Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 18, 2002

Skateboarding kicks into mainstream

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Several skaters and a biker line up along the fence at the Mililani Skate Park.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiseriser

. . .

O'ahu skate parks


• A'ala Park

• Keolu Hills Neighborhood Park

• Mililani District Park

• Makiki District Park

Under Construction

• Kamilo Iki Community Park

• Kane'ohe District Park

In Planning or Design Stages

• Hale'iwa Regional Park

• Kapolei Regional Park

• Koko Head District Park

• Central O'ahu

• Banzai (Sunset Beach)

Eight more skate parks are proposed.

From his sales counter on the congested periphery of downtown Honolulu, Chad Hiyakumoto has seen the rising tide.

Across the street, in the newly constructed skate facility at A'ala Park, dozens of kids spin, jump, fall and get up again in bruise-resistant devotion to the art and craft of skateboarding.

They're there when the skate park opens at 7 a.m., and a few still linger when it closes 14 hours later. Some wear helmets and pads, others would sooner wear a tutu. Some are on the verge of sponsorship contracts, others couldn't tell Tony Hawk from Tony the Tiger. And yet they all skate together.

When the temperatures on the concrete playground rise, the kids retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of Hiyakumoto's store — APB A'ala Park Boardshop — to drink sodas, talk gear and study the moves of their favorite skate pros on videotape. Outside, younger skaters, too shy to grind axles with the big boys, find their balance on concrete walkways.

The sheer number of skaters — most of them teens, though some as young as 7 — who regularly venture into the former no-kids' land around A'ala Park has convinced Hiyakumoto that the latest rise in skateboard popularity is something more than just a tidal fluctuation.

"There are kids that are here every single day," he said. "A lot of them live nearby, but some of them bus in from Salt Lake or 'Ewa Beach. There are a large amount of kids around here, where before there were none."

Indeed, the number of young skateboarders in Hawai'i and across the nation has reached record highs over the past few years, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

Fueled by mass-media merchandising and backed by a vocal movement of nouveau skate-parents, the latest generation of skaters has kicked the sport into the mainstream. In the process, they're altering the recreational landscape of hundreds of cities and changing the pimply face of skateboarding, perhaps forever.

Skate park boom

Hiyakumoto, 27, used to skate at the old A'ala Park skate facility (and other unofficial skate areas nearby) when he first moved to O'ahu from Maui for college. Dissatisfied with the weathered skate bowl and tired of being chased out of parking lots and open stairways, he lobbied hard for the the new park, which he also designed.

And putting his money where his passion is, he opened his boardshop a month before the park opened, confident that if the city built it, the kids would come. They did, and it wasn't long before other skate businesses hopped on the skate wagon.

A'ala Park has one of four O'ahu skate parks to open this year. The others are at Keolu Hills Neighborhood Park in Kailua, Mililani District Park and Makiki District Park.

Although some skaters are wary of the motives behind the skate park construction boom — Hiyakumoto links it to Mayor Jeremy Harris' aborted gubernatorial bid — many see it as a concrete (literally) example of the growing social influence of skateboarding.

Once the province of insular kids practicing their skills on backyard ramps and schoolyard railings, skateboarding has become as popular — some would say as mundane — as youth soccer. It's also become a rallying point for middle-class communities, who have succeeded in transforming the landscape of their neighborhoods with what Hiyakumoto affectionately calls "big, grey concrete slabs."

"I think skateboarding has become more of a presence in the media, and that pushes the sport to the kids," Hiyakumoto said. "Kids tell their parents, and their parents put pressure on lawmakers.

"There are some kids who have never skated outside a skate park," he said. "They have the helmets and all the equipment, and when they're finished, they pick up their board and walk home. I think that's kind of funny, but that's just because it wasn't that way when I was growing up."

