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A (Brief) Look at the Influence of Skateboarding Culture

Ever-growing in popularity, skateboarders, can be found anywhere around the world. As both an admirer and member of this unique community, I advise that you don’t let its deviant and dangerous packaging fool you; this sport is much more than it seems; appealing to people through its sense of community, freedom, creativity, and authenticity. Let’s take a closer look at skateboard culture.

Skateboard culture values individuality, creativity, and freedom. Skaters are known for their unrelenting dedication to progressing the sport holistically. The community is built on mutual respect; instead of one-upping each other, skaters often encourage their peers and embrace their differences.

Skateboarding is a youth subculture that emphasizes the importance of self-expression and taking risks. Considered one of the top 10 sports today, this unique sport is increasingly popular, despite its reputation as an outcast or rejects sport. However, not everyone looks to skateboarding for the feats performed as a sport, but skaters possess the effortless “just be yourself” attitude. 

skateboard history - 80s

A Look At Skateboard Culture

Unlike traditional sports, which are formally organized and primarily controlled by adults, there is minimal parental or adult guidance in skateboarding, making it a popular alternative to mainstream sports.

Enforcing freedom, risk, and ‘self-made’ ideals, skaters can participate in and construct new and unique styles, practices, and identities. This freedom, along with the great risk for injury, has created an image of deviance and a lack of control which onlookers and outsiders often fear. 

Unlike many mainstream sports, skateboarding is not just an activity that people participate in and forget until they pick up a board again – it is a way of thinking and living. Skaters have an “I’ll do what I want” mentality that shines through how each individual embraces their individuality. Skating is more than learning tricks; it is a calling to express yourself through the sport.

Where Does Skate Culture Come From?

Rooted in surfing, the idea of skateboarding was first coined by surfers who wanted to see if they could practice their skills and replicate what they did in the water on land. Thus, “Sidewalk Surfing” emerged in 1958 in Southern California with skaters simply sticking wheels onto wooden boards and taking to the streets.

The first commercial skateboards appeared in 1959 and made skateboards available to everyone and not just surfers with make-shift boards. Skating started to gain popularity in the early 1960s when companies such as Makaha and Hobie used the popularity of surfing to promote and capitalize on skateboarding as an alternative to surfing. 

1963 was an important year, seeing the first professional skateboard team formed and the first skateboard competition held in Hermosa, California. However, the initial enthusiasm surrounding skateboarding wore off due to the limitations of the boards’ maneuverability. But interest was renewed once new tricks were created.

A group called the “Z-boys” appeared in the 1970s and revolutionized the skateboarding world. This group of unsupervised teens from Santa Monica were sponsored by a local surf shop and paved the way for skateboarding as a whole. Skateboards were revived with faster and more-maneuverable polyurethane wheels and a kicktail.

The introduction of these improvements was crucial to the Z-boys’ discovery that they could skate the walls of empty swimming pools – an idea that laid out the inspiration for the design of modern-day skateparks.

The skateboard craze spread worldwide, and skateboard magazines appeared to promote the sport and innovative young riders. The first skate park was built in 1976 in Florida, and many others started to appear worldwide. 

This was when riders started exploring the ‘vertical’ potential of the sport, using half-pipes to perform aerial stunts – this was called ‘vert’ skating. Although wearing protective gear was commonplace, safety concerns and rising insurance premiums for skate parks were a significant catalyst in skateboarding’s second downfall from widespread popularity. 

In the 1980s, skateboarding developed an underground following. Skaters would build their own ramps and half-pipes as well as begin skating in urban environments, creating what is now known as street style. A distinctive youth subculture developed around the sport, with punk rock and baggy clothes becoming closely associated with young skaters. 

Street and vert skateboarding became known for its daring and individualistic nature and was spread through documentary films that brought fame to popular vert skaters. However, the rise of big competitions like the X Games, first held in 1995, gave the sport mainstream exposure and commercial legitimacy.

Most of the excitement surrounding skateboarding comes from the riders’ creativity as skaters compete to invent new tricks and trick combinations. The three most fundamental skateboarding moves are the kickturn, the ollie, and the grind. 

Skateboarding has now established itself as a professional sport while maintaining its independence from traditional sports. Skateboarding has held onto its individuality because it is more than a sport; it is a way of life and authentic culture.

What Is Skater Subculture?

The values of authenticity, freedom, and nonconformity are the backbone of the styles and practices of the skater subculture and its members. The importance of individuality is stressed throughout the community, leaving little in the way of guidelines and criteria for skaters.

This subculture expects its members to present themselves honestly, be unapologetic for who they are, and embody the values of the skater subculture – including a dedication to progressing their craft.

On the surface, skater subculture appears to oppose the world’s dominant culture. However, if you dig a little deeper, there are certain values and practices in skater culture that run parallel to the dominant culture’s values and practices.

For example, the value of risking everything and pushing the limits, exploring new places and maneuvers despite laws prohibiting such action appears reckless and in total opposition to the wider world culture. But it is not as dissimilar as you may think.

