Skaters Speak

While digging through the history of Bay Area skaters, it is inevitable that I’d come across Thrasher Magazine. Eric Swenson, Craig Stecyk, and Fausto Vitello, founders of the magazine, started it in the Bay Area. The most prominent thing skaters talk about is…skating: how to skate, new moves, who is performing the latest moves, and most importantly–where are the best places to skate. Thrasher Magazine put out a special edition called, “Epic Spots: The Places You Must Skate Before You Die.” This covers the most epic skate spots around the world. Believe it or not, California carries a lot of space on the list of epic spots. The Bay Area holds its own as well. The book shows detailed pictures of street spots and certain intersections that offer skaters a wide range of challenges. Each picture is accompanied by a short description of what and where it is. Many of the spots listed are public domain, therefore they are subject to local laws–if skateboarding is illegal in that area, people could be ticketed or worse for doing so. Others are private facilities, such as the Pink Motel in Los Angeles. According to Thrasher, “this mellow, whale-shaped pool is skateable only to those with money to spend.”

Bay Area places to skate are changing–shifting. The Hayward Area Recreation and Park District has been increasing the number of skateparks in their district. According to one of the directors, youth activities, including skateboarding, are important to the Park District. Of course while the Park District increases the amount of skateparks they have, they also increase the amount of control they have over the sport. Ricky, a twenty-one year old local skater, has been involved in trying to create independent places to skate for many years now. Bordertown and Wasteland were built and run by skaters. These locations were well off the beaten path–away from people so the skaters could practice their sport without the fear of harming anyone else. According to Ricky, Caltrans had no interest in the land the skaters used until after they used it. At the Wasteland site, Caltrans made a deal with them to move their skate facility away from the support beams and they would not destroy it. The skaters, complied, moving it into an empty field away from the beams. A few weeks later Caltrans went ahead with the demolition. At this point Caltrans is wanting to demolish the other skater built park, Bordertown. Ricky expressed his exasperation and acceptance that he is probably on the losing end of the battle, but he still wants his voice heard. He only wishes he could have free reign to build his own park, without the politics and without interference from others. He also said that he’s like to be able to sit down with Caltrans and work things out in an equitable manner. If only the big companies were interested in being equitable…

Beyond needing a place to skate, there is a general perception that skaters are troublemakers. This perception has led to anti-skating laws and skaters being arrested simply for skating which precipitates the perception of troublemaking. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s interesting to note the varied responses concerning this cycle and views on authority from skaters themselves. Much like many other aspects of life, skating becomes a part of you. For some people, that need feel a board beneath their feet is simply part of who they are. Rudy Bazorda tells a story about going to Trader Joe’s during its busy time and having to take several passes around the parking lot on his board because of the crowd before reaching the object of his desire–a curb at the edge of the lot. He drew a lot of attention in the process, and could imagine their thoughts all along. Bazorda asks, “Why is it criminal to view architecture and public property as open to creative interpretation, especially when there is no property damage or measurable problem?” That is a very interesting question indeed.

Public perception can shape the direction of a subculture or community. As Albert Camarillo points out in his article, “Cities of Color: The New Racial Frontier in California’s Minority-Majority Cities,” outside perception concerning what happens inside a neighborhood affects what actually does happen sometimes. When the rest of the world sees the neighborhood as low-class, crime-ridden and laden with drugs, it will affect property values as well as who wants to live there. The same is true for a sub-culture. If the outside world views it as undesirable, those views can affect how that sub-culture will react and who will want to be laden with that stigma by becoming a member.

Satva Leung tells an epic story of mistaken intentions. He was building speed for a trick, a cop thought Satva was trying to run from him. The outcome was less than ideal. According to Satva, “A lot of cops are on some power trip when they arrest kids for skateboarding. They say we don’t have anything better to do than destroy public property.” He thinks the cops should find something better to do than harass kids for having fun. Garet O’keefe expresses that this may be the product of a clash of two separate subcultures. He claims to be “a good white boy who never got in much trouble with John Q. Law” for skateboarding. O’keefe believes that non-skating officers may not be able to understand the emotions involved when a skater creates. On the flip-side, when confronted by the officer, a skater may challenge his/her authority and/or fail to recognize the officer’s ignorance or even jealousy. “At that intersection of two subcultures, conflicts inevitably arise because of myopia in both directions.”


