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Source: EastbayRI.com (Rhode Island)
Date: September 6, 2005
Byline: Stephen V. Martino


The skateboarding phenomenon has given rise to local skate parks

EAST BAY – There are no coaches. There are no team practices. There's nobody in your face telling you to move faster, better. It's just one with the elements. No matter where you look these days, you're sure to see some youngster grinding and thrashing his way down the street or at some local skatepark. Ollieing over curbs, the wind moves steadily through the hair as polyurethane wheels create the smooth sound of motion over pavement.

In the past few years, the sport of skateboarding has done a complete tail flip. Nobody is immune to it, it seems. The young, the old, boys and girls alike, all seem to get their kicks cruising around on a board with nothing but the summer air and sheer freedom as their guides. This is skateboarding.

As soon as the weather turns each spring, droves of die-hards, posers and newcomers take to the streets and skateparks across the country, tearing things up in an individualistic manner. As this extreme sport gains in popularity, it's skaters' time to shine.

Since the 1950s, daredevils have taken what was once just for surfers and made it their very own. Wanting more, surfers began toying with smaller boards, attached wheels and used their maneuverability for the street instead of the ocean. With growing technology and lucrative improvements to the sport, it has taken shape, creating a life of its own — and a distinct culture to go along with it.

Nearly 50 years later, professionals don name brands, design their own boards and live for the thrill of flying down a half-pipe with nothing but air between their feet and the board. Novice skaters and amateurs cling to the hope of making it big, looking up to role models once cast aside by society as no-goods and bad seeds.

Things sure have changed

Kyle Gladney, 21, is the manager at Northwind Sports on Thames Street in Bristol. Mr. Gladney has been skating for the past 11 years and has an affinity for all board sports, including kite and mountain boarding. Skateboarding, he said, has gone from something once looked down upon, to a positive sport that teaches self-motivation and discipline.

"It teaches kids to push themselves" he said. "It's all about personal drive."

Skating, said Mr. Gladney, is all about the individual. It's an expression of the self, he added, and because there are no coaches, it develops one's own style.

"It gives kids a sense of accomplishment. They love it," he said.

Rob Russo, 18, loves his longboard, but is prone to riding all types of boards including surfing. Like Mr. Gladney, Mr. Russo enjoys riding anything with four wheels attached to a piece of wood. For the past 14 years, Mr. Russo has been skateboarding and said it's all about doing what he wants. Summers, he said, have been spent at Bristol's skatepark at the Bristol Town Beach.

"I've had a skateboard since before I could walk," he said.

If it wasn't for skating, said Mr. Russo, there's no telling what he would've done with his free time. Kids, he said, are off the streets and doing something they love.

"I would've been doing other things, like getting in trouble."

Matt Borges, 17, of Bristol agrees.

Mr. Borges, a Mt. Hope High School student, has skated for the past five years and whenever he's not working, keeps busy practicing for skate competitions. Mr. Borges has been to Philadelphia's "Love Park" where many of today's skating idols get their kicks. He has won several first place trophies for his unique style of street skating.

"I skate as much as I can," he said. "Everybody's doing it. A whole diversity of other people are coming to skate."

Part of that diversity has been the addition of women to the sport. Once dominated solely by males, women are taking skating to the top.

Mel Rene, 15, of Bristol, loves to skate and said it's because there are no limits that she does it. It's the lack of rules and freedom of skating that motivates her, she said.

"I love it. People give me all sorts of props," said Ms. Rene. "What's the difference between a girl skating and someone else?"

Ms. Rene uses her cousin and sponsored skater, Jimmy Marchand, 21, as her inspiration. Mr. Marchand was born with a slight curve in his spine and requires the use of aluminum crutches to both walk and skate. A physical handicap, he said, can't hold him back.

"It's a totally different way to skate," he said, about his unique style. "You do what you've got to do to skate."

Mr. Marchand hopes one day to become a professional skater. He's already sponsored by Circa skate shoes and Girl Skateboards, both of which give him free equipment.

"It's all about personality" he said. "I just want it (to become professional)."

