USC Case Study Reveals the Science Behind Pushing Wood
GOSKATE wants to hear from you! Based on who you are and where you’re from, let us know if these findings fit with the reasons why you love to skateboard.
Why do skateboarders skateboard? Big brands, media outlets, parents, and the general public have been trying to figure this out since the dawn of skateboarding.
Why would young people and brave adults put themselves at the risk of injury just to ride a skateboard? How has this wooden toy turned into such a powerful cultural force in today’s youth culture?
While skateboarders have held the answers to these questions close to our hearts for decades, the history of skateboarding has never had a formal academic investigation into the reasons why skaters skate – that is until now.
Seven Academics from the University of Southern California (USC) in partnership with the Tony Hawk Foundation released Beyond the Boards: Findings from the Fields, earlier this year. The case study is essentially a research study uncovering just why skaters, from beginners to professionals, skate.
While much of the published findings are exactly in line with what our skateboarding instructors tell us, some of the findings from their academic resources are extremely fascinating, blending the lines of race, class, gender, social status, and mental and physical health aspects discussed in an academic space – a space skateboarding doesn’t easily find itself in.
We invite you to enjoy some of these findings with us, as we share them in a light more akin to how skaters would discuss them at the local skatepark. Based on who you are and where you’re from, let us know if these findings fit with the reasons why you love to skateboard.
Perhaps at no surprise to you, the major elements to why skaters skateboard according to the study are:
- Mental and Physical Health
- Relationships and Community
- Develop Interpersonal Skills
However, the piece explores the results of these initiatives through the lens of:
- Skateboarding Culture
- Skateboarding Tricks
- History of Skateboarding
- Skateboarding Competitions
- Professional Skateboarder
- Popularity of Skateboarding
We’re going to go over each of the areas of the study in detail as well as compare them with our own insights as lifelong skateboarders. The results may surprise you.
Mental and Physical Health
It might seem like common sense but when asked, why do skaters skateboard? The top two reasons were mental health and having fun – with 76% to have fun and 62% to get away from stress. Mind you, these are young people in today’s world, where arguably there are more reasons to be stressed for a young person than ever before in modern times.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed high school students on their mental health. The research concluded the national average of high school students experiencing depression symptoms every day was 31%, with nearly 70% of teens reporting that anxiety and depression are serious problems among their peers.
The numbers continue to suicide ideation, which sadly, the rate of suicide among teens has increased 30% since 2000, nearly a steady incline by 2% each year. These numbers are reflective of 14-25 year olds, the exact demographic of skateboarding’s largest demographic.
What are skateboarders concerned about?
What are skateboarders concerned about? The study conducted by USC uncovered some interesting data surrounding what skateboarders are stressed out about. The figure below shows how “finances and money” are the top concerns of skateboarders, next to “finding a job.”
What might surprise you is “negativity and hate” came in strong at number 3, with female-identifying skaters leading the concerns. While skateboarding likes to call itself one big family, and does have one of the strongest hermetic communities in the world, relationships and community don’t always come so easily to the new skater.
We’ve put together some tools and tips for making friends at the skatepark to help a new skater out, but this article will also shed light on the subject especially for young girls.
Don’t worry, we have plenty more on this subject just below. But what his survey and case data illustrates is also how skaters look out for one another in these aspects. They fear these concerns but find support and respite from their local skate community: as you will see in the section “What do you like best about your local skatepark?” The respondents are clear in how relations with people help them with their problems and with their skateboarding.
Organized Sports Are Not As Fun
The study also noted how according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, nearly 70% of youth in the US begged their parents to stop playing organized team sports under the pretense, “They are not fun anymore,” around the age of 13.
Why is this so important? Around the age of 13 many kids are experiencing social and physical shifts in their development, and if they do not have a healthy outlet, both physically and socially like skateboarding, this is where many adolescents experience depression, isolation and anxiety.
Skateboarding offers these kids a way to stay active and to find community among their peers without coaches, parents, or those aspects kids naturally want to rebel against. This is precisely how skateboarding was born and over time was adopted by other subcultures like punk rock, surfers, and outcasted young people that fits so well alongside the ethos of street skating.
