All skateboarders ride their skateboards where there is paved ground. The quality of that pavement is usually a factor in how much skateboarding occurs there. If the pavement is smooth and accessible, you can usually find skaters there. Public skateparks are a relatively recent addition to skateboarders’ options. Today most communities lack access to a public skatepark. There is no skatepark nearby, or the closest skatepark charges money to use. In these areas, skaters make do by skating wherever they can find space.
Skating anywhere outside of a skatepark can result in elevated concern from the community. There are many kinds of situations that lead to skateboarding restrictions, and the resulting confusion from skateboarders and the public often amplifies the problem.
Here are some examples of cases where skaters may intentionally or accidentally violate an effort to curtail skateboarding.
Skating along the Road
When there are pedestrians on the sidewalk, a skateboarder might look for a less congested path to use. The most appropriate path appears to be the shoulder of the road or the bike lane. This may be against the law but it wouldn’t seem unreasonable for the skater to think that it is okay.
Skating in Traffic
Where there is no sidewalk, shoulder, parking strip, or bike lane, a skater may use a portion of the vehicle lane. The road may be the only available place to use the skateboard. This is illegal almost everywhere.
Skating in a Prohibited Area
Many cities and towns have no-skateboarding ordinances. Skaters will skate within the ordinance boundaries due to negligence or ignorance.
Skating on Private
Property Skaters may find compelling terrain or a desirable route through property where the owner chooses to prohibit skateboarding. This may be due to willful negligence or ignorance.
Anti-skateboarding Laws, Ordinances, and Codes
Response to these violations can range from aggressive confrontations to nothing at all. There are many cities and towns with anti-skateboarding ordinances that are not consistently enforced. Skateboarding appears to be tolerated in these places in spite of being technically illegal. Most cities enforce no-skateboarding laws when the skateboarding appears to be reckless or in flagrant violation of the law. Punitive response may be more severe for skaters known to be repeat offenders. In these areas no-skateboarding laws may be used at the officer’s discretion and that can lead to inconsistent enforcement and further confusion among skateboarders about where it is and is not legal to ride a skateboard.
For anyone that has gotten a skateboarding ticket in their own neighborhood, the city can appear to be a hostile place. It is difficult to identify how tolerant an area may be towards skateboarding until one has an encounter with law enforcement. Anyone may buy a no-skateboarding sign and put it up on the side of their building, but it’s difficult to know if the sign is meant to protect the landlord or property manager from liability or if it was installed as a deterrent to skateboarders. No-skateboarding signs are such a common sight that it often serves only to announce that it’s a popular place to skate. Skateboarders are so accustomed to these signs that they usually have little impact on the activity. Imagine how confusing it would be if people put up their own speed limit signs in front of their homes; nobody would know what the “real” speed limit was.
The boundaries of no-skateboarding ordinances are seldom understood by skaters, and sometimes not even by the police. For example, a skateboarding ordinance for one city in Southern California prohibits skateboarding upon any roadway, any sidewalk fronting upon any commercial establishment, any sidewalk within the Harbor District, anywhere within the City Hall complex, and anywhere within the following area:
“Bounded on the east by the west side of Pacific Street, excluding the sidewalk; bounded on the south by Wisconsin Street, including the sidewalk on the north and south sides; bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean; and bounded on the north by Ninth Street, excluding the sidewalks.”
(According to the ordinance you may ride a skateboard in the Pacific Ocean. Good luck.)
The only thing that is clear about this ordinance is that it cannot be easily communicated. Penalties are not indicated in the ordinance so skaters are left to speculate if they are in compliance and test it by simply skating wherever they are compelled. Although this particular ordinance may be more confusing than average, the response by skaters is typical. There is only one way to test a community’s tolerance for skateboarding and that is to go ahead and ride wherever you feel like it’s appropriate.
Skaters rarely, if ever, are deliberately trying to annoy anyone, cause property damage, or be disobedient. When an environment is riddled with no-skateboarding messages and skateboarding is then tolerated, the message to local youth is that laws are enforced at the city’s discretion. The nuisance skateboarding introduce to a neighborhood may be the diret result of inconsistent or misleading communication.
The full impact of skateboarding ordinances on a community are not usually expressed to policy makers. When an ordinance is passed by city council, that’s often the end of the discussion. That doesn’t mean that the issue is resolved for local youth, but as far as local policy makers are concerned, the matter is settled.
People will still ride their skateboards in places where it’s prohibited because they feel like the ordinance is more like a “suggestion” than a “law,” or that it’s not enforced and therefore unimportant to cops, or that the risk is worth it because the place is such an attractive place to skate.
When a person gets a ticket for skateboarding where it’s illegal, in some cases the person won’t be able to pay their fine, or they will choose not to pay it out of protest, or they will ignore the ticket because they don’t think it’s important. If they are a minor, they may hide the ticket from their parents for fear of getting in trouble. There are lots of reasons why a person might not pay a ticket. An unpaid citation can quickly become a serious legal matter.
When a community approves a no-skateboarding ordinance, they take an activity that should be encouraged and frame it as a criminal activity with serious legal repercussions.
The only solution is a new public skatepark.
Core and Casual Skateboarding
There are various reasons why someone might choose to ride a skateboard. This is a valuable distinction to understand, especially for those people with no personal experience skateboarding.
Transportation Skating (“casual,” 72%)
Using a skateboard to get somewhere.
Trick Skating (“core,” 28%)
Practicing or learning new tricks and techniques.
Most skateboarding falls within the first category. A significant number of skateboarders seen on campuses and on the streets are using their skateboards as transportation. Some skateboards are not even intended for doing tricks; longboards and short cruisers are designed for travel and little else. The challenge for skatepark advocates is that a lot of the skaters seen around town may not immediately benefit from a new skatepark. People that use their skateboards for short-distance travel or as recreational transportation may or may not be interested in skating at a skatepark.
Market research suggests that 28% of all skateboarders are core skaters and would be interested in using a local skatepark. Most skateboarders simply use their boards to get from one place to another or just to cruise around.
All skateboarders are, at one time or another, casual skaters. Casual skaters include — for the purposes of skatepark advocacy — any type of skateboarding. Luge, downhill, cruisers, transportation, dancing, slalom, flow, big air, the “once-in-a-while” skater, and so on, are all included in the casual group.
NOTE: The term “casual” skaters is not meant to denigrate the skateboarding disciplines that fall within that broad category. For example, downhill skaters compete professionally and can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour or more. The term “casual” is not meant to diminish the dedication and skill demonstrated by these devotees.