Gustavo Ghavami: "Skateboarding Culture and it's Social Stigma"

Skateboarding Culture 

            Skateboarding has been around since the 60s and tied with this popular action sport is a culture that has brought skaters a lot of attention over the years. People are often misinformed when it comes to the skateboarding society and therefore misconceptions revolving around skateboarders’ rebellious attitudes have given them a bad name. Although the sport now seems to be breaking its stereotype, many still don’t understand the culture and do not see how far it has evolved. 

When skateboarding first started it was a way for surfers to be able to ride when the conditions in the ocean weren’t ideal. Surfers would take the wheels off roller skates and attach them to planks of wood to create skateboards. As more people caught on, skateboarders began skating steep hills, then school banks and ditches, and later pools. The sport had its rise In LA California near the surf during the time of California’s worst drought which meant that most of the pools in the area where drained (Dogtown and Z-Boys). Skaters loved bringing surfing moves to skateboarding, and the concave walls of these pools provided a perfect way for them to carve like surfers. A group of young kids who pretty much founded the sport and started this vert skateboarding called themselves the z-boys (zephyr team). These kids would sneak into houses and sometimes spend hours draining pools just to be able to ride them for a little before getting kicked out. Authorities caught on quick to the trespassing of these skateboarders into homes backyards and soon it became a thrill for skateboarders, jumping fences, emptying out a pool and shredding until you heard sirens. Because of this it was easy for society to associate skateboarding with a rebellious nature as the sport at this point consisted of trespassing and running from the cops (Dogtown and Z-Boys). 

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            Although some would look at the rise of skateboarding with admiration and excitement for the development of a cool surfing alternative, it seemed like parents, authorities, and older men and women in general viewed skaters as a cult of young outlaws looking to destroy property and rebel. Surfing, and the emerging “punk” scene’s strong connection to drugs (mainly the use of cannabis) influenced skateboarding throughout its birth (the history of skateboarding culture). A large portion of surfers used drugs recreationally and this was carried over to the skateboarding culture. Already the trespassing and its ties to the punk scene gave these skaters a bad name and now came the drugs. Jay Adams part of the z-boys says “For the Dogtowners it was like if you didn’t do drugs, you couldn’t even hang out. It became a big part of our scene. There were guys that didn’t do drugs but to us they were just square" (Eisenhouer). The drugs have always been a part of skateboarding, however not everyone that skates has drug issues and this has been a major generalization made by the public since the birth of the sport. 

           Throughout the years, many professional skateboarders have battled with serious drug abuse, some of the more popular names being Christian Hosoi, Brandon Novak, Lizard King (left), Antoine Dixon, Guy Mariano, Andrew Reynolds, Bam Margera, and the skater who pretty much started the z-boys, Jay Adams (Louison, Cole). These professional athletes, or role models to many young skaters, behaved like criminals. It is no wonder why parents and adults would be concerned with children wanting to go out and start skateboarding; they would probably say something like “look what skateboarding did to those pro athletes”. And sadly there lives were messed up; Guy Mariano and Andrew Reynolds lost everything to drug addiction. Brandon Novak a young skateboard prodigy about to turn pro for Powell Peralta ruined his life long dream with heroin (Dreamseller: a fallen skater). Lizard King, probably the prime example of who moms do not want their kids hanging out with, prides himself in being a satanic drug user. Lizard king a rock star in the skateboarding community, parties as hard as he skates and people love him for that. The worst part is he has proven his drug use does not harm his skateboarding but rather improves it, giving him a sort of adrenaline rush, and this somehow deters him from ever getting clean--
he once said in a documentary “skating on acid is tight” (Super Hyper Street Skater Lizard King Goes Hard). Adams’ one of the most iconic skaters in history, one of the best skaters in the z-boys fell into the wrong habits. Adams ended up in and out of jail, hanging out with the wrong crowd doing drugs, and even tattooing his face. “If there was anyone who represents the Westside and the skateboard scene that emerged here in the 1980s, it was Adams” (Rosenfield) which is sad considering he started messing with marijuana then later cocaine and eventually heroine. Christian Hosoi who’s skateboarding career peaked at around the time of tony hawks, had two major run-ins with the law for drug trafficking. Not only was he a celebrity in the skateboarding community but a drug addict, and a methamphetamine dealer. 

            Its interesting how because there are drug-abusing skateboarders, society has tied skateboarding to that behavior; it seems they have forgotten about all the drug abusing basketball, football players etc. who do not define their sport. Now with this being said, these skaters I mentioned are older guys, they are from a different generation of skateboarding. These skaters have seen the growth of skateboarding and have had there struggles with drug abuse, but many like Guy Mariano and Andrew Reynolds have been able to turn their lives back around for good through god, family and friend support, and rehabilitation programs . While some skaters where struggling with drugs there where skaters who did shy away from that scene; so is it fair to blame skateboarding for the failures of these athletes when you had a whole other group of skateboarders doing good in and out of the sport? Christian Hosoi’s rival at the time Tony Hawk for example is a huge anti drug advocate and has kept himself out of the punk rebellious side of the sport. In the 80’s it seemed every major contest was built around the battle between Hosoi and Hawk with two very different styles on and off the skate park. While Hosoi struggled with his health and staying out of jail, Hawk became to be the biggest name in skateboarding history having never gotten into drugs or criminal activity (Louison, Cole). Hosoi now however has turned to god and has managed to stay clean. Other vert skaters such as Bob Burnquist and Bucky Lasek have also succeeded in skateboarding dominating vert competitions and staying away from what people think defines skateboarders—drugs and crime. 