The Evolution of Parks

Parks along with skate culture can work together to create a goal oriented individual. To understand how this works, let’s look at a brief history of parks in general.

To begin with, people in the US saw parks as a way of bringing the country into the city. Robin F. Bachin shows that early Americans linked the rural landscape with republican ideals and democracy. This bled through into the design of parks, making them simple, grassy knolls to relax and reflect in.

As time went on, parks began to take on functions in society. There was a need to alleviate the ills of city life. Simple relaxation and reflection would no longer do the trick. Parks began to become the centers of active recreation and even civic identity. For some parks the concept of creating a civic or community oriented identity was more challenging than others. Hal K. Rothman talks about the controversial political and social changes in the Bay Area between the 1960s and 1980s that made finding an identity for the Golden Gate Park very difficult.

Changing ideas about people and nature were being reflected in the parks. Rural life was no longer as romanticized as it once was. People were looking into different ways to express themselves through the landscape. This led to landscape designing in parks.

Landscape design allowed people to create beauty and control the natural landscape within the confines of the urban environment.

From here people began to realize the need for parks to fulfill a utilitarian role. Not only could parks provide an escape from the stresses of urban life, but they could also offer a place for active participation in recreation. Playgrounds for children as well as basketball and tennis courts and other activities for adolescents and adults started to become part of the structure for many parks. Picnic tables became just as common as benches, encouraging people to bring their meals and enjoy them in the park. These tables offered a forum for chess players and social discourse as well.

The designs and utility of parks did not start to cater to skateboarders until the mid 1970s. According to James Davis, those first parks in Daytona, Florida and Carlsbad, California were designed poorly and neglected the needs and desires of many skaters. A couple of years later a new set of parks were built with better designs to accommodate a wider range of skaters. A new concept in skateparks came about in 2005: the Skate Plaza. It is a skatepark designed to resemble a town plaza, created by Rob Dyrdek and opened June 5th of that year in Kettering, Ohio.

According to local skaters, similar concepts have come about locally in Richmond and East Oakland. I was told that these are good parks, but their locations are poor. Since they are remote, especially Richmond, it is difficult for many skaters to frequent them.

Most skaters that frequent these parks tend to be teenagers. According to Marcel Danesi teenagerhood is a social construct here in America, something that has only existed since roughly the 1950s. He depicts the average teenager as someone who has his / her own moral outlook on life and is disillusioned by the rest of the world’s hypocritical way of living, therefore this person rebels against the status quo. Danesi makes a point of including music as an important part of teenage identity. James Davis goes deeper to define skater culture in particular. The first thing that Davis mentions is music. He describes the evolution of skate preference from a more heavy metal style of music into dance rhythms and finally into rap. I find it very interesting that Davis titled a section of his book “The (Un)Importance of Fashion,” then went on about skaters feelings toward it. His thesis is that skaters do not care about fashion, as long as their fashion is not mainstream. He goes so far as to say that if their fashions DO become mainstream, they will forcefully and deliberately refuse to wear those fashions. To me, that seems as if fashion is very important to them, just not in the same way it is to many other people. From the impression I get from Davis, skaters pride themselves on being outside social norms. That is not to say they flaunt or break the law, they simply like to be different from everyone else.

The history of parks and skate culture are most definitely intertwined. Recreation and utility come together to produce places where kids can use parks to create a specific form of recreation that only a few talented people can produce. Certain parks offer the facilities to allow these kids to hone their skills. Their independence and individuality is also honed through the individualistic nature of the skate culture as well as their own sense of achievement at accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.

Getting to the Grind

I’ve been digging through the internet for primary sources and have come across some interesting things. To begin with, while browsing, I came across a profile for Professor Gregory Snyder who is working on a book about skateboarding culture. I called him and asked him what I should focus on in the Bay Area. I had browsed through some of the skate magazines, but I didn’t know that one of them, Thrasher, was from the Bay Area. He also told about some other books to look into and emailed me a copy of an article he had written.