Relationships and Community
The skateboarding community is a global community made from the fibers of local skate scenes across the world. Each skate scene has something special about it that makes it a unique contribution to the skate community as a whole, with each of us being bonded through our love of skateboarding.
The USC Case Study took it several steps further, asking skaters of different races, genders and locations about how and why they foster relationships and community through skateboarding.
The USC Case study showed the majority of respondents selected choices related to people, as opposed to physical elements about what they like about their local skatepark.
“Kids thrive in activities where they can have fun, when they feel safe, when they can find community connection with like-minded individuals. If pieces of those are missing, you can still have a local park or community center, but [kids] won’t thrive.”
– Director, City Parks & Recreation, Los Angeles
The study proves once again how skateboarding connects to mental health and how when young people feel disenfranchised, skateboarding and skateparks offer a shared space to connect with others, to be helpful and uplift their fellow skateboarder.
“I can meet my friends at the skatepark,” was the top response to the question – what do you like most about your local skatepark? Second was, “People skating there” with other top responses of:
- It’s easy to get to
- Police do not bother us
- Safe place for me
It wasn’t until the fourth top answer did we see a response to the actual physical obstacles of a skatepark with, “Layout/Design.”
Who Do Skaters Ask Advice From?
Skateboarding is one of the most unique demographics in the world. You have 10-year olds making friends with 20 year olds at the skatepark, and have instructors like our lifelong skaters teaching beginners for the first time.
There’s not nearly as many sports or activities for young people to do where their level of skill does not affect the potential relationships and friendships of participants. That’s truly a special aspect about skateboarding and something our students and their parents or guardians learn even after one day of skate lessons.
You don’t just have to take our word for it – the USC case study shows that 71% of participating skaters said they have a friend from the skatepark they can ask for life advice from. 46% even said they knew a professional skateboarder who they could ask advice from, whereas only 19% and 20% had someone from work or school.
The survey proves that fellow skaters would listen to friends, family members, and other skater’s advice more than someone from work or school – despite that the majority of the participants from the USC case study were either in school or employed.
Skaters Find Value in Making Other Skaters Feel Welcome at Skateparks
Despite the localism stereotype skaters can often be portrayed as having, the USC case study interviewed a diverse pool of skaters from different races, classes, genders, and locations, and found nearly every single one of them expressed how important it was to not only feel welcomed and accepted, but make others feel the same way (regardless of race, class, age or skill).
Specifically, when a skater noticed that someone was new to skating, it was a common standard to introduce themselves and their group of friends – leading to friendships through helping them learn new tricks and understand skate culture as a whole.
“I’m a big fan of the early morning park session. I’m the only kid I know of my friends, I’ll get up on the weekends at like 6:30 am and I’ll go to the park for a couple of hours and just skate. At that hour it’s all people who are like 30 plus, so it was pretty weird just being the only kid at the park but I got used to it. Now, honestly, a lot of the people I know out in [my city] through skating are all twice my age.”
– White male skateboarder (16) from Massachusetts
“Once I got out of school, I could escape to the skatepark, that’s where my real family was. I didn’t see friends that much in high school because I knew I had what really mattered outside of that.”
– White female skateboarder (19) from Massachusetts
Spaces Dedicated to Skateboarding Help Foster Community
There are more spaces dedicated to skateboarding than ever before so it’s no coincidence skating is as big as it is today, touching every corner of the globe with Olympic athletes. But not all skate spaces are skateparks.
Skate shops, skate programs, legalized skate areas, all of these facilitate community in profound ways. The USC data shows that skate shops often serve as the anchor for a city’s skateboarding community, with even non-skate related non profits knowing who to turn to when wanting to interact with the skate community.
Skateparks serve as a special place for mentorship and interactions with skaters from all different races, classes, genders and socio economic backgrounds, where often these people learn to be more tolerant, open minded, and embracive of people from different walks of life.
