December 12, 2008
Comm Culture Paper
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
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
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
Christian Hosoi, Thrasher, vol. 9 no. 6 (June 1989), p. 102.
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.
Craft, Kevin. "16 Things You Didn't Know About Mark Gonzales." Skateboarder
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
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.
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. <http://www.skateboardermag.com/skateboarder-news-
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.