You will get questions about skateboarding all the time.
Why do people skate?
How many people ride skateboards?
Where are they skating now?
What’s good and bad about skateboarding?
Are there different kinds of skateboarding?
Is skateboarding a competitive sport or a hobby?
What’s the difference between trick-skating and transportation-skating?
Is the “skateboarding lifestyle” healthy?
What’s up with skateboarding fashion?
How can you tell what kind of trick that is?
How is skateboarding a form of personal expression?
Is skateboarding easy? Is it reckless or dangerous?
What kinds of careers are there in skateboarding?
What therapeutic benefits does skateboarding provide?
Is it fun?
Skateboarding can mean a lot of different things to people. Its benefits are diverse, and people ride skateboards for lots of different reasons. Many adult skateboarders will proudly claim that skateboarding was the most meaningful thing they did as a young person. Skateboarding has a way of shaping young people.
The reasons why it can be such a rich experience starts with its history.
Skateboarding began in the 1950s and quickly became associated with Southern California’s surf-culture. All of the skateboarding in these early years was on streets, sidewalks, paths and plazas. Skateboards made from repurposed roller skates was a national craze in the 1950s. By the 1960s, companies were manufacturing skateboards. In the 1970s the use of urethane wheels allowed skating on rougher terrain and helped skateboarding gain a fresh wave of national popularity. This era introduced us to the first parks built specifically for skateboarding.
These early skateparks featured concrete shaped into round bumps, channels, and bowls that vaguely resembled empty swimming pools and moguls. Around the same time, wooden halfpipes were cropping up on television and in backyards, allowing spectators to better see the activity. Skateboarding’s popularity peaked.
Those first-generation skateparks were almost all retail businesses. To use them you had pay an entrance fee or needed some kind of membership. Nearly all of the skateparks from the 1970s era are gone today. By the end of the ‘70s, laws about liability were changed and insurance companies became nervous about these parks. Most skateparks had slim profit margins to begin with, but when insurance rates exploded, the small businesses went under.
With the retail skateparks gone, the skaters were left with nowhere to go. In the 1990s skaters rode in the only place that was left; the curbs, ledges, and railings around the city. Street skating was born.
Skaters began getting tickets for doing something that most felt was a positive activity that should be encouraged. Skaters were, after all, enjoying the benefits of regular exercise; ability to cope with stress, more focus at work or school, and improved outlook on life. The cities, on the other hand, didn’t see these benefits; they saw disobedient, noisy kids vandalizing private and public property, and putting everyone at risk. Frustrations between skateboarders, city officials, and local law enforcement grew.
Around this time people were seeing potential of new opportunities in “extreme sports.” Skateboarding was included and, as a result, gained international legitimacy. (A controversy remains today within skateboarders whether “mainstream” skateboarding is fundamentally good for skateboarding or not.) Cities everywhere began taking a second look at their local no-skateboarding laws and considering skateparks as a win-win solution.
Skaters began advocating for new public skateparks while others built their own places to skate. Most skaters just took their chances by skating around town just like they always have.
By 2000 skateparks were being promoted and built across the nation. Advocates were getting more effective, and the skateparks started getting bigger and better. Communities began to understand that some skateparks perform better than others. Concrete skateparks became more popular than wood or steel. Skateparks began to be built downtown, near where people lived and worked, rather than in the outskirts of town, away from everything. Lots of lessons were learned.
From 2010 until now we’re enjoying more skateparks in the United States than ever before. There are more skatepark efforts happening today, and the best skateparks in the world are being built right now. It’s a good time to be a skatepark advocate!