That being said, there is still work to be done. As the USC case study revealed, female-identifying skaters still wish there were more female-dedicated skate spaces to foster the female-identifying skate community.
“The group of us skateboarding – we were diverse culture-wise, Italian, Spanish, black, white, me, I’m Pakistani and British, all types. We were all diverse, it didn’t even matter, none of that mattered. We just spoke the same language of street brothers. It was more of this bond we developed from each other’s pain. It was kind of very deep in a way.”
-White male skateboarder (19) from New York
“To other people, skateboarding’s like a gender-based sport, but to me and everybody else here, it doesn’t really seem like it, because there’s other girl skaters around here and everybody’s really accepting of them.”
– Native American female skateboarder (19) from New Mexico
Develop Interpersonal Skills
We always tell our students and their loved ones that besides learning how to do awesome skate tricks on a skateboard, the benefits of skateboarding really show themselves off the skateboard.
This truth in itself is why skaters have so much pride being a skateboarder. And it’s not just how they perceive themselves but how others perceive them. The USC Case study actually provides real data from testimony of skaters and non-skaters alike.
Here are some highlights and snapshots:
Learning New Life Skills
When it comes to learning new skills, skateboarders learn much more than just new tricks on the vert ramp or freestyle course. In fact, the USC case study sourced 11 major life skills skaters believed they learned because of skateboarding.
The number one answer to what skills have skaters learned through being a skateboarder was to “Stick with a challenge.” The number two and three being to “Work well with my friends” and to “think outside the box.”
We couldn’t agree more. Here is the full case study list:
Skateboarders’ Skills Perceived by Others
The media and outside culture will always portray skating in a certain way, usually the punk rock skater misfit who is rebelling against society without a cause. But thanks to the Olympics and the new heights skaters have reached in academia, business, even politics, how skateboarders are being perceived by others is finally changing – and in a good way at that.
When others were asked to describe skaters, they would say that the majority of skaters are open to new ideas and connect easily with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
It was also proven by the data, people see skaters as reacting well to unexpected changes and being able to start, maintain, and most importantly finish projects on their own. Skateboarders are also more inclined to explore and connect with new communities and are generally perceived to work well with others. Bravo!
“But I just really respect the fact that it’s taught me that things aren’t going to happen on the first try, and if they do, it’s a rare occurrence. What really determines the difference between you and the next person is your willingness to suffer through the necessity of the process in order for you to reach a goal. I’ve found it to be a very poetic representation of life.”
– White male skateboarder (24) from Michigan
Perhaps with more skate spaces and the changing positive perceptions surrounding what it means to be a skateboarder, the lifelong mantra of “skateboarding is not a crime,” may finally be coming true.
“I learned that skateboarding can be difficult at times. Like let’s say someone is barely starting out, you know, trying to skate, you need to know that you’re going to get hurt. It’s not just going to be, oh, it’s that like you’re going to scrape a piece of your skin or something. You’re going to break bones. You’re going to get head injuries. Like that’s part of skating, right? If you want to learn, you need to commit. If you’re going to commit, you’re going to fall sometimes, but you’ve got to get back up and try again.”
– Latinx male skateboarder (14) from California
The major areas in which interpersonal skills are formed among skaters reported by the USC Case Study date are as follows:
- Communication Skills
- Social and Emotional Skills
- Navigational Skills
- Critical Consciousness
Case study participants express how skateboarding helped them communicate in diverse settings, including the ability to build and maintain relationships with a wide range of people.
This also comes in the form of being particularly adept at reading non-verbal cues from both skaters and non-skaters and even being able to identify people based on clothing, hostility, and the emotions of others.
Skateboarders throughout the case study expressed how being a skateboarder and having an outlet like skateboarding has helped them manage their emotions. They spoke in great detail about perseverance and trusting in yourself to push through the emotions of setbacks, fearlessness, and using confidence not only to deal with pain but delay gratification.
“Skateboarding taught me how to manage my anger, because whenever you get mad and you try to skate, it does not work. At all.”
