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Who Are Skateboarders?

Skateboarding appeals to all kinds of people. Although a majority of skaters are teenage males, a visit to any popular skatepark will present a diverse collection of patrons. In 2009 there were 9,281,500 skateboarders in the United States. The number goes up and down from year to year but on average has been rising steadily since the 1970s.

HandyTip

6.3-million skateboarders in the United States

Let us consider how significant 9,281,500 people are in a national sense.

In 2010 there were 308,747,508 people in the United States. That means that 2.9% of US citizens stepped on a skateboard at some time that year. That’s interesting, but is it relevant to skateparks? Sort of. Let’s see if we can dial it in.

Core skaters rode their boards at least once a week, on average.

In 2010, 73,173,159 people in the U.S. were under 18 years old. A vast majority of skateboarders are also under 18 years old. In other words, of the 73-million young people in the US, 6-million of them are skaters. That’s about 8.6%… so now we can confidently say, “8.6% of American youth have ridden a skateboard in the last year.”

If you’re a skateboarder then you know that having ridden a skateboard doesn’t exactly automatically make one a skateboarder. It’s estimated that about 20% of those that have “stepped on” a skateboard in the last year actually skate regularly and actively build their skateboarding skills. The others we can call “casual skaters.” Casual skaters might hop on a board every so often to cruise to the store or across campus, but they aren’t really interested in doing tricks. These types of skaters are important to include when we talk about skateboarding-as-transportation, but they’re really not the same people that will directly and immediately benefit from a new public skatepark.

Typical skateboarding students in Lakewood, OH. Image courtesy: Public Square Group

Typical skateboarding students in Lakewood, OH.
Image courtesy: Public Square Group

Now we know that 3,150,000 American youth (or 1.7% of all youth) are the types of skaters that will use a skatepark today. They’re ready to go. These are your core skateboarders.

You can easily apply this breakdown to your own community. If there are more than 5,000 residents in your town, and you live in the United States, you can find out how many of them are 18 years old or younger at the U.S. Census website. After finding your city or town, you will find the line that reads “Persons under 18 years.” The number in the right column is shown as a percentage of your town’s total population.

Now that you know how many people are in your community, you can take that number and multiply it by 0.043 (or 4.3%). Whatever you come up with is the number of skaters in your town that need a skatepark today. It’s a handy number to know!

If you want an even more specific number, you can take your local youth population and divide it by .086 (or 8.6%) to get the number of people in this age group that have stepped on a skateboard.

Frequency

Skateboarding studies and marketing analysis make a distinction between “casual skateboarders” and “core skateboarders.”

Core skaters are defined as having skated 52+ times per year (once a week, on average). Casual skateboarding participation varies from year to year, likely based on various skateboarding trends such as long-boards and cruisers.

HandyTip

Nearly half of all skateboarders skate once a week or more.

The percentage of core skateboarders has been steadily rising for over a decade. In 2009, the core represented 27.8% of all skateboarding, whereas in 2010 it was 45.2%. Nearly all core skaters start out as casual skaters, so the number of casual skaters can help us predict what tomorrow’s core numbers may look like.

Over 40% of skateboarders ride both long-boards and “trick” boards. Long-boards are used primarily for transportation and just cruising around. This suggests that a significant portion of all skaters use their skateboards for both recreation and transportation.

Gender

Of all skaters, 77.1% are male, whereas 83.4% of core skaters are male.

Conversely, 23.9% of all skaters are female, while 16.6% of all core skaters are female.

There is some gender bias within skateboarding. The norms within skateboarding culture reward physical risk and bravado. Women and girls find casual skateboarding more inviting as these attitudes are not as prevalent, though many women earn respect among skateboarding’s core participants without issue and on their own terms.

Age

Skateboarding, for many, becomes the recreational activity of choice well into adulthood. Market research studies reveal that skateboarders are, on average, 14 year old males. This is the thickest point of the bell curve.

In 2009…

…40% of skateboarders were between 6 to 12 years old. (source: BoardTrac)
…30% were 13 to 17 years old.
…70% were under 18 years old.
…13% were 18 to 24 years old.
…8% were 25 to 34 years old.
…7% were 35 to 44 years old.
…1% were 45 to 54 years old.
…1% were over 55 years old.

Clearly, for some skaters, the activity remains appealing and sustainable throughout their lives.

Skateboarding Subculture

Skateboarding has counter-cultural roots. It was borne of rebellious surf culture in coastal areas and urban street culture in others. These characteristics are still apparent to those who don’t skate, but to skateboarders there is little cohesion within skateboarding outside of a few fundamental characteristics.

Typical skaters in Long Beach, CA. Image courtesy: LAT34.com

Typical skaters in Long Beach, CA.
Image courtesy: LAT34.com

The hallmark of skateboarding culture is that it is welcoming to anyone that approaches it with the intention of improving his or her personal skill. Class, race, gender, weight, and other hobbies are irrelevant provided that the participant’s enthusiasm for the actual act of skateboarding is genuine. In this way, skateboarding is egalitarian and inclusive. Because skateboarding is not a team sport, the success and/or enjoyment of skaters is not dependent on other skaters’ performance. In other words, an experienced skateboarder can recreate with someone learning fundamental skills as equals. There is nothing to gain or lose from seeing other people land a trick for the first time except for the joy of seeing them do it.

Some activities disrupt this pattern. Skaters routinely reject entities and individuals that monetize skateboarding if those entities or individuals have not demonstrated a sincere love for the physical act of skating. Few sports and athletic activities can claim the same degree of protectionism from the involvement of non-participants. Due to this protectionism, skaters tend to see influences from within skateboarding as a “trusted source” while influences outside of skateboarding are seen as suspect. This has enormous relevance when it comes to rules compliance. A non-skater telling a skater to wear a helmet, for example, will be less effective than a skater suggesting the same thing.

If an individual, agency, or company’s integrity is recognized by skateboarders, the fraternity is empowering and supportive. Agencies and companies, having earned skaters’ trust, have the opportunity to develop partnerships that can pay big community-building or brand-loyalty dividends. For individuals, the friendships formed through this mutual interest can last a lifetime.