Health and Culture

Compared to other sports, skateboarding’s history is short. Although skateboarding has been popular since the 1950s in the United States, it wasn’t until urethane wheels were used in the 1970s that skateboarding’s rich culture and mass appeal became a part of American culture.

Skateboarding has always had deep counter-cultural roots and has produced a distinct cultural narrative. There are few athletic activities that carry the same degree of cultural stigma as skateboarding. Skateboarding and skateparks can elicit strong responses in people. People familiar with it are often overtly supportive of its benefits to youth and the communities they live in. People with only passing familiarity with skateboarding sometimes invoke media representations of skateboarding; insolent, inconsiderate vandals that roam around the community annoying everyone and damaging property.

If you’re reading this it may be unnecessary to point out that skateboarders are as diverse as the community in which they live. Among any group of skaters you will find some that do well in school and some that do not. Some will be obedient when it comes to rules, some will not. Some will shy away from confrontation, others will not. There is no singular skateboarding ethos, but most people (and a vast majority of skateboarders) consider the activity to be positive and beneficial. As we discussed in the previous chapter, people ride skateboards for all kinds of reasons. That rule applies too to the emotional or intellectual reasons why people skate. Some skate to escape pressures at home, some skate with aspirations to go pro, some skate because their friends do, some skate because it’s just something to do.

Skateboarding as Exercise

Skateboarding is physical activity. One study indicates that skaters burned about 370 calories per hour. Skating burns calories at about the same rate as walking briskly or white-water kayaking. (Source: http://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities)

There is a joke that illustrates the physical requirements of skateboarding.

Q: What do you call an overweight skater?
A: A beginner.

It is safe to say that skating keeps people fit. The nation’s obesity epidemic can be addressed in part by providing exposure to popular, healthy recreational activities. Skateboarding has special value as a tool for encouraging habitual exercise because it is has no coaches, teams, or field requirements. It can be done for hours at a time or for just a few minutes, and it can be done anywhere there is a smooth, flat surface.

Skateboarding burns 370 calories per hour (on average).

Skating as Discipline

Skateboarding tricks are learned by trial and error. When a skater is learning a trick, most of the attempts to perform that trick are unsuccessful. That’s not to say that they’re failures. The diligent skater is paying close attention to what parts of the trick are desired and what parts are not. Through repetition and subtle iterations, the skater approaches success. Eventually the trick is done successfully. Thereafter, the trick is practiced until it can be done easily and repeatedly.

This iterative process requires physical development, mental concentration, and perseverance. These are all traits that parents would like to instill in their children. Skateboarders do this habitually and instinctively, and these skills last with the skater into adulthood.

It bears repeating that the physical and interpersonal skills learned through skateboarding are pursued on the skater’s own terms. There are no coaches or practice schedules to encourage them; they engage in this demanding activity voluntarily and without prompting. It is, in many ways, a method for identifying goals and diligently pursuing those goals that any person can benefit from.

Skateboarding as Culture

Skateboarding’s sub-cultural roots provide skaters with an identity, should they wish to embrace it. Skateboarders in a broader community will often find each other and build friendships around their common interest, just like everyone else. While not all young people that ride skateboards will identify themselves as skaters, some will embrace the identity and express that identity to their peers. For these “lifestyle” skaters, skateboarding represents a fully immersive experience.

Skateboarding culture is a street culture. As such, it tends to embrace actions and influences that are also counter-cultural. Core skaters that embrace the lifestyle of skateboarding often will have nuanced opinions on other counter-cultural practices like graffiti, punk rock or hip hop music, and irreverent imagery or ideas. This is not a part of skateboarding’s culture but many skaters will eventually encounter a opportunities to refine their personal views on these cultural influences. In other words, skateboarding tends to expose skaters to “outside” ideas.