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					Isabel Chirinos
December 12, 2008
Comm Culture Paper
                                       Skater Culture

       Skateboard culture does not truly exist. Rather, there are two separate cultures;

those that own a skateboard, and those that are skaters. This is because, while both groups

spend their free time on skateboards, only those that are skaters relate to the entire

package of what it means to be someone who skateboards. Though it is true that the

meaning of being a skater has changed, it has always been about using the environment

you are in to communicate who you are, as a form of self-expression, the idea has altered.

The image of the skater has certainly changed over time, just as the image of any culture

would. Even in the last few decades, skateboarding has turned from a form of youthful

resistance to a more sanitized culture. But, even though skateboarding has changed a lot

recently, it has always been a culture that changes, so it is expected to again and again. So

while a true definition of what it means to be someone in a skater culture will never truly

be agreed upon, similar to a definition for the word "culture", it is surely true that skater

culture does exist, as it will forever influence the media, corporations, and those who

need a way to properly express themselves.

       Skateboarding originated as an activity for surfers in California to do when the

surf was bad, and because of this, the history of skateboarding is often described in the

metaphor of a wave. The popularity of skateboarding has gone up and down over time,

but each next one is bigger then the previous. The first wave appeared in 1959-1965, as a

fad item; the skateboard was just a play item that looked like a scooter. It was not until

the second wave, from 1973-1980, that skateboarding began to be looked at as a "serious
sport"1. This was when skateboarding became a marketable product, and thus its

popularity spread quickly. But more importantly, it was during this time that people

really began to push what you were able to do with a skateboard, and where the culture of

skateboarding began. During this time, manufacturers started to experiment with the

types of materials they used, so to improve the handling of the skateboards and allow its

rider to perform tricks while on it2.

       One of the most key moments of this wave was the invention of polyurethane

wheels, allowing skateboards to become faster and more maneuverable. With this in

hand, a group known as the Z-Boys emerged, and forever changed what it meant to

skateboard. Because of a drought that hit the Los Angeles area, people had to drain their

pools, which the Z-Boys, named after the surf team they once belonged to, would use as

their own personal skate park. It was during this time that most popular skateboard tricks

and ideas began. Tony Alva, a Z-Boy, was the first to "go vertical", or become

completely aerial, off a lip of a pool, a move that completely revolutionized what

someone could do on a board3. Alva opened the door to vert skateboarding, meaning

riding in a half bowl (or swimming pool in this case), where skaters could go faster and

perform much more dangerous tricks. However, because skateboarders were now doing

more dangerous things while on their skateboards, they were getting injured more often

as well. This increased the liability issues for skate parks, leading to the eventual closure

  Michael Lorr, "Skateboarding and the X-Gamer Phenomenon," Humanity and Society
29 (2005): 141
  Borden, 22.
  Andrea Hayes. "Dogtown and Z-Boys: Teaching the Documentary Genre." Screen
Education 40 (2005): 85.
of most of them, and thus ending the huge popular wave of skateboarding for a second

time, though it would reemerge in just a few more years4.

         A third wave of skateboarding emerged in 1983, and ended in 1991. During this

time, street skating became popular, which continues to be even today. This time for

skateboarding was quite different then any other, as skateboarding went underground and

became almost an activity for misfits. In the 1980s, skateboarding became less about

skate parks, and more about "the concrete jungle [where] exists literally thousands of

shreddable terrains in the form of banks, ramps, pools, curbs… your driveway,

anything"5. Skateboarding originated as an activity to do on the street, and during this

time skaters returned to those roots. This opened up the terrain that urban skaters could

use, as now they were no longer restricted to just skate parks and pools, but anything that

appeared in the city. This wave in skateboarding culture was marked by the new street

style that emerged, which some claim to be as important to skateboarding history as pool

riding. The third wave of skateboarding made popular a very important aspect of

skateboarding culture, because it truly showed the skill and amusement that comes with

street skating, but more importantly, how much skateboarders are influenced by where

they are.

         Today, we are witnessing the rise of the fourth wave in popularity of

skateboarding, which also includes the idea of "mainstreaming" of the skater culture.

With events like the "X-games," and ESPN broadcasting skating competitions, the

culture is seeing a combination of two ideas that never existed together: non-conforming

    Iain Borden, Skateboarding, Space and the City (Oxford: Berf, 2001) 151.
    Craig Ramsay. "Take San Jose, For Example." Thrasher May 1983: 22.
youth and corporative take over. Corporations endorse professional skaters, and

companies that sell skateboard apparel, rather than skateboards themselves, have become

increasingly successful. This has created a conflict between members of the skater

culture. While some people think that the increase in media and corporate roles in skating

is good because it gives attention to it, others think that it has "cheapened the meaning of

the sport, and ruined some of the creative and communal personality"6. A fine example of

this is the image of Tony Hawk, the most famous skateboarder, and one of the most

famous athletes in the United States. He fully represents the conflict that exists in skating

culture, because he is both a sponsored skater and also a fully respected member of the

skating community. He has accomplished a great deal, both through competition and

invention. While he does have video games, a production company, and clothing line, he

is still described as one of the most "technical, precise, balanced, and light footed"7

skaters out there. And, he is one who truly revolutionized skateboarding by both creating

numerous popular tricks and promoting a "respectable image for skateboarding in

contrast to the more counter-cultural"8. Tony Hawk, along with many famous

skateboarders, is a conflicting icon of this culture, as he represents what skating culture

loves, and what it hates. However, this seems perfectly fitting for a culture that is

continually being challenged, as its problems within itself are far less conflicting then

those that happen with the public.