Peaks and valleys

To be sure, skateboarding has had its peaks and valleys of popularity since the first boards were constructed nearly a hundred years ago. Those initial experiments resembled scooters, with rollerskate wheels, a piece of 2-by-4 plank for a body, a crate and handlebars for steering. A more familiar-looking board was marketed as the Roller Derby Skateboard in 1959.

The first skateboard boom took place from 1962 to 1965, with an estimated 50 million boards produced. The boom ended when poor construction led to a rash of accidents and several cities banned skateboarding.

The sport survived with a core of "underground" skaters. A second boom occurred during the 1970s with the introduction of the faster, better-handling urethane wheel. The first skate park was built in Florida in 1976.

Over the next two decades, skateboarding would become associated with the Southern California punk movement and, later, East and West Coast hip-hop.

Numerous skate parks popped up around the country, though several closed because of liability worries. Through it all, hard-core skaters continued to practice their sport wherever they could, street skating at schools, parking lots, public buildings and other places. The antagonistic relationship with police gave birth to a slogan, "Skateboarding is not a crime" — a cry taken up by skaters and parents alike.

Bigger, faster, now

The recent argument for more skating infrastructure grows, in part, from a significant increase in the number of skaters on the street.

From 1990 to 2000, the number of children ages 12 to 17 who participated in skateboarding increased 14 percent from 3.7 million to 4.2 million, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. The growth was even higher among children ages 6 to 11 — a 36 percent growth over the same period.

Without designated facilities, the growing number of skaters were left to find their own ramps, steps and rails. Unsanctioned spots with surf break-like nicknames, like the Uluwatus and Off the Walls in Hawai'i Kai, served as training grounds for generations of disenfranchised skaters.

Jeremy Dinneen, 15, said he skated in "every school in Hawai'i" before the Mililani skate park opened in February.

"We'd get chased out everywhere we went," he said. "They always tell us that they can charge us with trespassing and criminal property damage."

Rob Bales, 34, said he grew up skating on sidewalks and homemade ramps. These days, he and his 4-year-old son, Shane, do their skating at the Mililani skate park.

"This is cool," he said of the facility. "I wish we had this when I was a kid. I'd have much rather skated at a place like this with good obstacles, nice and smooth. It's a really good place for Shane to learn.

"I'd like to see more parks and bigger parks," Bales said.

Indeed, much of skateboarding's present popularity has been made possible through the support of so-called skate-moms and skate-dads, many of whom grew up around skateboards. And, of course, where the parents and kids go, so go the salespeople.

Following the example of Hawk, the professional skater who in the waning years of his career has elevated himself from cult hero to multimedia merchandising giant — a sort of kick-flipping Martha Stewart — the generation that grew up on clay wheels and homemade vert ramps has stubbornly held on to its childhood passion, providing a ready and willing market for skate-themed clothes, video games and DVDs.

There are some who wonder if skateboarding will be able to survive the full-body collision with cold commerce.

"It's sick," said Duke MacCollough, 31. "You look at some of this stuff, and it's like, what does this have to do with skating? I see girls carrying boards around like it's a handbag. I see old guys wearing skate clothes who've never even been on a board."

He said he also finds the skate-park phenomenon disturbing.

"Part of skating is adapting to what's there on the street," he said. "It's not about standing in line with a bunch of kids in safety gear waiting to go down the same pre-fab drop over and over."

Others are more philosophical.

Robby Gaskell, a professional skater and one of the founders of the local skate Web site www.50-50.com, said true skaters will keep the sport pure, regardless of rises or falls in popularity.

"In essence, those true to the activity will do it for the reasons why they started skateboarding in the first place — for the thrill and fun of riding around on a wooden toy," said Gaskell, 28. "The mainstreaming of skateboarding isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it introduces and inspires many individuals to something that otherwise they may not have experienced.

"The popularity comes in waves seemingly every 10 years or so since the '70s," he said. "For better or worse, this is the direction skateboarding has taken in the new millennium. And as I said, those committed will keep on riding regardless of what's popular or not."