Stephen Marzak, 19, of Warren has skated since he was 14 years old, and said it's all about personal drive and dedication. Mr. Marzac is part of the Epic Skate Team, an informal group of friends who skate together. Breaking down stereotypes, he said, is something that needs to happen. Skaters, he added, are only out to improve themselves, not hurt others.

"We're not out harming anyone. It's weird how people can categorize skaters like that."

Mr. Marzak said he always used to look up to the older kids when he first started skating. Now, Mr. Marzak is the older kid and said being a good role model is important.

"I try to be a good role model for all the young kids out there. We're all friends."


A brief history of skateboarding at a glance...

  • Early 1900's: Scooters made of planks of wood with milk crates and roller skate wheels fastened to them were popular among young kids.
  • 1950s: Surfing becomes increasingly 'popular. Surfers, looking for anther outlet began experimenting with scooters minus the milk crate. Clay wheels and trucks (devices that hold the wheels) allow for easy maneuvering.
  • 1959: First Roller Derby brand skateboard sold.
  • 1960s: Larry Stevenson, publisher of Surf Guide magazine, created the Mahaka skateboard company and first line of professional boards.
  • 1963: First skateboard contest held at Pier Avenue Junior School in Hermosa, California. In 1964, surf legend Hobie Alter creates Hobie skateboards.
  • Circa 1970: Larry Stevenson invents the kicktail, revolutionizing the sport. Also, surfer Frank Nasworthy develops the urethane wheel also changing the face of skating.
  • 1973: Nasworthy's Cadillac Wheels launches a boom in skateboarding. Two years later, Skateboarder Magazine is published.
  • 1976: First outdoor skatepark built in Florida.
  • Mid 1970s: Dogtown Z-Boys from California take the underground sport of skateboard to the mainstream. Dogtown Skateboards founded.
  • 1978: Alan "Ollie" Gelfand invents the no-hands aerial move the ollie. Skateboarding becomes synonymous with punk and new wave music.
  • Circa 1980: Pool skating becomes popular. Skaters begin to defy gravity by skating in the bowl of an empty pool.
  • 1981: Thrasher Magazine is born. In 1982, pro skater Tony Hawk wins his firs skate contest. By 1983, Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz, and Tracker skateboards are hugely popular with a new generation of skaters.
  • Mid 1980s: The National Skateboard Association is founded by Frank Hawk. Airwalk, Vans and Vision wear become the trademark for skating.
  • 1995 to present: ESPN 2 features the Extreme Games (X-Games) and skateboarding once again hits the mainstream. Longboarding makes a comeback for downhill skaters.

Rhode Island skateparks

  • Bristol: Bristol Public Skatepark at Bristol Town Beach off Route 114.
  • Middletown: Skater Island located on Route 138.
  • Newport: At Easton's Beach (First Beach) in the parking lot.
  • South Kingstown: Located behind Old Mountain Field on Route 108 (Kingstown Road) in Wakefield.
  • Warwick: Rave Skatepark located at Mickey Stevens Park, 975 Sandy Lane.
  • Westerly: White Rock Skate Park located at the Gingerella Sports Complex on White Rock Road off Route 2.
  • Providence: Cityside Skatepark located at downtown Providence.
  • Lincoln: Lincoln Skatepark located on Reservoir Avenue off Smithfield Avenue.

Safety first!

According to the Safety.com website, roughly 50,000 people visit emergency rooms with skateboard related injuries each year. Most injuries are minor, however, bone fractures and head injuries are commonplace. The website recommends wearing protective padding such as helmets, wrist pads, elbow and knee pads, flat bottom sneakers as well as the application of grip tape (see graphics) to the board. Knowing how to fall can also reduce the chances of serious injury, the website said. Try to roll rather than absorb the fall with your arms, hands or wrists. Also, Safety.com suggests children under the age of five should never be allowed to ride a skateboard, while those six to ten years old should always be supervised by an adult. Risk taking, the website said, should only be done by veteran skaters with at least one year of experience.

There are a number of skateboards available on the market today. Many are the traditional free-style street boards, while longboards (made more for speed rather than freestyle) are becoming increasingly popular. Skaters should choose a board that suits their needs and style. Being comfortable on the board is also very important. Parents should always be aware of what type of skateboard their children are riding. Making sure the board is in working condition can prevent unexpected crashes and serious injury.

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