When I went with my son (then 7) to a skateboard shop for the first time, we were welcomed by a Jonah Hill lookalike even though he had big black frames resting on his nose and was wearing a black turtleneck as if he were trying to offset Superbad with the look of a lost French intellectual. He didn’t speak French, but uttered all the skateboard slang I hadn’t asked for.
“These wheels are sick, bro,” he said to my son who was inhaling it all like a newly converted skateboard apostle. I should have known better. I should have left the store, for it meant I had lost my son to years of skateboarding which, to my aging mother, seemed as hazardous as throwing yourself off a cliff.
Truth be told, skateboarding does come with a fair amount of injuries and for all those years we did tell Will to wear a helmet. We should also have insisted on those protective sanitation napkins with Velcro for knees and arms that, according to my son, the nerdish kids wore in the skate park, but, as he told us too, that sort of thing goes against the dope factor of hard-core boarders.
Interestingly, when Will developed a weird bump on his chest and I took him to the doctor, he made a bargain in the car: “If this ain’t cancer,” I heard him utter, “I will wear my helmet every time I go out skateboarding.” Of course, the helmet was only worn once after that, even though there was no cancer whatsoever…
Skateboarding developed from surfing which originated in Hawaii but which was also very much associated with the Beach Boys culture of California. In the seventies, there suddenly was a streetboard with wheels and almost simultaneously the snowboard emerged. It’s not entirely clear who can claim the invention of the snowboard but Sherman Poppen designed the Snurfer in 1965: picking a name like that won’t get you very far and the Snurfer was indeed a flop as it was simply a surfboard in the snow, without bindings or anything. The first prototype and ancestor of the current snowboard was subsequently developed in Utah.
So the entire board industry has been a phenomenon of the Western United States and the strange, or maybe predictable thing is that the boarding image, whether you are a surfer, skater or snowboarder is identified with the epitome of cool which also serves as a beezy babe magnet (these bitches are the so-called board groupies). The boys all wear the same inner city gear with pants that ride way low and are held together with shoe laces. Very tight pants was a thing my son wore, too, and all of it was associated with the same board lingo and black hip hop and rap.
So there you have it, white suburban boys with beanies, lumberjack shirts (momentarily hot when I was my son’s age, so call it retrochic) listening to music that deals with crime, gangs, drugs, sex and lots of misogynist lyrics even though these boys have barely spent a single minute in a really dangerous part of town and if they were ever locked in a room with a hooker they probably wouldn’t know what to do. I call this board hypocrisy but these kids think they are the hottest shit.
My son told me at the time that it was a form of personal expression (he may even have called it “ghetto art” to appeal to my sense of snobbery), but looking back, I do see it as their own form of counter culture. We all latch onto something that is radically different from “mum and dad”, who, in Philip Larkin’s words, “fuck you up/They may not mean to but they do.” And well, if they take their rebellion to the skate park, that may not be the worst of it, provided they don’t break their neck…