I can’t remember the last time I set foot on a board and I have no idea when my next ride will be. Am I still a skateboarder? Actively, no. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still think about it on a daily basis and spend far too much time ingesting information about it over the internet. Over 25 years of dedication to a plywood deck, steel alloy trucks and urethane wheels tells me that I am a skater even if I no longer present myself as one. This situation used to bother me because it didn’t make sense to me – or my skater friends – that such a relationship could just evaporate over night. It didn’t just evaporate. It was more like a prolonged erosion through injuries, responsibilities and repression that signalled the end of an era. These are all very typical excuses for someone to part ways with a passion. But I had one more reason: Skateboarding changed. I didn’t.
I started skating in the late 80s and really pursued my hobby through the 90s and even pursued it as a career during the 00s. During this evolution I saw the culture falter from it’s peak, nose-dive into oblivion and gradually work it’s way back into the limelight. Skateboarding during the early 90s was strictly for the most hardcore among us. A handful of established companies were raking in the profits when the global economy took a major hit and investments suddenly ran dry over night. Smaller hungry entrepreneurs launched a rebellion against the establishment by promoting young up and comers and applying diversified business strategies. Mainstream media was divided between the corporate friendly companies and those pushing the censorship boundaries as far away from parental guidance as possible. Hundreds of new independent brands appeared with each one offering its personal take on how skateboarding should be represented. In a culture cemented in youth tendencies, it came as no surprise to see these independent brands and risky media flourish.
Fast forward 5 or 6 years and the global economy is starting to get back on it’s feet. The most innovative independent brands are driving the industry and culture forward promoting the combined ideology of rebellion and creativity from the streets to the masses. Mainstream corporations have also got their ears to the street in a bid to find the next big thing. Technology is a sector that’s fetching huge investment due to it’s open-mindedness and low overhead costs. The risk aspect of development is also a drive to back the right horse and make profit fast. Risk is part and parcel with skateboarding which found itself re-branded as an extreme sport and this draws the attention of companies in search for new blood. After a couple of false starts, the year 2000 marks the entry in force of the major sporting goods and energy drink companies within skateboarding. The skateboarders that combine talent with marketability are scooped up and segregated from the rest of the crowd solely for economic reasons. The media is courted too with tons of advertising money transferred directly to each of the publishers that can guarantee coverage of their star talent and premium products.
The rebellious skateboarder that bucked popularity and gimmicks in the past is now a self-employed professional that promotes himself through networks and listens to the statistics. The big corporations shift their hearty embrace of general interest for everyone riding a board into a more focussed handshake with specific individuals that tick all the right boxes. Before you know it the rich are getting richer and the poorer are getting poorer. Again, skateboarding is a reflection of the economic climate in the world where inequalities are forcing a greater divide between the people. Whilst a handful skateboarders buy their first houses and enjoy the luxuries of first class travel around the globe, others stay at home to mould and build their habitat. The divide doesn’t just represent financial difference, it also separates the approach skateboarders take towards their use of a board. The age-old conflict between technically advanced and strategically simple has been fractured further by a bastardised category of skateboarder that masters every facet of the board and terrain. Much like the evolution of the heterosexual into the metrosexual, skateboarding now embraces the arrival of the spornosexual onto the spot with his unparalleled talent and flawless execution.
With the reliable metaphor of the cake divide, it is obvious to see that the fat cat corporations have secured themselves a healthy slice of the pie, whilst the skate rats have been left to fight over a single slice reduced into crumbs by the relentless hunger to claim a piece of the pie for themselves. Only the select few that look away from the plate and into the parlour see that there are more ways to make money than flour, butter and sugar. With the richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer, everyone is forgetting about the middleman struggling to compete with the one percent whilst actively supporting the underground. Yesterday’s entrepreneurs are today’s middleclass – the established independent traders that took a chance to do something different, weathered the storm of their acts and built a solid foundation upon which the rest of us depend. Without these companies, the culture is lost. If skateboarders want to stay true to themselves, they need to support oneanother and stop thinking the solo route is the only route. It’s not by creating yet another bedroom company showcasing your best mates and their ability to ollie drain covers at night that will bridge the gap and eradicate the one percenters. It’s by supporting those who supported you that you will succeed.