       Skateboarding is a culture of found space, and using your location is perhaps what

its members value most. Using found space gives an infinite amount of possibility when

  Lorr, 144.
  Christian Hosoi, Thrasher, vol. 9 no. 6 (June 1989), p. 102.
  Borden, 171.
it comes to skating, as "skaters can exist on the essentials of what is out there. Any

terrain. For urban skaters, the city is the hardware on their trip"9. While the ideals and

trends among skateboarders have changed dramatically over time, there exists

consistency when it comes to using what is given. This is perhaps what is most beautiful

about skater culture, because it does not try to create new, but rather use what it has and

work from there. Skater culture originated using the empty swimming pools that

surrounded the youth of Los Angeles, and continues to invent new techniques in the

hearts of cities. While there does exist plenty "constructed place" for skaters to use that

give many opportunities that a city cannot give, street skating is an entirely "different

class"10. One of the most famous skaters who used "the streets" was Mark Gonzales, who

used the city as a "canvas for his masterwork"11. Gonzales is most famous for jumping a

large gap in San Francisco's Embarcadero, now known as "The Gonz Gap" to skaters.

Originally thought to be too large and dangerous to jump from, Gonzales eventually

attempted the jump after much provoking from those that considered him the best street

skater of San Francisco12. While many professional skaters are famous for their handling

of a half pipe, skaters that use the city usually carry more local fame, which can be even

more valuable in the skater community as the idea of conforming to the industry is

commonly seen poorly. The use of found space, and being able to use it skillfully, is

greatly valued in skater culture because it requires knowledge of the area, practice, and

most important, pure courage.

  Stacy Peralta, interview, Interview, no. 17 (July 1987), pp 102.
   Jordan Lane, personal interview 2008.
   Borden, 180.
   Craft, Kevin. "16 Things You Didn't Know About Mark Gonzales." Skateboarder
March 2008.
       As a whole, the image of a skater has certainly changed over time, mostly due to

the media. Many popular movies, such as "Grind" and "Lords of Dogtown", have

depicted skateboarders as people who are passionate, and desire a dream that seems

unattainable, but are able to achieve it through hard work. With morals of the importance

of friendship and achieving goals, it's confusing as to why there would even exist

hostility between authority and skaters themselves. However, this is because of the great

divide that exists in skating culture, which separates third wave rebellion and fourth wave

mainstreaming. Although many skaters state that those who conform to the positive

image many be selling out, there certainly comes perks with doing so, as very clearly

shown in the portrayal of the culture in the media13.

       A very popular form of communication among the skating community is the

numerous amount of magazines aimed entirely towards skateboarding. However, even

the most popular ones, Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding, portray a very different

image of what it means to be a skater. Thrasher magazine is about the more grungy side

of skating, aiming more to street skaters, and those who agree with the non-conforming

aspect of skater culture. Transworld, on the other hand, was made in response to an

article written in Thrasher called "Skate and Destroy", which many thought portrayed the

wrong image of skaters, as the article's title suggests. Transworld's goal in publication

was aimed more towards "expressing adolescent resistance against homogeneity", while

Thrasher's is to promote a "resistance of mainstream conformity"14. The two very

different images of skaters portrayed in magazines shows the slight separation in cultural

  Hayes, 86.
  Won Hyung Ryu, " A semiotic study on the Transworld Skateboarding magazine,"
Semiotica 157 (2005): 305.
beliefs that exist among skaters, even though at the core these two magazines are very

similar. The media's representation of skater culture provides insight to an outsider about

basic beliefs, while also showing how there exist differences among the group as well as


        Nonverbal communication is primarily how skaters communicate, and this is done

mainly through the showing of skill when it comes to handling a board. This is why

professional skaters like Tony Hawk are still respected, even though they are sometimes

considered sell-outs, because they have skill, and are continually pushing to create newer

and better tricks. This non-verbal communication is not necessarily used as a method of

showing off, but also teaching through doing. This is probably also why friendship is

commonly portrayed in media examples of skateboarders, because skaters tend to be in

groups that push each other to create new ideas. While there does exist a lot of rebellious

and negative communication between authority and skateboarders, the most important

form of communication that exists with this culture is non-verbal. Through non-verbal

communication, skaters are able to pass on their skill and push themselves, which is how

the culture continues to thrive.

        Perhaps the most influential aspect of skateboard culture is the current problems

the group faces when interacting with the world. Because of the general hostility and

dislike that skaters face when in public, a spiral of conflict has arisen. The history of

skateboarding culture has made it clear that there has always existed a type of rebellion

associated with those who belong to the culture, as well as an almost flippant demeanor.

