Recruit Skateboarders

The closest many people ever come to skateboards is when they see them rolling down the street. When the skatepark project appears in the paper, crosses their desk, or is brought up in a meeting, the notion that the local skateboarders actually know each other and have defined their collective need can come as a surprise. The question remains, “who ARE skateboarders and how do we reach them?”

This is a challenge for lots of people. Brand marketers love reaching skateboarders, as they are often perceived as drivers of fashion trends. However, skaters’ tastes are elusive and transitory. While trends within bowling and ice-skating seem to be stuck in a time capsule, for skateboarding it never seems to hold still. If powerful marketing agencies have difficulty reaching skaters, what can a city clerk or parks planner do? The answer is pretty simple.

Youth are drawn to skateboarding for its subtle countercultural and individualistic tones. Many younger skaters struggle to see the relevance of meetings and will lean towards the most direct path to a skatepark. It’s important, while moderating meetings with youth, to explain the value of each task. Without solid context, the various approvals and community input meetings may be received as unnecessary “busy work.” It bears repeating that most experienced skateboarders have years of negative encounters with the community behind them and have difficulty seeing the value of trusting the community to embrace their activity.

Here are a number of things you can do to reach and retain the interest of the elusive skateboarding community.

  • Distribute flyers at the local skate shop and campuses.
  • Create handbills for local police and business owners that encounter skaters.
  • Host your meeting(s) at a well-known location. (Skate shops are excellent venues.)
  • Recruit “celebrity” speakers, particularly professional skateboarders in the area.
  • Combine meetings with a skating activity (rallies and skate jams, for example).
  • Provide prize items for an end-of-meeting drawing. (Bearings are especially popular.)
  • Be frank about the challenges and set realistic expectations.
  • Avoid advising behavioral platitudes and patronizing language (e.g., “be polite”).
  • Conclude with a clear call-to-action and tasks to be accomplished by the next meeting.
  • Distribute “spread the word” handbill reminders for the next meeting to attendees.
  • Designate clear tasks to individuals.

It’s not uncommon to have skateboarders, particularly if they’re not directly involved with the advocacy campaign, leave meetings enthusiastically hopeful for the skatepark. When the skatepark fails to materialize within a month or so, those individuals can become frustrated and work against your efforts through their observations of inactivity. Therefore, it’s valuable to set and frequently reinforce realistic expectations.