated 111,000 kids under the age of 18 are treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for skateboarding related injuries each year. Many of these injuries can be prevented”. That seems like a lot of trips to the emergency room for a recreational activity, especially since most can be prevented. It is apparent that these athletes in this culture do not let the risk factors get in the way of performing and reaching their goals.
As for who makes up the subculture, it is evident and very clear that there is a masculine bias involved with skateboarding. Alana Young offers us a possible explanation “the sport of skateboarding, which requires risk taking, strength, and aggressiveness can be a means to socialize young males into men” she then added, “males are more prone to participate within the sport of skateboarding due to the perceived requirement of aggression, strength, and the element of danger” She believes that participating in a ‘tough’ sport will make you a man as opposed to a boy. Most young boys and teens are concerned with their image in terms of being a “man” or not, maybe as a way to impress the girls or feel in control but that explains why you will find more males as opposed to female skaters. “I would like to see more diversification in the sport but you can’t always have that” Sam said when asked to discuss the role females play in the sport, “More female skaters would potentially make the culture better, and more appealing to society”
Generally, skaters skate anywhere they can find the space to do so. A way to keep the skating off the streets and private property is to add a skate park to the community. Skaters gather at skate parks to showcase their skills and tricks in front of other skaters. However, with skate parks, there then comes a negative perception. Patrick Morello says “when many public park managers think skate parks, that thought is followed closely by the associations to drugs and graffiti. This just isn’t so” He then went on to discuss the skaters ‘ownership’ of the park where they “look after younger skaters” as well as “bring their own brooms to clean up leaves and skate park litter” A skate park has a negative label, but as Morello describes, the reality of it, may not exactly match the perception.
Spending countless hours over the past nine years perfecting his craft may come as a surprise to himself and his peers but nothing has stopped Sam, “Originally, I didn’t want anything to do with skateboarding. I thought skaters were lazy pot smokers with nothing better to do”. It is crazy how an outlook can change if you fully indulge yourself into the activity rather than holding judgments. “I quickly discovered there was more to skateboarding than what some people think” Sam said. Skaters occasionally receive an image as rebellious, non-conforming drug users. This really may not be the case. “I would not put all skaters into that group. There may be some that fit that perfectly but it does not make up the entire subculture. Like any culture, you’re always going to have outliers or people that go against the group. That is where the people develop those images of skaters in my opinion” Sam argued, with people quick to judge other people and groups of people. “I think that people just assume that skaters do drugs and commit crimes like vandalism but I think that those same people would do those drugs and crimes regardless of whether or not they are a skateboarder”. Interesting remark, perhaps, carries some truth.
Skateboarding is special in its own way compared to other sports. Rather than it being solely about a winner and a loser, skating is about expression. “In competition, you are judged based on your tricks and your tricks represent you and you become known for them; everyone has their own flavor or twist to the way they do things”. Sam explained, “It is all about getting better individually, and not so much about out-performing other skaters”. Becky Beal offered her take by saying “although there is a status hierarchy within the subculture it is not determined through competition with others. The criteria for status is twofold: one must be highly skilled and creative and one must not use that skill to belittle others”. Skating is unique. It is not like traditional sports where there is a winner and a loser. Skating is about self-expression and the way to express yourself is through the tricks you perform. Ms. Beal’s comment is relevant. By not ‘belittling’ others, that just shows what kind of people skaters are according to her observations.
With new kids joining the culture of skateboarding all the time, it looks like the sport and culture is a long ways from dying. “I enjoy teaching younger people and beginners how to skate as I was taught by older people. It’s nice to return the favor. A lot of skaters teach what they know to others so it stays alive which is what makes it special and truly a subculture” Sam explained. His closest friendships have developed over time through skating, “We have to keep teaching younger people the sport so it stays relevant” Sam said, as he doesn’t want to see his culture die, “Without young people, the sport will eventually die out”.
Skateboarding is still relatively young in comparison to other sports and not only that, but it is truly different and eye-opening. The activity is centered on self-expression. It is not like it is portrayed in the movies and on television and hopefully people can learn, really, what it is all about.