Skateboarding is a sporting activity in which an individual rides on a short, narrow board, usually made of some composite material, to which are attached a pair of small wheels at each end of the board. The rider propels himself or herself by placing one foot on the board and pushing on the ground with the other foot. The rider typically stands in an upright or crouching position on the board, from which position any number of tricks can be performed.
People ride skateboards for a variety of reasons, including pure recreation, as a means of transportation, as a type of artistic display, or as a career as a professional skateboarder.
Statista.com showed that participation in skateboarding has declined significantly in recent years, falling from a total of 10.13 million more-than-once participants in 2006, to a low of 5.83 million participants in 2011, and somewhat rebounding to 6.44 million more-than-once participants in 2015; a decline of 3.68 million from its high to its low over the time period from 2006 to 2015. The largest one-year decline, from 2010 to 2011, occurred primarily among so-called “frequent” riders, those who participated in the sport more than 52 times a year.
From 2006 and 2014, the number of skateboarders from the age of 6 to 17 years decreased from 8.75 million to less than 4 million. However, during this same period, the number of participants aged between 18 and 24 years increased slightly. Surveys tend to show that the vast majority of skateboarders are male. Data suggest that the sport is becoming somewhat less popular among the mid-adolescent range (early teens), although it has begun to grow in popularity among the youngest age group, those between the ages of five and nine.
Most skateboarders date the beginnings of their sport to the end of the 1940s and early 1950s when a number of surfers began exploring ways of pursuing their sport in settings other than the ocean. They conceived the idea of putting wheels on strips of wood similar to surfboards and “surfing” city streets on these boards. The activity was given the name of “sidewalk surfing.” For a decade, enthusiasm for the sport surged, and sales of wheeled surfboards surpassed the US$10 million mark by 1965. A year earlier, a specialty publication, Skateboarder Magazine, began publication, and also in 1965, the first international skateboarding championship was in Anaheim, California. The contestants were primarily 12- to 14-year-old boys, and the winner was 15-year-old Danny Bearer, later to become a skateboarding icon. By the early 1970s, skateboarding had begun to lose its appeal; sales of boards declined and Skateboarder Magazine went out of business.
The popularity of skateboarding crashed again in the late 1980s, partly because of safety issues related to the sport. Although vert skateboarding was thrilling, it was also very dangerous, as was the simpler form of the sport performed on public and private property. Soon insurance rates forced vert ramps to close down and property owners to ban skateboarding on their property. The sport soon evolved into an almost completely street-centered sport. With the arrival of the 1990s, interest in skateboarding once more began to increase, but this time it was often associated with the rise of a “punk” and “heavy metal” culture in which riders took pride in being “out-of-the-mainstream.” When the ESPN television channel held the first Extreme Games in 1995, a fission began to occur within the skateboarding community between those who saw an opportunity to move their sport into the mainstream (as a part of the ESPN X Games) and those who relished the underground aspects of skateboarding. Elements of that fission remain today as the sport continues to fluctuate in popularity both across the board and within its two main “mainstream” and “underground” elements.
Skateboarding became an official Olympic event in 2016 when the International Olympic Committee (during its 129th Session in Rio de Janeiro) agreed to add the sport to its agenda. The first Olympic skateboarding event will be held at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
The basic concept that underlies skateboarding is simple, one stands on a skateboard and propels the board kicking with one foot, often performing a variety of tricks in the process. The precise nature of the activity, in addition to the site on which it is performed, differs widely, however, from version to version. Some of the many variations of skateboarding include the following:
Sports medicine specialists generally recommend that a person who participates in any sport adopt some type of training and conditional program that will improve their strength, agility, endurance, balance, and other physical characteristics. In general, skateboard enthusiasts appear to have relatively little interest in these general training programs and tend to focus on increasing their skill levels in maneuvers that are specifically related to their sport, such as flips, aerials, grinds, and slides.
Skateboarding requires a rather modest amount of equipment, most important of which is the skateboard itself. Experts recommend that a rider purchase the best board financially possible in order to provide the most useful and safest tool for the sport. In addition to the board, other essential equipment is a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, and suitable shoes for the board. Experts recommend that the helmet, the most important piece of safety equipment, sit low on the forehead, have V-shaped side straps to protect the ears, has a buckle and installable pads that make the helmet fit tightly on the head, and that neither interferes with your movement while skateboarding nor moves about during the activity.
As mentioned previously, most skateboarders appear to feel that their training and conditioning time is best spent on practicing the maneuvers required to carry out the variety of tricks they intend to demonstrate while doing their sport.
Studies on the incidence and nature of skateboard injuries have been sparse over the last decade. In 1998, research found that the rate of injuries among skateboarders was 8.9 per 1,000 participants, twice as great as it was for inline skating and half as great as it was for basketball. After declining from 1987 to 1993, the injury rate for the sport began to increase again and reached its highest level in the year of the study. The most common type of injury was ankle strain/sprain or wrist fracture (1.2 cases per 1,000 and 0.6 per 1,000, respectively). The most recent study on skateboarding injury was reported in 2010 and covered 100 skateboarders in Vienna. The study found that 97% of all respondents reported some type of injury from the sport, the most common of which affected the lower leg, ankle, or foot (32% of all injuries), followed by the forearm, wrist, or hand (16%). An interesting discovery was that only 13% of respondents reported using any type of protective gear. Another interesting finding from a number of surveys of skateboard injuries is that more than half resulted from uneven surfaces on which the sport was being conducted.
Overall, it seems reasonable to conclude that skateboarding is a potentially risky sport that can be made safer by selecting a properly maintained practice surface and by wearing adequate protective equipment.
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International Association of Skateboard Companies, 315 S Coast Hwy. 101, Ste. U-253, Encinitas, CA, 92024, (949) 455-1112, http://theiasc.org .
International Slalom Skateboarding Association, http://www.slalomskateboarder.com .
Skate Park Association International, 2118 Wilshire Blvd., #622, Santa Monica, CA, 90403, (310) 261-2816, http://www.spausa.org .
David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD