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Outside of a skatepark, street skating is mostly illegal. Across the country, from California to New York and even down to Miami, there are laws that prohibit street skating. Some laws are more lenient than others depending on the neighborhood, but street skaters are technically criminals. However, to what extent?
Talon Smith, a freshman studying computer science and creative advertising at the University of Miami, has been skating for four years now and has had his fair share of run-ins with the law.
“You do break the law,” said Smith. “Police come up to you, and you’re arguing with them saying, ‘why can’t I be here? Why do I not have the right to do something that isn’t harming anyone?’”
That aspect of rebellion, paired with their carefree attitude is what makes skateboarders cool. “Skateboarders are known as cool and edgy, and everyone kind of wants that,” Smith said.
That innate desire to “be cool” is what makes their influence on music and fashion so strong. It’s a community of individuals who come together and share their tastes, while others look to them to see what trends are coming up next. These trends eventually get picked up by designers and artists.
Originating in California, skating was actually something surfers did on their downtime when the waves were just not cutting it. Considered “sidewalk surfing,” skating was a simple sport with no barriers to entry – all you needed was a board.
After Vans established itself as “the” skater shoe in 1966, other brands started to catch on establishing skating as not just a side-sport for surfers, but as a main sport for all. Once the “Ollie,” a trick in which the skater flips themself and their board in the air without using their hands, was invented, street skating spread across the country and the rest of the world.
By the ’80s, Thrasher magazine had set the tone for skate culture with a core scene of punk rock, complete with the slogan “Skate and Destroy.” It was clear that skaters were cool, and their influence was spreading toward music and fashion.
Through the ’90s and early 2000s, skaters showed off their skills and spread their influence through skate videos filmed on camcorders. The music, paired with the videos, accounted for the spread of dominant music genres within skate culture. The two umbrella genres, being rock and hip-hop, also included alternative, pop-punk, metal and even jazz.
So, what do Metallica, Green Day, N.W.A, Sonic Youth and Tyler the Creator have in common? Their music is ultimately counter-culture and rather anti-pop. They go against the grain, much like many skaters do.
“It’s a mish-mash of this world, of the hegemony, of the skater and the hegemony of counter-culture, which is the resistance of pop-culture,” says Dr. Brent Swanson, professor of Musicology at the University of Miami. “Skaters tend to be countercultural rather than invested in pop culture. You have these two worlds converging.”
One interesting example is skaters listening to jazz musicians, specifically John Coltrane. “People are listening to John Coltrane while skating. Jazz is one of these mediums where you think ‘Well, why John Coltrane?’ He was a bit of a countercultural figure in the 1960s,” Swanson said. “There tends to be these associations with figures that are associated either with mainstream historic pop artists like the Beatles, but then you also have these other artists who were not necessarily pop artists but were big in other rights. They’re perceived as these big figures with historical weight to them.”
In Miami, skate culture is seen through its art. Although there are plenty of skate parks throughout the city, many skaters favor certain parks, like the ones under the highways downtown or near the run-down marina entering Key Biscayne. All these spots are made apparent by their graffiti art. Much like the art on the bottom of skateboards, the graffiti is messy and bright. The art is as countercultural as the music and as criminal as street skating itself.
This same theme follows into their fashion influences. From jeans of all cuts and washes and short-sleeve shirts worn over long-sleeve ones to chunky shoes and all sorts of spunky color combinations, skater fashion is anything but ordinary. The skater fashion scene today finds influence in hip-hop artists such as A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator, both of whom stamp their designs as out of the ordinary.
For Tyler, a piece by The New Yorker said, “The Golf Wang pieces do not aspire to practicality: they are meant to be the loudest items in your closet, statement pieces delivered with a shriek – barely palatable, but impossible to ignore.”
Much like his music, he’s doing what he wants and making a statement out of it. Tyler has always been averse to the common rapper, resorting to lyrics about how he feels. In the article he says, “I wasn’t into sports. I liked pink and shit.”
Similarly, A$AP Rocky just released his own take on skater shoes in a collaboration with famous skater, Dave Mayhew. In an interview with GQ, Rocky explained that people hated his shoes where he grew up, and yet he loved them.
“It was seen in passing by skaters here and there, but predominantly, there were no people really rocking that shit in the hood, whatsoever,” he said.
Although a lot of this fashion is influenced by skate culture, it may not be followed by real skaters.
“Just because Zumiez carries a certain clothing line, it doesn’t mean that brand has a core following with actual skaters,” said Mike Walker, a journalist, sports analyst and longtime skater. On the other hand, Walker notes that there is “a lot of diffusion of skate culture even if those kids do not skate themselves.” This shows the pervasiveness of the culture.
The magnitude of skate culture’s influence on music and fashion has grown so much over the years that it has morphed into its own sort of style. And as much as being a rebel defines skating, there is also an aspect of enduring pain that Smith feels differentiates posers from actual skaters.
“That’s definitely one thing that separates skateboarding from any other sport,” Smith said. “You have to endure a lot of pain to get good. It is physical pain you have to endure.
“I was going up a kicker, jumping from one ramp to another; I kicked my skateboard out and landed right on the ark of my foot on the other ramp. Then, I fell and landed on my wrist. I ended up developing a ganglion cyst that I had to get surgically removed.”
Although painful, Smith saw his cyst as a learning experience to take more caution while skating. “Real skaters go through pain – you have to put something out there in order to call yourself a skater.”
Skating: It all comes down to being an outsider. “With skateboarding, many people still see it as the domain of punk kids up to no good, although this is a negative and largely untrue stereotype, to say the least,” Walker said. “But, at its core, yes, skateboarding is about being an individual, being, to an extent, a rebel, an outsider.”
It’s a culture – a shared community of rebellious ideals with individuals willing to endure pain to feel free and alive.
words_jorge chabo, video_travis laub