Though it takes a different approach, the dominant culture supports similar ideals of curiosity and exploration and takes advantage of opportunities provided to you.

Another core value of skateboard culture is the lack of competition. Competitiveness is considered an indication of not being an authentic skater. Skaters work and push themselves to reach their full potential and don’t directly compare themselves to others – this encouraging environment fosters a safer and more enjoyable experience.

However, the rise of events like the X-Games is turning skateboarding into a profitable mainstream sport. Competing in large competition, being judged on criteria, and winning money all go against the original skater values of intrinsic motivation and lack of competition. There is a struggle to maintain the core values of skating while enjoying the legitimacy of professionalism.

You can find more than one type of member in the skate community. Though no one who identifies themself with the skate culture should be invalidated, you find those who are more casual skaters or just passing through and seeing what the sport and culture offers. Then, there are lifers. 

A lifer is a person who has a profound love for and connection to skating. This title is not measured by skill, but the amount of time, passion, and intensity the skater puts into their craft. Skating becomes a crucial pillar in a person’s life, and they will never forget their first board, first trick, or first fall. Those are the moments every skater will look back on and be motivated by.

Is Skate Culture Dying?

Skateboarding has been through many ups and downs in popularity. Skateboarding was on the rise and even expected to be part of the 2020 Olympic games – skateboarding did make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2021. However, its most recent spike in popularity is thanks to the pandemic. The activity has entered another golden age, with the industry flourishing companies struggling to keep up with demand. 

This is primarily due to a change in the public’s mentality. Skaters were mainly viewed as outcasts and anarchist punks destroying public property while engaging in drinking and smoking. However, in the last decade, the general population has become more accepting of this sport and its culture.

Social media played an essential role in revolutionizing skateboarding by bringing attention to skaters around the world who would have remained hidden otherwise. Further, video-sharing platforms have made skateboard content fast and easily accessible.

In light of the pandemic, skateboarding has become a viable and safe sport for people to partake in. Thanks to its creative and independent aspects, it can be done anywhere, and you don’t have to interact with others. Not only are new members joining the scene, with a substantially higher number of girls than ever, but old skaters are getting back on the their boards.

Ultimately, it is hard to grasp the popularity of skateboarding since its identity is continually transforming. But one cannot deny that the cool appeal of the sport, culture, and community has reached out to the new generation, leading to its current booming success. 

Why Is Skate Culture Important?

Despite being considered an outsider sport, skateboarding has profoundly influenced various unrelated things. Skating doesn’t always have to do with partaking in the activity; the idea of doing what you love and having fun without apology is a universal language. 

Skate Culture’s Influence On Its Members

Many don’t look past the dangers of skateboarding and its stereotypical delinquent appearance. Like all alternative subcultures, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to skateboard culture.

Skate culture has provided a safe space and community for society’s outcasts and rejects. It gives its members a sense of purpose and teaches skaters that there is nothing more important than being yourself and accepting others for who they are, breeding a “come as you are” mentality.

Further, skate culture brings everyone together into a supportive environment to work together to progress the world of skating in as many ways as possible. 

Skate Culture’s Influence On Pop Culture

Having started as a small counter-culture activity, skateboarding has permeated society and left a significant mark on pop culture.

Skate Cultures Influence on Fashion

You can look like a skater without being one. Popular styles amongst modern skaters include hoodies, thick shoes, tight or baggy jeans, hats or beanies, chains, and t-shirts, having evolved from the 70s and 80s style of tight shorts, t-shirts, and tube socks. 

With skateboarding’s rise in popularity, many companies saw an opportunity to capitalize on the aesthetics of skaters and create street-styled clothing lines. Despite the success of these brands, many don’t appreciate their cultural appropriation, especially considering the heritage surrounding skateboarding and the emotional connection many feel to the sport and culture.

Skate Culture’s Influence On Music

Initially considered a form of self-expression practiced by outcasts, skateboarding collided with the emergence of punk rock and was closely associated due to similar anti-establishment ideologies. A punk subgenre, skate punk, was born, influencing bands such as Black Flag and NOFX. 

As skating became more mainstream, the music expanded to the sounds of bands like Blink 182, The Offspring, Good Charlotte, and even Avril Lavigne.

Skate Culture’s Influence On Movies And Gaming

Skateboarding has inspired hundreds of movies and documentaries. Through ones like Dogtown and Z-boys, you can immerse yourself in the “anything goes” attitude of skateboard culture by watching various online videos, documentaries, movies, and competition coverage. 

Games about skateboarding are also extremely popular, with many preferring the digital indulgence of this sport over the physical. The Tony Hawk game series remains one of the most successful videogames in history. 

Conclusion

Skateboard culture is unlike anything else in the sports world, holding the same ideals that can be seen throughout many alternative subcultures. Ultimately, it is a culture and community of respect, individuality, creativity, and pushing yourself to be the best you can be.

Though skate culture has faced difficulties in the past, the recent shift in public mentality has led to skateboarding becoming more and more widely endorsed and promoted. Not only is skate culture being revived, but it is evolving and becoming better and stronger than ever before.

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