by Jack Francis
The sun is back out and suddenly everyone and their dog is out on a skateboard. That’s because nothing gets a skater more excited than the floor being dry for longer than 48 hours and not having to brave the sub-arctic conditions that make a graze feel like a third-degree burn. If you haven’t got on a board so far this summer, you may be considering dusting the cobwebs off your lockdown purchase or thinking about getting your first ever set up.
For those of you who have toyed with the idea of skateboarding but are yet to be convinced, this is my pitch. As a coach, youth worker and active member of the local skate community I’ve seen firsthand how much of a positive impact skateboarding can have on people’s lives and how much joy it can bring. I’m also fully aware that there are a bunch of things that might lead you to believe that it’s not for you or that could make you write it off as a reckless activity. So, if you allow me to take a little of your time, here are some reasons why you should give it a go.
It doesn’t matter if you fall off
Let’s start with the thing that immediately puts most people off skateboarding, the inevitable moment when remaining stood on your skateboard remains untenable and gravity pulls you down to the ground sooner than you’d like. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you here, skateboarding is hard! Understandably, balancing on a long thin piece of wood often gets compared with surfing and snowboarding, but falling onto concrete or even wood definitely hits differently to sinking into water or snow (providing there are no rocks).
What most people might not know is that skateboarding isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes it out to be. One study conducted in Wales found that skateboarding injuries were “infrequent and not severe” while a US study found that you’re more likely to injure yourself playing basketball.
It will come as no surprise that wearing protective equipment will significantly reduce your chances of causing yourself any harm and that most injuries occur during the first two weeks of taking it up, so it’s best to be cautious at first. It’s also worth noting that 99.9% of fatalities when skateboarding are a result of road traffic collisions so make sure you’ve got a spotter for that hill bomb!
It’s not just the pain of a slam that puts people off, many worry that dismounting unintentionally is the ultimate embarrassment, especially in a skatepark full of people half your age and twice as good as you. Fear not, falling off your board is actually something that’s celebrated. You might get more of an applause (or a tap of the board on the ground) for a big slam than a landed trick. Thrasher magazine actually has a whole section dedicated to the biggest bails caught on film called Hall of Meat.
Letting the fear of falling consume you is one of skateboarding’s greatest paradoxes. The more you worry about falling off, the more likely you are to slam. Remaining tense, panicking or pulling out of something early for fear of failing will often lead to more bad then good. So, take a deep breath, take the plunge and be prepared for a bump or two; it’ll be worth it.
The feeling when landing
After reading so much about falling off, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it’s all you do when you skate. I can assure you; it most certainly isn’t. The main goal of skating is to do something on your skateboard and then remain on it - there’s a good reason for this, it feels amazing.
While you’re learning to just push and turn you might not experience the real highs that this hobby can provide but sooner or later, you’ll take on something that presents a bit more of a challenge such as rolling down a flat bank or dropping in on a quarter pipe. In fact, the latter is the perfect example because it’s usually the first thing you do that’s properly effing scary and requires 100% commitment to roll away unscathed. In the process of learning it you might take a couple of tumbles, you might sweat (a lot) but once you finally manage to suss it out, you’ll get a buzz that’s hard to match.
What’s even better is that it doesn’t matter how good you are or what you’re trying to land, if you’re working for a trick and you get it, that rush will be there. This could be your first stationary kickflip or the first time a trick has been done at one of the world’s most iconic/insane spots.
It can keep you both physically and mentally fit
This is hardly revolutionary but apparently if you move around, you pump more blood around your body, burn some calories and research suggests that’s good for your overall health. Crazy, right!? Exercising might not be a novel concept, but what might be is actually wanting to do it because you find it fun. I’ve never been into running on a treadmill or lifting weights but hand me a skateboard and I’ll happily exercise for hours on end.
The benefits also extend to your mental health and this isn’t just a result of the naturally occurring chemicals that are released in your body as a result of physical activity. Attempting something difficult multiple times, overcoming your fears and being successful in what you set out to do can have a profound effect on your general outlook. You’re also likely to build friendships and find yourself part of a wider community, all of which can give you a great sense of purpose and belonging.
