You may know a lot about skateboarding and you might get some questions about its popularity and how much risk it brings.
Isn’t the skateboarding fad over?
Skateboarding participation has had its ups and downs over the years. It would be naive to deny that skateboarding has enjoyed episodes of mass popularity. For the last two decades skateboarding participation has remained relatively stable. Public events can influence skateboarding’s popularity… video games, celebrities that skate, new skateboarding products, and even skateparks all increase or decrease skateboarding’s participation.
Market research on sports participation is conducted regularly by companies that specialize in this type of work. Most notable is the research conducted by National Sporting Goods Association. The NSGA’s Sports Participation report compares 50 different lifestyle sports.
Skateboarding participation in 2015 in the United States was 5,428,000 individuals. Approximately 20% of all skateboarders ride their skateboards 40+ times a year; 35% ride 10-39 times a year, and 45% ride 10 or less times per year.
Participation levels in skateboarding, just as with any sport or athletic activity, is always changing from year to year.
The NSGA data provides insight into the family types, genders, and regions of those participants.
Total participation: 5,428,000 (100%)
Gender Male: 3,760,000 (69%)
Female: 1,668,000 (31%)
Age 7–11: 1,216,000 (22%)
12–17: 1,480,000 (27%)
18–24: 910,000 (17%)
25–34: 952,000 (18%)
35–44: 591,000 (11%)
45–54: 197,000 (4%)
55–64: 82,000 (2%)
Is skateboarding dangerous?
This is an important question and there are lots of ways to answer it. Skateboarding, like any sport or recreational activity, has its risks. And, just like other sports and recreational activities, the longer you are involved in it, the better you become at managing that risk.
Skateboarding involves falling, but so does gymnastics, skiing, surfing, and so on. Falling becomes a part of learning. If you’re falling, in other words, you’re doing it right. One of the first things skateboarders learn is how to fall without hurting themselves. It may not always work as planned, and regular skaters will sport a few scrapes and bruises as a result.
Most serious accidents, (those requiring medical care), happen to beginners in their first week of skateboarding. Wrist injuries are most common because the beginning skater will have imperfect falling habits. Later, as the skater becomes more experienced, they are able to better determine and manage their exposure to risk. With experience, the skater is familiar with their abilities and can introduce new challenges in a calculated, intentional way. This doesn’t mean that they can remove all risk but rather that they better understand where the risk comes from. When the experienced skater does fall—a common occurrence—they are able to simply get up and try the trick again.
One important safety factor in skateboarding is that there is no deliberate physical contact with each other. The risk inherent in skateboarding comes directly from the skater’s ability to perform the maneuver. If the skater is familiar with the maneuver and perfecting their technique, the outcome of failure may be high but the exposure to risk is likely very low. Not only is the skater learning how to do the trick correctly, but they are also learning how to fail correctly.
If we look at what percentage of skaters go to the emergency room compared to other sports, skateboarding is relatively safe. It may not be fair to compare skateboarding to other sports because, for most skaters, it’s not simply a matter of deciding which recreational activity to be interested in. Skateboarders are into skateboarding and just because swimming may be less risky it doesn’t mean that skaters will simply be drawn to the relative safety of other activities. Skaters will continue to skate whether it is understood to be safe or not. Nonetheless, when we look at other popular activities we see that the number of emergency room visits are significantly lower for skaters.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported on the number of emergency room visits for a number of popular athletic activities. Baseball, football, and basketball led to about 500,000 ER visits in 2009 while skateboarding led to 66,000. Bicycling accidents alone resulted in 200,000 visits.
For cities, “danger” is often less about scrapes and bruises, and is more about litigation and lawsuits. The “danger” of skateboarding is often perceived as greater liability to the city. In a study submitted to the California Legislature, approximately 25 skateparks submitted tallies of injuries occurring at each skatepark. While there were no shortage of falls resulting in sprains and scrapes, in the five years of study there were no claims made against the cities.
Skateboarding is most dangerous for beginners trying to learn the basics in areas with cracks and debris. It’s true; people have died in skateboarding accidents. From an advocacy standing, it’s critical to recognize that more than half of these tragic accidents involve a motor vehicle and over 98% of all fatal skateboarding accidents have occurred outside of skateparks.
It is impossible to fully measure the amount of risk introduced by skateboarding without also measuring the health benefits of habitual, self-motivated athletic recreation. When someone claims that skateboarding is dangerous, they should also recognize that NOT skateboarding also has its health risks.
Skateparks are an important component to skateboarding safety.
Can skateboarders safely mix with scooter riders and BMX riders?
There are skaters that claim that BMX riders and scooters should have their own spaces but thousands of skateparks allow for mixed uses and there have been no patterns indicating any kind of conflict. Isolated incidents can occur when the public skatepark is too small to accommodate all of the users, but that is not a reflection of the mixed use but rather of the lack of planning foresight. The principle reason that there is conflict between the scooters, BMX riders, and skateboarders is almost always because the available facilities are too small.
The most common points of disagreement between the three types of users are mostly limited to how each group tends to use the skatepark. The complaint against BMX, for example, is that they are larger and faster than skateboards, and are able to span farther distances quickly. Experienced skaters will generally be good at predicting where another skater is going to go but BMX riders have more options and can travel in relatively unexpected directions. As a result, skateparks should be designed with clear lines of sight between areas so that collisions can be avoided.