Skateboarders Need to Start Thinking Locally
Written by Ben Wixon
The phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally,” encourages people to help improve the health of the entire planet by becoming active in their own community. This phrase is rarely referenced to skateboarding, but if the latest data on skateboarding sales and participation are correct, skateboarders need to start thinking about what they can do to help improve the health of their favorite pastime.
Skateboarding’s “health” or popularity is measured by its participation numbers, and its participation is measured by how many hardgoods are being sold. (Hardgoods are things like decks and bearings. Softgoods, on the other hand, are “lifestyle” products like hats and hoodies.) The skateboarding industry is larger than those who actually skate. Lots of people wear DC sweatshirts or Vans shoes and yet have never stepped foot on a skateboard. Those that skateboard regularly are known as “core skaters” and core skaters are the ones driving and influencing the market.
A study from the Sporting Good’s Manufacturer’s Association, a group that monitors the health and activity of the skateboard industry, indicates that core skateboarding participation has been on the decline for the past six years (2012) and it seems skate hardgood sales are following the same trend (Lewis, 2013). Although core skater participation may be down, public visibility of skateboarding is greater than ever with high profile televised events, growing “lifestyle brands,” skateparks emerging in towns large and small, and the looming question of skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics.
It seems that core skateboarding may be eroding from the inside out, but is there anything you can do about? Supporting the local skateboard environment by helping to make the neighborhood skatepark a success may be the strongest thing anyone can do to maintain and improve the health of skateboarding around the world. (You can also buy skate gear from your local skate shop.)
Incubators of Skateboarding
As skateboarding progresses, diversifies, and reinvents itself for mass consumption, public skateparks have become the first line of defense in nurturing and preserving core skateboarding values and culture. It is well established that modern street skating made skateboarding accessible to the masses and tremendously influenced its progression, (and will continue to), but the influence of the modern public skatepark cannot be ignored. Every community needs a gathering space if it is expected to survive. In the last two decades it was the local skate shop. Now it’s the skatepark. One need not look far to find countless examples of how a new skatepark helped to build a local scene, created jobs, and even launched professional careers.
Public skateparks make skating accessible to everyone by giving new skaters a place to learn fundamentals in the same environment where lifelong skaters push progression and pass along skateboarding traditions and etiquette. Justin Hindery, owner of Shrunken Head Skateboards in Portland Oregon has been working in Portland skate shops for over a decade. He has seen an increase in beginner skateboarders patronizing his shop since the city’s system of public skateparks has been established. He says “it is pretty common to see younger kids and their parents coming into the shop to upgrade their equipment after visiting the local skatepark.” Many new participants may not even know they are riding lower quality equipment until they test their skills at the local skatepark. Laura Martin of Cowtown Skateboards in Phoenix Arizona believes they see higher sales of completes and entry level skateboards at one of their shops located next to a public skatepark. She says “skateparks have helped bridge the gap for generations of skaters, giving parents and kids a place where they can share the experience of skating together.” An infrastructure of community meeting spaces where these lessons and traditions can be passed on is invaluable to skateboarding as a whole.
Increasing and Sustaining Visibility
Many believe the skateboard media’s saturated coverage of skateparks and ramps in the 1980’s alienated skaters by ignoring other thriving scenes around the world, contributing to skateboarding’s overall decline in popularity by the end of the decade. Fast forward to 2013 and the Tony Hawk Foundation now estimates there are approximately 3,500 public skateparks across the U.S. Modern skateparks bring skateboarding to underserved populations in both rural and urban areas, and most are designed to provide terrain for all styles of skateboarding.
For many towns the local skatepark is the highest profile representation of skateboarding in the community. From local officials, to lifelong skaters, families, and even prospective skateboarders, the local skatepark has become a thriving example of how positive an experience skateboarding can be. In many ways today’s public skateparks have come to represent the entirety of “skateboarding” for their own communities. When built and maintained properly these “embassies of skateboarding” can provide some of the best tools for building and promoting a sustainable local skate scene, as well as depicting skateboarders as something other than what’s typically represented in the media.
Public skateparks are literally a billboard for advertising skateboarding to the general public and insuring their success is critical for all stakeholders in the skate industry. Not only is each skatepark a showroom for the industry’s products and people, they introduce a positive subculture to park spaces and “put skateboarding” in the public eye. This is a strategic initiative often overlooked by the skate industry. The future success and sustainability of skateboarding relies upon new generations being exposed to “authentic” skateboarding products and people.
While most public skateparks are overwhelmingly successful and stand as testimonies to the resilience of skaters, some “blighted” parks abandoned by local skaters are becoming increasingly common. The real reasons why these parks have been abandoned are not nearly as important as the message it sends to the broader community. At best, when the skatepark is dead, it is understood that poor decisions were made while developing it. At worst, when the skatepark is dead, the community perceives that skateboarding as a whole is dying.
Supporting the “health” of your local skatepark may possibly be the most influential thing you can do to insure skateboarding’s longevity and sustainability. Healthy skateparks introduce new users, keep established skaters engaged, and provide a meeting place for events and programs. Helping your local skatepark maintain its health can go a long way to guarantee skateboarding will be accessible for generations to come. If you can spare the resources, even meager, contribute to your local scene. If you have a public skatepark near you, find out what’s really going on there and do what you can to ensure that it’s telling the story of skateboarding that YOU want to see. If taken care of properly skateparks will provide a truly “renewable resource” of skateboarding for generations to come.
Industry leaders, whether they are the media, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, or even the “local hero” are the “curators” of skateboarding to the outside world. When skatepark advocates contact you, do your best to give an encouraging response. Skateboarders and manufacturers are reaping the rewards of an unprecedented infrastructure of public skateparks across the United States. We all owe a debt to future skaters to ensure they are able to thrive and progress as they take advantage of this amazing resource. Helping these parks remain successful is one of the best ways to sustain skateboarding’s popularity and provide positive opportunities for skateboarding in the future.
Lewis Mike, J. (May, 2013). The State of Skate: An Industry Snapshot and Analysis. Unpublished paper presented at 6th Annual International Association of Skateboard Companies Skateboarding Summit May 8-10, 2013.
Sports Industry and Fitness Association. (2012). 2012 Sporting Good Manufacturer’s Association Single Sport Participation Report: Skateboarding. [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.sfia.org/reports/87_Skateboarding-Participation-Report-2012