SKATEBOARDING – SPORT AND CULTURE

Sports and Culture

“Don’t let anything poison your individuality. Break away and look within, not outward.” – Rodney Mullen

At mid-afternoon on Friday, June 21, 2013, the temperature in Gwinnett County was 86F. Duncan Creek Park’s skate surface added at least five degrees, making it feel like the low 90’s. But it was “Go Skateboarding Day,” a worldwide celebration of skating held annually on June 21. Ignoring the heat and humidity, the Duncan Creek regulars took to their boards and paid homage to their sport.

Among those gathered were area youths Tyler, Ryan, Chris, and Doc, who ranged in age from 14 to 22. Experienced skaters all, they were happy to talk about their passion. In short order, they covered everything from tricks invented by their heroes, to today’s skating styles and stars, and the reasons they skate.

Most Creative of Sports

The essence of skateboarding, much like surfing, is simply hanging on. Skateboarding has evolved to become both sport and art. Initially the skater’s goal is to learn to execute tricks – stunts requiring uncommon skill. Later, the goal becomes the creation of new tricks.

Over the roughly 70 years that skateboarding has existed, skaters have developed a variety of skating styles, including downhill, vert (short for “vertical”), street, pool, and freestyle. Today’s skaters generally prefer either vert or street. But, as Tyler pointed out, the styles actually overlap somewhat, and “it gets complicated.”

Tony Hawk (the “Birdman” who skated primarily in the 1980’s and 1990’s) is probably the most well known of the vert style skaters. (A vert skater uses ramps or in-ground bowls to hoist himself and perform aerial tricks.) Rodney Mullen (still going strong at age 46) is the unanimous choice as pioneer of street style. (A street skater uses any hard, flat surface as his stage, and often transitions – midair – to ride an incline such as a stair rail or ramp). Mullen invented over 30 tricks, including most of the popular ollies, kickflips, and heelflips. Doc stated flatly, “they [Hawk and Mullen] are the founding fathers of modern skating.”

With a growing number of skate parks, and the popularity of the Summer X Games, there is occurring somewhat of a “passing of the torch” to a younger generation of innovators. There are many from which to choose, and everyone has an opinion. Tyler views Chris Cole, a professional since 2000, as the premier present-day skater. But Ryan quickly countered that the future is with 18-year-old Nyjah Huston, and opined, “the guy can do anything.”

Nature of Skaters

Upon meeting skaters, it becomes readily apparent that each one is independent at heart. Each has strong opinions about every aspect of the sport, from skating styles, to what materials make the best boards, to clothing and footwear. (Ironically, this independence benefits all skaters. Industry manufacturers must continually offer new choices. This fact is not lost on Chris, who smiled and noted, “through the years, more and more companies have offered more and more choices in everything.”)

Among Tyler, Ryan, Chris, and Doc, each has his own reason for skating. Tyler noted the affordability of skating, and pointed out, “all you need is a skateboard and a paved surface.” Ryan developed a natural passion for skating. Reflecting, he noted, “at one time in my life all I had was skating. I would sometimes skate from daylight to dark. Skating is both my passion and release.”

Confirming the skater’s independent nature, Chris remembered that he started skating because “there’s not the organization in skating that exists in other sports. I mean, I can go out and skate anytime I want. I don’t have to wait for a practice or a game.” And Doc recalled with a bit of sadness why he skates. Said Doc, “I skate in memory of a friend who died in a boating accident. He was my skating mentor, taught me a lot. I know he would want me to continue, so I skate to honor him.”

Skate Culture

The notion of a specific “skate culture” is part truth and part myth. Perhaps above everything else, skaters revere individuality and diversity – not only in skateboarding, but also in life itself. But paradoxically, most skaters do not like to skate alone. They love the camaraderie at the parks. Tyler unabashedly noted, “I love to show off a bit, and that’s a good thing. It actually makes you a better skater.”

Skaters also embrace the inclusive nature of their sport. As people, skaters are as varied as the whole of society. Noted Chris, “Anyone can learn to skate. It just takes some practice and time.” Added Tyler, “Anyone is welcome here.” Indeed, the sport is beloved the world over; with skating, there are no boundaries of any kind.

As time passed that Friday, the skaters started to succumb to the heat. At one point, there was more sitting than skating. But suddenly, out of the blue, a van customized to resemble a popular energy drink pulled up. The doors opened, and two gorgeous twenty-something ladies emerged bearing coolers of free drinks.

Surprisingly, the guys started getting their second winds almost immediately. The ladies stayed a bit and watched the action. Funny, but the tricks were more daring than before, and a more competitive atmosphere appeared.

Maybe skaters are not much different from other athletes after all.

Written by Reg L. Carver

Reg L. Carver is a writer and designer in Johns Creek, Georgia. You may find him at www.reglcarver.com.

Reg L. Carver
Reg is a freelance writer and photographer from Johns Creek, Georgia. He is the author of Jazz Profiles: The Spirit of the Nineties (Billboard Books 1998), which was nominated for the Ralph J. Gleason Award for excellence in music writing. He is also the author of Walking Up Lombard:My Long Journey Home (AuthorHouse 2012), a memoir of his journey through major depression and healing. You can find him at www.reglcarver.com and www.500px.com/RegLCarver.

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