And due to this, the public has often seen skaters as a group that needs to be under

control because of a stereotypical misfit image that comes with identifying with the
culture. Though, not even this can compare to the hostility that skaters meet when it

comes to police officers, which are commonly portrayed as a skaters "worst enemy"15. In

numerous cities, skateboarders can receive fines if they are skating in the wrong places.

And in many places, legislation has been passed to ban skateboarding from parks and city

centers. This is put a serious damper on what it means to be a skater, without a city to

skate in, how can one use the city as inspiration?

       Cities have even taken very specific measures to prevent skateboarding, to meet

with the public's demand for it. An article published in the Washington Post called

skateboarders "vandals of sports enthusiasts" and declared that they "leave broken

bottles…crash into tourists… and beat up homeless people, using their skateboards as

weapons"16. In San Francisco, once a "skateboarding mecca in the late '80s through the

'90s", city officials and businesses started to use skate-stoppers, a steel knob affixed to a

ledge, to prevent people from skateboarding17. This was not the first city to do such a

thing, as many places such as New York and Los Angeles, had already started using them

to stop people from skating in public areas. The hostility that skateboarders have started

to greatly face even launched an entirely new ideal entitled "Skateboarding is Not a

Crime", which focuses on the idea that skateboarding is a harmless activity, especially in

relation to potentially dangerous activities, such as drinking or driving, that create many

more safety issues and are not as commonly pursued after. This campaign plastered

stickers on public spaces that banned skateboarding as a way of nonviolent protest. In a

way, skateboarders in this regard are like many other groups that have resisted

   Lane, personal interview 2008.
   Diane De Bernardo. "Monumental Indifference: No one is stopping skateboarders from
riding roughshod over our town." The Washington Post 3 Dec. 1995: C8.
   Jensen, E6.
discrimination, as they are an un-empowered group that only desires respect. While this

is certainly not to the level as say, the discrimination felt by African Americans during

the Civil Rights movement, it does shares some similar characteristics, as both faced

discrimination, animosity, and were not represented by those that had power. Perhaps

then, this culture, which merely desires to be given respect and a place to skate, will

eventually receive it. There clearly exists a communication problem between these two

groups, as skateboarders continue to face problems when trying to enjoy, what they

consider to be, a seemingly inoffensive activity.

       Communication between skater culture and the outside world is limited, primarily

because of the fundamental difference in beliefs. This is due to the fact that some think

that skateboarders are destroying a place, while skaters believe they are just using it to its

full potential. Skaters are continually met with animosity, and while cities are willing to

spend thousands of dollars to stop them, which certainly has not helped other than

creating even more hostility, perhaps a better way to spend this money would be to create

spaces where skateboarders can go. The image of the rebellious skater will never go

away, at least not until skaters and members of authority are able to compromise and

create an environment where both cultures can exist together. There certainly exists a

failure in communication between these two cultures, and without a drastic change, this

problem will continue to exist. While there may not be a completely optimal answer for

how to get these two groups to coincide, for skating cultural to continue to thrive, and

grow, it is necessary for some agreement to be made so that both can exist together,

without this continual loathing of one and other.
        Skater culture can be very confusing, as their exists so many subcultures within it,

but as a whole it is rather respectful. Considering its rich history and continual rise in

popularity, it is very likely that skateboarding will continue to be popular for many years.

Although skaters are met with great animosity, their goals are admirable due to their

constant desire to push and create new things. Skater culture has changed over time, but it

still remains true to many of its original ideals, such as using what you have. And

although history has taught us that the popularity of skateboarding goes up and down, it

always returns more popular then before. It is a wonder what will happen to this culture

in the years to come, especially considering how much conflict not only is occurring

within the group, but with the outside world as well. However, due to the immense

popularity it has had over the time, and the influences it has had on other cultures,

skateboarding culture will certainly be around for a long time. Skateboarding culture is a

great example of a strong culture because it not only fights hard against those who try to

end it, but also continues to push itself everyday to create new things out of day to day


   1. Borden, Iain. Skateboarding, Space and the City : Architecture and the Body.
      New York: Berg, 2003.

   2. Borden, Iain. "Speaking the City: Skateboarding Subculture." Research in Urban
      Sociology 5 (2000): 135-54.

   3. Craft, Kevin. "16 Things You Didn't Know About Mark Gonzales." Skateboarder
      March 2008. <

   4. De Bernardo, Diane. "Monumental Indifference: No one is stopping skateboarders
      from riding roughshod over our town." The Washington Post 3 Dec. 1995: C8

   5. Hayes, Andrea. "Dogtown and Z-Boys: Teaching the Documentary Genre."
      Screen Education 40 (2005): 84-87.

   6. "Interview with Christian Hosoi." Thrasher June 1989: 102.

   7. Jensen, Travis. "No easy skate: S.F. is no longer shredder heaven." San Francisco
      Chronicle 9 Mar. 2007: E6.

   8. Lane, Jordan. Personal interview. 10 Dec. 2008.

   9. Lorr, Michael. "Skateboarding and the X-Gamer Phenomenon." Humanity and
      Society 29 (2005): 140-47.

   10. Ramsay, Craig. "Take San Jose, For Example." Thrasher May 1983: 22.

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