The internet seems to be revealing a pretty strong contradiction concerning skateboarding. Communities are taking away the skateboarder’s legitimate places to skate, then blaming them when something tragic happens when they skate elsewhere. In my opinion, the legitimate skateparks should stay in place, then the skateboarders would have no need to skate elsewhere. tells how Caltrans is destroying skater made parks. These parks didn’t cost tax payers anything. The skaters themselves created them out of dirt mounds and concrete under the highway overpasses. These places are safe from injuring innocent bystanders and keep the skaters out of the public eye, yet they are being destroyed. East Bay Express elaborates on this story. They inform us that one of the parks Bayskate was referring to had already been shut down and the other one the other one is going to be, informing the readers that skaters had “lost to the man.”

With such limited legitimate options for skateboarding, what are skaters to do? One option is to simply skate on the street. Unfortunately, that can have some serious consequences.

When a skater accidentally kills a woman, the issues become complicated. It is obvious that the young man did not purposely plow into an old woman at 15 mph on his skateboard. He even stayed with her afterward trying to help her. This begs the question, if he hasn’t got somewhere to skate, what is he supposed to do?

This seems to also lead into other issues. Students I’ve spoken to at East Bay as well as other schools say they rely on their skateboards as transportation. If tragedies such as this one paint skateboards as a liability to the public, then schools are apt to place higher restrictions on the use of skateboards as transportation. San Francisco State has some pretty strict rules about skateboards. They don’t allow them to be ridden on campus at all. Students must carry or walk with them at all times. These kinds of rules seem very alien to me. I come from a college that caters to a lot of international as well as domestic students, so the campus is very diverse. Most people use bicycles or skateboards for transportation, so these kinds of regulations would not happen at the University of Oklahoma.

There seems to be a self-perpetuating cycle going on. There are not enough places for skaters to go to skate, so they create them. Government and business destroy these places, so the skaters are forced to skate in places that put themselves and others in danger. When something tragic happens, the skaters are blamed and it generates public fear and loathing of the sport, marginalizing the skaters even more, making it even harder for them to find and build legitimate places to skate. It seems to me, if more parks and legitimate places to skate were built, this cycle could be broken.

Skate Culture in the Bay Area

I’m Lana. I moved to the Bay Area in June of 2009. History, in general, has always fascinated me because I’ve lived in places where the history was so pronounced. In Cincinnati, Ohio I lived in a neighborhood that had once hosted the underground railroad. The houses my friends and I lived in had secret rooms and passage ways to constantly remind us of our history. In Oklahoma I went to The University of Oklahoma, home of the Sooners. It’s hard to look away from that history when the football team is named after it… In California the history seems more evasive. People seem to shy away from their past here for some reason. I like the idea of digging for the elusive treasures that are buried here. One thing that has always interested me about California is the skate culture. Just about everyone knows about the Z-boys and their claim to fame, but that happened in Southern California. I’m interested in what happened here in the Bay. I know that a rich skate culture is thriving in the Bay Area, but where did it come from? How did it start? Who were the first pioneers to bring it here? What does it bring to the area? How do people feel about the skate culture here in the Bay Area? Most importantly, how do the skaters feel about their lifestyle and what exactly defines “skate culture” in the Bay Area?

I’ve spoken to a couple of skateboarders on campus. The ones I’ve spoken to got their drive to skate or skill from South Cal. One young man said his girlfriend from San Diego convinced him to learn to skate. At this point he uses his skateboard primarily for transportation. A fellow student of mine said that he moved to Hayward from South Cal and brought skateboarding with him.

I intend to look into skateparks in the area to see who the major contributors were. I want to know who thinks it is important to keep this culture alive and well in this area.

This is a video I found on youtube. It was created in 2008 depicting a part of “campus life” at Cal State East Bay. According to the video, it was filmed at Tennyson Skate Park, which is in Hayward. One thing that I think is very interesting is the ethnic diversity. From the view of this film, there does not seem to be any racial or ethnic barriers. People from many backgrounds are sharing in the same activity without concern for where the other person’s ancestors might have come from.

(The header image was obtained from Street League Skateboarding.)