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 place 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.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) conducts an annual survey of participation in more than 100 different sports. Its 2011 report showed that participation in skateboarding has declined significantly in recent years, falling from a total of 9,859,000 more-than-once participants in 2007 to 6,808,000 more-than-once participants in 2011, a decline of 30.9 percent. The largest one-year decline, from 2010 to 2011, occurred among so-called “frequent” riders, those who participated in the sport more than 52 times a year. Surveys tend to show that the vast majority of skateboarders are males. A 2009 survey conducted by the Board-Trac company, for example, found that 93.3 percent of all “frequent” participants were male, and 6.7 percent, female. Among “infrequent” participants, the division was somewhat less pronounced, 80.7 percent male to 19.3 percent female. The sport is primarily one of young participants, with at least 85 percent of riders being under the age of 18. The most recent 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 surf boards 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.
Two events led to the revival of interest in skateboarding in the mid-1970s. First, manufacturers began to explore the use of alternative materials for the construction of boards. Plastics and composites were used to produce boards that were lighter and easier to maneuver than traditional wooden boards, which, nonetheless, continued to command a significant portion of the market. Second, riders migrated to the use of so-called vert ramps on which to practice their sport. At first, the primary and almost exclusive venue for skateboarding was city streets, parking lots, and other open, concrete areas. But in a few instances, riders were beginning to explore options to these open spaces, the most popular being vert ramps that are similar to the half pipe used in many extreme sports today. Reputedly, the first vert ramps were swimming pools that had been emptied by young men while their parents were on vacation, providing a more challenging site in which to practice their sport. A third factor may also have been the invention of a new maneuver on a skateboard, a so-called “ollie,” in which a rider lifts the board and himself or herself into the air without the use of hands.
The ollie became a fundamental maneuver on which a whole host of other new tricks could be based.
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 “hard 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.
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:
Street skateboarding is a form of the sport in which the rider performs on the street, sidewalk, parking lot, shopping center, or other reasonably flat paved area. The rider attempts to overcome natural obstacles that are part of this environment, including curbs, steps, handrails, and ledges.
Flatland skateboarding, as the name implies, is done on a flat, hard-surface area. It differs from street skateboarding in that it involves a very large variety of tricks that do not require the use of objects in the environment. Those tricks involve different kinds of flips, endovers (which involve a 180 degree turn on the board), kickflips (in which the board is flipped vertically into the air from the ground), walking the dog (a series of endovers performed continuously), and boneless (a method of taking off and landing on the board while it is in the air).
Downhill skateboarding, as the name makes clear, downhill skateboarding is a form of the sport in which riders travel down hills, essentially to experience the thrill of a very fast race, often at speeds as great as 60 miles per hour.
Slalom skateboarding is similar to slalom skiing. Racers travel downhill following a course laid out by cones around which they must move without displacing the cones. Five types of slalom skateboarding exist; they differ from each other in the length of the course and the spacing of the cones. In competitions, two racers may compete simultaneously against each other, or racers may complete the course one at a time, with each racer's time determining his or her final position in the contest. Slalom skateboarding is one of the most highly organized forms of skateboarding with its own governing body, International Skateboard Slalom Racing, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.
Freestyle skateboarding is regarded by some riders as the purest form of the sport, in which a rider uses only a board and a smooth surface on which to work. This variation of the sport is probably the most artistic form practiced, with connections to dance and gymnastics. The sport was popular in the early days of skateboarding, and then went into decline until the beginning of the twenty first century, at which point it experienced resurgence in popularity. In 2000, three Swedes, Daniel Gesmer, Bob Staton, and Stefan Åkesson founded the World Freestyle Skateboarding Association (WFSA) to ensure that there would always be competitions for men and women interested in the sport. The WFSA continues to exist today and to sponsor annual championships in the event. Its headquarters are in Stockholm, Sweden.
Vert skateboarding, as described above, is practice in an oversized half-pipe in specially built facilities. The tricks that can be performed in the sport are so astounding and exciting that they have become a popular part of the ESPN X Games (along with other forms of skateboarding) aired annually on that television network.
Sports medicine specialists generally recommend that a person who participates in any sport adopt some time 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 that makes the helmet fit tightly on the head, has 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 above, 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 thousand 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 percent of all respondents reported some type of injury from the sport, the most common of which affected the lower leg, ankle, or foot (32 percent of all injuries), followed by the forearm, wrist, or hand (16 percent). An interesting discovery was that only 13 percent 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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