I’ve never really been drawn to meditation, but I found out recently that there’s such a thing as ‘movement meditation’. This is where you gain a deeper connection with your body and the present moment through movement. I think the reason I’ve never been drawn to meditation is that I’m able to be ‘present in the moment’ and remove outside distractions through skateboarding. Sometimes when you’re trying to land something and you repeat it over and over everything else seems to fade away. I might be wrong about whether this is an officially accepted form of meditation but it certainly works for me and it may for you too.
Anyone can do it
One of the things that I think is really special about skateboarding is that it’s an activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, races, genders and sexualities. I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are barriers to people taking part and that it’s mostly enjoyed by men but, as far as hobbies go, it’s a pretty inclusive one.
One of the most noticeable trends is the rise in participation of female skateboarders. I genuinely can’t remember seeing any girls skating at my local skatepark on a regular basis when I was a kid so to see so many female skaters at my local these days is really encouraging. If the competitive stage is anything to go by, the rates of participation are only going to grow in the future. In the UK, three out of four of the top ranked female skateboarders are 15 years old. This isn’t just a British phenomenon as four out of six podium placed females at the Summer Olympics Games were 13 or under, one of which was in fact British and became GB’s youngest ever medal winner, coming third in the park event. If these stats are anything to go by, women’s skateboarding has a bright future.
It’s also amazing to see so many projects and even companies that advocate participation in skateboarding for marginalised groups. Brands like There and Glue are truly inclusive and are putting out skate videos of a really high standard, giving people of marginalised groups the opportunity to have role models in their image. Admittedly, there are a wealth of male only videos and only a handful of female only ones with Gassed Up, Gizmo and Credits being some notable mentions. However, with more events like Red Bull’s takeover of the Natural History museum popping up, hopefully women’s skating is starting to get a bit more representation.
At the grassroots level there are hundreds of groups that are making skating accessible to marginalised people and giving a voice to skaters who may not have been heard previously. Here in my hometown the newly formed Brighton Umbrella have been running inclusive skate sessions and meet-ups for women and LGBTQ+ skaters in the city. Another group that are doing great work are SLAG (Skate Like a Girl) Collective who aren’t just providing women with a skateboarding community but are actively fighting back against sexual harassment. If you don’t think sexual harassment is an issue in skateboarding (or in general for that matter) then check out the video below which includes that sadly laughable moment where women are harassed in the street while discussing being harassed in the street. In London there are too many amazing community organisations to mention them all, but some that come to mind are Melanin Skate Gals and Pals, Everyone on Boards and Neighbourhood Skate Club.
Traditionally skateboarding has been a pastime of the younger members of society but these days it’s also being picked up by adults, some of whom skated as kids and others who are brand new to the sport. Lessons catering specifically to adults are popping up around the country and communities of older skaters are beginning to develop. Research published by the long-time skateboarding advocate and lecturer in sociology, Dr Paul O’Connor, looks into the continued participation of adults in our favourite subculture. He found that skateboarding isn’t just a source of physical activity and community for middle-aged skaters, but commonly becomes an integral part of their biographies and identities. Even if middle-aged skaters admit that wearing pads becomes essential at that age, it’s clear that taking up skateboarding doesn’t just give you an outlet but can become an integral part of who you are.
Skateboarding has been through some ups and downs since its humble beginnings of roller skates strapped to bits of wood, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay this time. Although you might be put off by the initial concern that you’ll take a few bumps along the way, I hope I’ve put your mind at ease somewhat. It’s a relatively cheap hobby and if you have a couple of lessons to get going then you’ll soon see what all the fuss is about. Be sure to have a look online and on social media for meet-ups in your area so you can find your own community. There is so much to be gained from skateboarding that I’m not surprised in the slightest that I’ve seen so many newcomers to the sport “catch the bug”. I hope you catch it too.
Jack Francis is a skateboarder, coach and author of the book ‘How to Train Your Skateboard’ which is available in store and on our website. You can check what he’s up to here.
How to Train Your Skateboard