– Black Male Skater (25) from Texas
“There is one thing that I’m not going to lie, before skateboarding I was kind of scared to do things. And then when I started skateboarding it kind of brought this confidence out of me, like when I started ollying different types of stairs or like when I would do a new trick it would make me happy. And now I know it would help me in other topics, like on my job. Like you know, I knew I could get the job. Like I was young, but I knew if I kept pushing, they would give me the job, and that’s what I did. I mean, like I never stopped. Like I’m not scared of taking risks anymore, because once you’re in skateboarding, (laughs) you take big risks, and you take big hits and falls, but that actually builds you stronger.”
– Latinx male skateboarder (13) from California
Skateboarders have gone on to navigate and operate in both formal and informal spaces, whether they hop a fence into a school yard or attend a court hearing for the trespassing ticket they received for hopping that fence. Nonetheless, the case study expressed from skaters how they navigate the road physically, with drivers and pedestrians zooming past them, to the strategy needed to get through school, employment, and other areas of life where being a skateboarder has helped them.
“You learn to be more observant when you’re a skateboarder, because when you’re pushing through traffic you have to be aware of the cars, and even little pebbles on the ground that you can barely see. Those can take you out, so you have to be really aware and practice on the ground. Like when you’re skating through, say a certain neighborhood, it might not be as safe as other neighborhoods.”
– Black, male skateboarder (age) from New York
Simply put, since skaters are exposed to more people from diverse backgrounds, they go one to be more educated and sympathetic to social issues surrounding race, class, gender and socio economic status. Skaters being naturally rebellious to the dominant culture have also developed a conscience to question everything – why can’t things be more like skateboarding? These tools also help them go on to hone their own identity and beliefs in a changing world.
“I think that just me being just African American already, just having to go through a lot of social scrutiny already, it’s taught me how to persevere. So, even just stepping on a skateboard, it just gave me more passion, more love, more drive to actually just want to go through with anything that I wanted to do in life. So, whether that means going to college, whether that’s me trying a trick, whether that’s me just going through the everyday ins and outs of life. That’s just me, I feel like who I am as a person is just … I feel like I’m an embodiment of perseverance.”
– Black male skateboarder (22) from Texas
What is the Future of Skateboarding?
If there’s anything that this article and research from the USC case study teaches us, it is that those forces that go into why skaters skate will always be the reason why skaters skate. But there’s other forces at work, including skate media, like our own GOSKATE blog and youtube channel, and global trends that impact visibility and accessibility to become skateboarders.
Luckily, it seems the future of skateboarding is in good hands, but here are some things that are concerning:
As reported from our past article, “Death of Skate?” an article observing some of the declining statistics in skateboarding –
- Fewer people are looking for skateboards and skate parks online than ever before, as shown by the fact that skateboarding searches on Google are decreasing.
- Industry studies show skateboarding involvement is down for nearly every age group, including the youth.
Even with certain statistics going down in terms of skateboarding, the culture and industry would say otherwise.
The truth of the matter is, skateboarding is more accessible than it ever has been before. There are more women and female-identifying skaters than ever in history skating in contests like The Olympics, and the X-Games. And larger brands are focusing efforts on how to impact the skate industry in areas of fashion, gaming, television, and even tech.
There’s also women-led skate meetups sprouting throughout the globe getting women on a skateboard for the first time on a consistent basis. Secondly, the pandemic saw a huge booster (pun intended) in the skateboarding industry, as thousands of people were ordering boards online for the first time – including our very own Beginner Skateboarding Package –which through videos like our youtube tutorials, have fostered an amazing passion for skateboarding. The future of skateboarding is not in jeopardy so long as the reasons why people love skateboarding prevail – and those factors are at the heart of what it means to be a skateboarder.
Needless to say, we’re not too worried. GOSKATE has seen thousands of young people and adults step on a skateboard for the first time, and we’ve seen the impact first hand it has on their lives.
It’s why we’re here in the first place, to keep that joy and legacy of being a skater alive. It’s our privilege and honor, and we invite you to take a ride and GOSKATE.
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