This is an excellent read from the vantage of a longstanding skateboard pillar in NYC and beyond. Rob Rodrigues is the founder of SURE skateboards, an NYC skateboard school that teaches lessons all over Manhattan and BK. Thanks to Rob for giving me permission to repost this note from his facebook page. His opinion is one that I respect, and while we all have different goals for where we want to push this whole movement, his are most definitely noble and inspired. Here’s the article:
I’m a lifelong skateboarder. I live in Manhattan and recently started a business that teaches and promotes skateboarding. I was a designer in the fashion industry for 17 years, but like many people my position was eliminated about two years ago, the casualty of corporate downsizing.
At the same time that I was laid off I also started to use my skateboard more often. It was great for transportation, exercise and some stress relief. Soon it became an awesome way to get from Prospect Park to Union Square. The skate proved to be as fast as the train. It could connect those two points for me as well as eliminate the price of a subway fare.
The skateboard that I was using for my ever increasing mileage is referred to as a “Longboard”, or depending on the size a “Cruiser”. Soon I had so many inquiries from interested people asking questions like; How far are you going? Why are the wheels so big? Why is it shaped like that? I realized that along with the answers to these questions was a great opportunity to be a resource and an inspiration. I wanted to help people discover the joy of “Green Transportation” via skateboards.
From that, SURE Skateboards was born. An acronym for Skateboarders Urban Riding Environment, it flowed quite easily from my imagination. A little short of a year and a couple hundred skateboard lessons later, new concerns have come to the forefront. Not stemming from the growth of my business but for the next steps of an industry segment experiencing rapid growth and its need for recognition as a viable mode of local transport.
The people that have come to SURE for lessons and information have ranged in ages 4 thru 62 years old. A large cross section of society and also with no shortage of female interest. My first weekly student Ronnie was a 44 year old musician. He wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard now because he regretted not being up to the challenge as a “Too Cool” teenager. Starting from scratch with Ronnie over the course of last summer, come autumn he was very comfortable casually boarding through the city using the great network of bike lanes and paths.
Bike Lanes, Bike Paths and Skateboarding’s integration into the flow of public transportation are really my concern here. With Longboarding growing at a huge rate each year it is also adding to the amount of alternative transporters on the streets. Millions of people in a hurry to get somewhere in a congested city always has potential danger.
Skateboarding’s image in the public’s eye thus far has been quite radical and rebellious. “Skateboarders are the Dregs of society”, a recent quote from one parent. But when more than 600 skateboarders show up to participate in the 10th annual 8 mile Broadway Skate and one of my 5 year old students completes the ride hand in hand beside his father it is time to explore the positive role that skateboarding can play for the general public and alternative transportation.
Like all physical activity there are inherent dangers that come with riding a skateboard. Two news items, a recent NY Times article that reports on legislation banning downhill skateboarding in several southern California cities and an Associated Press blurb regarding a skateboarder in San Diego who suffered serious head trauma. A result of hanging onto the back of a car while skateboarding.
These two brief pieces along with some serious mentoring from a professional bicycle racer started contemplation and concern. How fragile and vulnerable is this growing industry when a reckless few can sway the public’s opinion of several million skaters? And, what are the most effective ways to get skateboarding recognized as a legitimate form of alternative transportation?
Most days I witness a few irrational bicyclists and several daring traffic bound pedestrians make some very hazardous moves. Still I don’t think that walking or biking will be outlawed on city streets. Yet because the City of Rye New York has built an enclosed skateboard obstacle course in a public park, they can justify an ordinance against using a skateboard in any other part of the city? This is cause for alarm in a world desperately in need of carbon free transportation.
I teach and promote safety in skateboarding. Beyond the obvious padding, I talk endlessly about being aware of your surroundings while riding. People-Bikes-Cars-Trucks-Bumps & Cracks are just some of what any person in transit needs to be sensitive to. And skateboarding requires acute awareness to survive and succeed. “Your safety and the safety of others is the number one concern while navigating the city on a self-powered vehicle.” I can’t control the actions of everyone, but I aspire to lead by example.
This brings me back to the earlier question. What are the most effective ways to get skateboarding recognized as a legitimate form of alternative transportation? As of late, this is being discussed in a heated and urgent manner among the adult community of skateboarders. By adult I mean 30 and up, professional people, property owners, loving parents. Most agree that all skateboarders should unify, band together and ask to be represented by the Transportation Alternatives organization. A great first step in theory, but the challenge remains that despite the massive expansion of the Longboard segment of this industry, 85% of all skaters are still under 19 years old. A difficult demographic in regards to being politically pro-active.
It is time for skateboarders and the general public to distinguish that Yes! Flying down a hill uncontrollably on a skateboard in moving traffic is really bad and can be harmful to more than the person on the skateboard. But using that same device in a controlled and courteous manner as a viable means of local transportation is really good. Only that distinction can transform a sport reserved for thrill seeking daredevils into something accessible and practical for everyone.
So what started out as a $15 plastic toy for me as a teenager has transitioned into a tool that can take me 26.2 miles in two hours. This is the beauty of skateboarding that can be enjoyed by so many more pedestrians. That is what fuels my passion for the acknowledgement of a skater in transit.