Sporting the latest portable music players and listening to the most popular hip-hop and alternative tunes, teens stand by the steps of the nearest park or the abandoned pool in the neighborhood cheering on their peers. It is a rather small gathering comprised of teens aged 15 to 19 with a 20 year old occasionally seen among them. From a sociological perspective, it seems as if these individuals share nothing in common, the strong independent personalities suggesting non-conformist nature. A closer glance at the group, however, reveals that there may be more than just musical or fashion similarities.
All these people have been brought together by their love for skateboarding. Skateboarding has changed modern culture in ways that were never imagined when it was once invented. It has created its own niche in fashion and has a strong following. In fact, the influence of skateboarding culture in the pop scene has been so pervasive that artists such as Avril Lavigne have launched their careers with songs like, Skater Boy. This acceptance of skateboarding has forged the creation of its own culture and crowd.
As such, in order to arrive at better understanding of the culture of skateboarders and its influence to contemporary culture, it is important to first examine its origins. Started in the 1940s by surfers in California, the first skateboards were primitive. The basic design involved boards with roller skate wheels attached to them. It was not until a few years later that these boards were constructed from pressed layers of wood or planks. It soon began to catch on in popularity among those who could not surf due to the flat waves and not long after, this became called as “Sidewalk Surfing. It is clear from these origins that skateboarding appealed to a certain group.
The non-conventional design of the board and the connections that it has had with the California surfing crowd has suggested that it takes a certain psyche or free spirit to enjoy skateboarding. The roots of skateboarding show that it started from the coastal cities but gradually made its way into urban and even suburban culture. It was theorized that this social and cultural phenomenon was precipitated by the introduction of a new magazine, Skateboarder Magazine, and the 1965 International Championships that were televised on national television.
This newfound celebrity status that skateboarding experienced spurred the rise of a new following for the sport and while interest remained relatively low until the 1970s there was no doubt that it had already entered the public’s consciousness at this point. The 1970s gave rise to what is probably recognized as modern skateboarder culture. The development of a new wheel for skateboards improved the performance of the board and increased its popularity. The new maneuverability of these new boards allowed the skateboarders to try on new tricks and become even more creative.
Coupled with the myriad of colors that they came in, skateboards became more acceptable with the urban crowd. As such, the larger fan base that skateboarding had also meant that the sport was about to evolve. It did not take long for vert skating to make its presence felt. Skateboarding became so popular that it soon split up into different disciplines; freestyle skateboarding and vert skateboarding. This split was crucial to development of skateboard culture because each discipline catered to different classes and social crowds.
The wide spaces that were often available in the coastal cities made freestyle skateboarding more popular in these locations. In urban locations, most crowds had to deal with the lack of ample space and numerous obstacles, as such, this led to the growth of vert skating where ramps would be assembled in abandoned industrial yards and the like. Currently, the most popular group of skateboarders is the street skating crowd. Though never perceived as a mode of transportation, several groups have exhibited quite an affinity for skateboarding that they often carry them around and use them as alternative modes of transportation whenever possible.
This also gave rise to the skateboard culture as a way of life for many. It has become so pervasive in modern day culture that skateboarding has been cited as the main influence for the growth of unique form of clothing and music. In the field of the arts, skateboarding has been credited with being the prime influence for several pop artists. Since its early development, skateboarding has evolved into an influential force due to the increasing popularity and marketing strength that it has. With a market of over US $100 million, skateboarding has gotten the attention of several big name brands that have tried to take advantage of this.
Traditional surfing board brands have also branched out and started their marketing to today’s youth. From an ethnological perspective, it can be argued that while skateboarding influenced the way that these companies’ marketing approach has tried to reach out to the skateboarding crowd, the influence is also vice versa with the skateboarding crowd being influenced by the active marketing of these companies as well through the expectations and social constructs that have been created to show what a modern skateboarder is supposed to be like.
Early on, skateboarding has always had an image as a rebellious activity that caters to the interests of the non-conformists. This has instilled the fear of crime and drugs among those who are engaged in this activity but this image has also been shed over the years with the growing social acceptance that this activity has gained. As studies have shown, more cities are becoming more receptive of skateboarders in their borders. Although there is no marked increase in the construction of skateparks, there is still no absolute ban or prohibition on skateboarding.
This growing social acceptance of skateboarding has profound effects as it in effect removes the edge or rebellious nature of skateboarding by making it more mainstream. The problem here is that while skateboarding is accepted more youth may shy away from such because of this. The skateboarding subculture that has arisen in the United States these days is an amalgam of strategic marketing and non-conformist nature. As interviews have shown, skateboarding is considered as a fun activity because it provides most the teenagers with a unique identity.
It allows them to engage in an activity wherein popularity is based not on certain social markers but is rather on the skill. For those who have troubled, skateboarding offers a reprieve, an escape from reality. It is this character of skateboarding that is a lure that brings together teens, pre-teens and individuals from all walks of life. It has been shown that one of the unifying factors is a shared common activity or interest. While it is argued that skateboarding has given rise to its own subculture, it can also be argued that skateboarding has simply catered to a common interest that all the individual skaters have.
It has provided these people with a conduit to release their creative nature and also allowed them to come together with similar minded individuals so create a niche in society, for after all there is strength in numbers. As such, the skateboarding phenomenon is not one that is wholly new or unique but rather is evolving to adapt to the changes in society. At this point, it is unclear whether or not the skateboarding culture has peaked for this generation. As the X-Games show, there is a growing interest in this sport and with interest comes the fan following which invariably leads to evolution.
Tony Hawk, on of the most famous skateboarders in the world, is known for being the most creative skateboarder of all time but even he thinks that the tricks that have been done on the board are simply the beginning. He sees skateboarding to be even more popular with improvement in technology. On a personal level, it may seem true and such would be a spectacle to behold but as it is the evolution of skateboarding from its humble beginnings is an exciting enough ride as it is.