            As for the younger generation of skateboarders you don’t see a lot of hardcore drug problems like you used too, the main thing is the use of cannabis but that is not only seen in the skateboarding youth but in youth in general. Skateboarding is no longer a question of being tied to the hippie surf culture or the rebel punk culture but it is a complex culture that embodies many different personalities. Paul Rodriguez, arguably todays most technical skater, is a Christian who promotes an anti drug skateboarding culture and there are plenty more skaters who actually use skateboarding as a means to not get into drugs. Theotis Beasley another one of todays top skaters says he’s used skateboarding to stay away from drugs growing up and because he was raised right he has never wanted to try any of that stuff. While parents are thinking that skateboarding is a gateway to drugs, you have young kids picking up boards to distract them from just that (nike sb skateboarder). 

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            Narcotics aren’t the only thing that’s changed throughout the years when it comes to the skateboarding culture. When the sport first started off the skateboards where a plank of wood with small trucks and cement wheels which did not allow for many tricks to be done, as the sport grew the skateboards evolved eventually adding a nose and tail to the deck of the board and with the invention of polyurethane wheels skaters where now able to skate more obstacles and destroy more property (Dogtown and z-boys). A new street skateboarding slowly took over the classic vert skating as insurance rates went up and skateparks stopped being built, giving skaters no choice but to skate what they could. Skaters can now get onto ledges and skate over stairs, which means that the beautiful buildings with marble ledges and nice handrails are getting chipped and destroyed by skaters. As this kind of street skating grew where skaters left black streak marks on the clean floors of buildings or left board marks and wax on ledges, authorities began to connect skateboarding directly to the destruction of property and therefore many skateboarders have delt with cops treating them unfairly just because they have skateboard in there hands. 

           business owners are also hesitant towards skateboarders because they are huge liabilities, if they fall down and injure themselves or someone else on their property there can be lawsuits. This is the main reason you see so many “no skateboarding” signs. Because elders give young skaters such troubles, and society is not really welcoming to skateboarders with few skateparks and no skateboarding permitted anywhere, the skateboarding population has grown resistant. Their have been a lot of cases of skaters fighting cops and security guards because they are often disrespected or treated unfairly (Chihsin Chiu) 

            A big part of skateboarding has the same attitude towards cops that many music artists have as well which is “f*** the police” and it has been an on going battle between the two. But this battle has grown because skateboarding now a days revolves mainly around street skating and not vert skating, which can only be done in parks; skaters are constantly trying to find new spots meaning run-ins with the law are inevitable however when you have so many cases of authorities treating young skaters violently and disrespectfully it shows something about the social stigma of skateboarders (Chihsin Chiu). These stigmas have driven authorities to treat people trying to skate as delinquent drug abusing rebels. Are the skaters to blame for wanting to play their sport? Are there enough skateparks to keep skaters off the streets? How far does one go to stop people from skateboarding? A Baltimore police was once suspended after being caught on camera abusing a 14-year-old kid who was skating in front of a building and stopped when he was told to. 

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            Apart from the legal aspects of the sports culture, a big part of the skateboarding philosophy comes from its opposition towards the attitudes of normal team sports. "the skateboarding culture represents a youth activity that embraces anti-establishment values in opposition to middle class norms and values inherent in traditional team sports" (qtd. in Moore). Skaters pride themselves in not being part of the popular organized sports where there are coaches or instructors, skateboarding is an individual sport and there is for the most part no formal training which means the skaters learn everything they do by themselves or with little help from friends or the internet. ““it’s not as military minded [as other sports] there are no manuals or no coaches…[you’re] not part of a machine, [you] go at your own pace, to each his own.” The participants created their own tricks and games, and they determined which tricks they practiced and how long. In the process of controlling their own physical activity, the participants also controlled their own bodies.” (Beal 258). 

