Move over baseball and soccer. When it comes to sporting activities for young people, skateboarding is the new melting pot in bringing people together — so say a quartet of Cal State East Bay professors who’ve penned a new book on the rise of skateboarding’s appeal.
Once the sport of rebels and loners, the authors say skateparks have become central gathering places for communities — reaching across race, age and gender.
“There’s a lot of really positive social interactions that you find in places like skateparks,” said Matthew Atencio, one of the authors of the book Moving Boarders. “I think that’s why you see a lot of communities and corporations getting behind this idea.”
The authors visited skateparks across the Bay Area — from the East Bay to the Peninsula — studying the changing demographics and talking to skaters. A particular favorite was Town Park in West Oakland, a former parking lot at Fremery Park tucked in among industrial warehouses which locals transformed into a skatepark. On a recent day, diverse groups of skaters cycled through the concrete topography throughout the afternoon, riding the vividly graffitied ramps and gathering in corners to talk shop.
Town Park founder Keith K-Dub Williams said the park is a popular neighborhood center, drawing young people from the area and beyond.
“Everybody’s welcome here,” said Williams, who helped build the park with a donation from Levi’s. “The vibe here is always cool. Lot of these kids skating behind us, they’ve been skating here since they were like seven or eight years old.”
In Town Park, groups like Unity and Skate Like A Girl have popped-up to support women skaters who turn out at the park. Skateboarder Vanessa Vasquez said the ranks of women skaters have expanded around her in the years she’s been skating.
“A lot of more women have been here, parents,” Vasquez said. “So it’s been pretty amazing to see that.”
Vasquez said she was intimidated in her first visits to the park, but that began to thaw with each return.
“Once you get to know everybody,” Vasquez said, “as long as you’re not inside of a shell and you talk to everybody, I definitely started feeling more comfortable coming here.”
In its gender shift, Town Park mirrors the changing face of skateboarding. Missy Wright, one of the book’s authors, noted the rise of women taking up skateboards was a consistent trend across the Bay Area and the U.S.
“It’s great to come out here and see different girls skating,” Wright said. “That’s something that we didn’t see maybe five years ago.”
Atencio said skateboarding has become a sport that for many young people, has replaced traditional sports. The sport of skateboarding has exploded exponentially in recent decades thanks to events like the X-Games and will even be included in The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo for the first time.
“It’s really kind of cool to think about how skateparks in our urban local communities are changing the way we think about social interaction within sports,” Atencio said.
Williams stood in the middle of Town Park like the hub in a cacophony of whirring spokes. An eight-year old boy whipped his board up a ramp, as a woman in leopard pants flipped an ollie and an African-American teenager pulled a grinder along the lip of a pool. Williams said the skaters police the park — which mostly operates without issues.
“If you’re skating on concrete you don’t need to hear from an adult,” Williams said. “Concrete will let you know what’s popping.”