The Skate Of The City

WORDS BY: TANNER HEWITT
PHOTOS BY: WILLIAM ODIS MARTIN

Since its true birth here in the 1970s, skateboarding has woven itself into the fabric of the Californian identity. From the longboarders cruising through the quad, to those kids you knew in high school who spent half their time at the skatepark, to names like Tony Hawk, Ryan Sheckler, Stacy Peralta and Jason Lee (Yes, that Jason Lee. He was once a pro-skater), anyone with a deck is a part of the culture.

With placid weather and 300 plus days a year of sunshine, it’s no wonder skateboarding took off in Southern California. The sport gained worldwide notoriety fairly quickly but has really become ingrained in youth culture around the globe over the past couple generations because it shares something in common with the most popular sport of all – soccer. Soccer is in the hearts of so many people because all you need to play is a ball and some flat ground. Switch the ball with a deck, and you get the picture.

Skateboarding is now a billion-dollar industry and is gaining more recognition as a serious sport. It was announced earlier this year that skateboarding will be a part of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Californians already represent skateboarding all over the world, and our state could be welcoming home a bunch of medal winners in 2020.

Just this past July, Long Beach hosted its first Dew Tour. The event was one of the largest skating competitions in history and featured a completely new format in which skateboard company teams competed against each other in groups and individual events. Five of the skaters who ranked in the top 10 this year at the Dew Tour are from Southern California. Living here, we're allowed to take some of that cred . Go ahead, bask in it.

Skateboarding has become especially relevant to urban lifestyles, and especially so in a city like Long Beach. On top of myriad public (and some private) architectures begging to be skated, there are nine skateparks in the city, most famously Houghton Skatepark on Harding Street, McBride Skate Plaza on MLK Avenue and the new and improved one at Cherry Park.

Cherry Park is an interesting case. Some years ago DIY skaters in the city put up obstacles off to one side of the park. City officials saw the mini skatepark as a “temporary structure,” which gave them the ability to remove the structure at any time. Last year, UK-born pro skater Geoff Rowley teamed up with Vans and the Action Sports Kids (ASK) Foundation – a Long Beach nonprofit “dedicated to providing youth an alternative to the streets and gangs through sports, education and community involvement” – in order to rebuild the park and make it a permanent (and unbranded) fixture of the Long Beach skate scene.

According to an interview in the Gazettes newspaper with Mike Donelon, ASK Foundation creator, around 70 ASK youth were able to skate the obstacles at this year's Dew Tour courses before the event started. He also added that the building of the Michael K. Green Skatepark in Long Beach, which Donelon helped create, brought violent crime in that neighborhood down 30 percent and drug crime down 60 percent.

Adam Cohen is a Long Beach native who is with Skate Dogs, a local skatepark that instructs people of all ages and abilities. He became drawn to skateboarding at the age of 12, when his brother and his friends created a ramp in his backyard. Cohen said skateboarding is a great social tool for youth.

I met many friends through skateboarding, and it became the center of our lives, " he said. "Young people have many activities and interests that they easily grow out of when they get older. I think skateboarding is unique in the sense that if you want to, you don’t have to ever give it up. And many people don’t."

Unfortunately, one skateboarding paradise – a place filled with stair sets, rails, slopes, flat ground, curbs, ledges and “hubbas”  – doesn't allow skating, and that paradise is Long Beach State University. While it's not surprising that skateboarding isn't allowed everywhere on campus, some of us can't help but salivate looking at a lot of the spots around school.

Eduardo Lavin, a Venice Beach native who is double majoring in creative writing and journalism, has been skating since he was 7 years old. He would use his skateboard as his way of commuting throughout the Los Angeles area and around school at CSULB. He said it's an essential tool to use when you don't have access to a car.

"I’ve always felt like skating was a very versatile skill to have," he said. "It’s a great feeling having the cold air hit you in the early morning or late at night when you’re cruising by the beach of the city. It’s a great alternative to walking in terms of commuting, and skate culture is filled with genuinely awesome people."

He has also felt that sense of frustration with what he calls a type of "prohibition" on skateboarding around campus.

"I understand what officials are trying to do with these pedestrian zones, and to a certain extent I agree with it where pedestrian congestion is a thing, like near the LA buildings," Lavin said. "But, I have felt the frustration of cutting it really close to the start of a class and having to walk with my skateboard in my hand because I’m in an empty pedestrian zone with a school official in my field of vision."

Skateboarding may still have an air of counterculture to it, but the impact it can have on communities is very positive. On his Internet talk show, Jerry Seinfeld once said to comedian Chris Rock, “Whenever I see those skateboard kids, I think, 'Those kids will be alright.'”

He added that kids learn to experience another life lesson – going through the motions of countless failures before finally mastering a certain trick.

So, grab a deck (but don't mall grab it) and embed yourself in the local culture. You just might learn something.