            This is something that the people on the outside looking in never really know. Society often questions whether or not skateboarding should be considered a sport because It has no formal training or coaching but skateboarding brings positive ethics as an athlete; because skateboarding has no coaches or teams, it teaches you to set your own goals and work hard to achieve them. Unlike most organized sports skaters aren’t bummed when someone is better than you, there’s little need to compete you really don’t even have to be that good to enjoy it. It teaches you that competition isn’t everything. Skaters feel that the competitive nature of most sports isn’t part of what makes skateboarding fun; no one likes skating with someone who tries to make everything into a game or competition (Beal). Skateboarders generally just like to skate and watch themselves grow as they learn more tricks and help others become better skaters; if you visit your local skate park most skaters will clap or stomp there boards on the ground when you land an impressive trick or when you land a trick you’ve been attempting for a while, weather the other skaters can land that trick or not, they cheer you on and this is sort of the motivating factor that drives the sport. This view skaters have on skateboarding has separated it from regular organized sports, and society responded by giving the sport bad reputation because skaters didn't want to be part of the "norm"(Chihsin Chiu).  This is one of the reasons why skateboarding took so long to go mainstream and commercial because in the beginning of the sport many skaters did not wish for it to commercialize it was all for the love of skating and this again pushed it away from the public eye and kept skateboarding as this kind of group of kids who did not want to be a part of the social norm and their organized sports. It is not to say however that skateboarders wish to deviate from the norm by disobeying the law. 

            Undoubtedly the skateboarding culture is very complex, the stigmas however are not. While many of the stereotypes have changed over the years, the skateboarding culture is still misconstrued and therefore skateboarding is not fully respected in society. Wexford asked Tony hawk in an interview: 

[Interviewer] “There are stereotypes about skateboarders, like you have to be a punk and act a certain way. What are your feelings? I'm a skateboarder, and I'm not a punk, so…” 

[Tony Hawk] “I think it really stems from the past. Skating has been sort of shunned, and not accepted in the public eye, and so the skaters were the ones who didn't really care what others thought. Some skaters were a little flamboyant, like punk and different hairdo’s and others associated that with skating. And the sort of outlaw aspect ... since there was nowhere for them to go, they went street skating on private and public property. People didn't take to that very well, but since they weren't providing facilities, that was all skaters had. I think skating is way more diverse now than it ever has been, so I don't think there is one type of person who fits the mold. I think there is a culture associated with our sport, but it doesn't mean you have to look or act a certain way to be a skater.”

            There is not one kind of skater, and skateboarding itself is not responsible for the behavior of some skaters. The public has been hesitant in accepting skateboarding due to its roots with the druggy surfing and punk scene. Many adults don’t know that skateboarding is a sport that encourages individualization and promotes good sportsmanship. Skateboarding however has developed over the years and is slowly getting rid of the stigmas; with its commercialization people of all backgrounds are joining the sport. The sport will continue to grow and hopefully be fully accepted within society and respected by authorities.

Gustavo Ghavami is an Sophomore at Florida State University who has played many organized sports like basketball football and track but his main passion is in the action sport of skateboarding. Ghavami is also an artist who enjoys Drawing, painting, and Scultping and aspires to make a name for himself in the art community and survive economically doing what he loves.


Accualyisdolan. Louison, Cole. “Skateboarding and drugs.” NewSchoolers. N.p. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. 

Dogtown and Z-Boys. Dir. Stacy Peralta. Perf. Sean Penn, Jay Adams, Tony Alva. 2001. Film. 

Dreamseller: a fallen skater. Dir. Joe Frantz. Perf. Brandon Novak. Bam Margera. Bucky Lasek. 2008. film.

Eisenhour, Mackenzie. “Skaters And Drugs Outtakes: Jay Adams.” 7 June. 2013. N.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. 

Jay Adams talks about growing up in Dogtown. Perf. Jay Adams. Royak Media 2013. Youtube. 

Louison, Cole. “Skaters and Drugs outtakes: Jay Adams.” N.p,n.d web. 27 Oct. 2013. 

"Nike SB Skaterboarder". Theotis Beasley Talks Touring & Influences. sportsbully. crailtap.6/17/11 

Rosenfield, David. “Jay Adams: the long ride of a z-boy” westsidepeoplemag. N.p. 23 Aug. 2013. 

Super Hyper Street Skater Lizard King Goes Hard. 2011. Perf. Lizard King. Vice. YouTube. 

"the History of Skateboarding Culture." tripod. web. 

Wexford, Jeff H. "Skateboarder Tony Hawk." Teenink. N.p. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. 

Scholarly Journals

Beal, Becky. "Disqualifying the Official: An Exploration of Social Resistance through the Subculture of Skateboarding." Sociology of Sport Journal 12.3 (1995): 252-267. Print. 

Chihsin, Chiu. "Streets versus Parks: Skateboarding as a Spatial Practice in New York City". Building Sustainable Communities. print. 

Jones, Rodney H. "Sport and re/creation: What Skateboarders can Teach Us about Learning." Sport, Education & Society 16.5 (2011): 593-611. Print. 

Lombard, Kara-Jane. "Skate and create/skate and Destroy: The Commercial and Governmental Incorporation of Skateboarding." Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 
          24.4 (2010): 475-488. Print. 

Moore, Linda. "An ethnographic study of the skateboarding culture." ESPN productions Inc. 2009. web.

Németh, Jeremy. "Conflict, Exclusion, Relocation: Skateboarding and Public Space." Journal of Urban Design 11.3 (2006): 297-318. Print.