The first time I stepped on a skateboard I hated it.
Not because I didn’t think it was cool, but because I had no idea what I was doing and my dad bought me a piece of junk from Toys ‘r’ Us. My cousins were into skateboarding and my father thought they would hang out with me more if I skateboarded with them. The opposite happened. They were cruising down the boardwalk while I was stuck in concrete as I watched them leave me behind. I always thought they were cool and wanted them to think I was, too.
Now they were off having fun laughing at me while I hang out with old people. I watched and studied how they skated but thought “there is no way I can do that.” At that particular moment, skateboarding could have easily lost one more participant.
Fast forward to the next summer when my cousins came back. My father took me to Carlsbad Pipelines and bought me a Vision Jinx. Fully loaded and ready to go. I didn’t even want it, but it looked cool. We went back and the cousins were ready to skate the boardwalk again. “I’ve gotta do this,” I told myself. We start cruising and I notice right away that I was keeping up. “Was it me or the board?” I wondered. I fell a lot but got right back on and was keeping up. At that moment I realized I was having fun (that’s the point right?) We were laughing and all of a sudden maybe my cousins thought I was kind-of cool. Today I realize that the moment I got a “real” skateboard, a future skateboarder was created; not when I got the cheap one from Toys ‘r’ Us. And I still hope my cousins think I’m cool.
Today, getting kids into skateboarding still has the same challenges as back then with the addition of even more issues. The game has changed so fast that maybe the industry hasn’t been able to keep up. Years ago you signed your kid up for T-Ball when they were six or seven years old, and now you can get them in a baseball camp when they are four. The same goes for skateboarding. Kids aren’t starting at 11 years old anymore. They are four, five, or six years old and have a 20,000 square foot skatepark in their backyard.
So when it comes to skateboarding, parents are faced with a few serious issues:
- “That skatepark is crazy and even though little Johnny keeps asking for a skateboard I’m really nervous he’ll get hurt.”
- “I’ll just get little Johnny this $15 skateboard in the toy section at the big box store and hope he likes it.”
- “I don’t know Johnny, that board is $120 and I would be pretty bummed if I bought it and it sat in the garage.”
- “I bought Johnny the cheap board because I didn’t even know there was a skateshop in town.”
- And the industry favorite: “Johnny doesn’t skateboard because he has a scooter.”
All of these ideals mean doom and gloom for the skateboard industry.
Or does it? If we’re talking about getting kids to participate in skateboarding, the industry should look a little past pushing name-brands or pro model shoes on a bunch of little kids. Almost every kid who first steps on a skateboard has no idea who Chris Cole is or that Baker is a skateboard company and their parents, who will be buying that first skateboard, sure don’t either.
As pointed out before, they are six-year-old kids who just so happen to have a skatepark near them. They’re wearing soccer shorts and have hiking shoes on and don’t even care if that matters or not. It’s not the ’80s anymore and a name or a brand isn’t going to get a kid on a skateboard.
The focus should be on seeing a kid push for the first time, not pushing an image or cool name upon an eight year old.
With all this being said, creating an option for parents to use/rent a skateboard AND feel safe that their kid is learning how to skateboard with safe and fun instruction will breed future skaters. If you’re a shop owner there’s no reason you shouldn’t be the one making this happen because that skatepark down the street doesn’t mean your business will be booming. Work with your community, city officials, schools, and make a difference.
By doing so you’ll have the opportunity to educate parents about the importance of quality equipment while helping them learn the basics of skateboarding. In turn, you’ll build that trust in the community and build one future skater after another, all while building your business. Then parents will be telling their kids: “I’ll sign you up for the rent and learn to skate program and when you like it we’ll see about finding out where to get you a good skateboard so you can have tons of fun. Remember to do your chores though!”
Everything these days is based around education. Almost every activity or sport has an option where you can try it out with instruction without having to buy the equipment right away.
It’s time for shops and brands to take control of their future and get more kids on skateboards. What can you do? What are you doing?
About the author: Patrick O’Toole is the founder of Skatestart and leads and consults with various parks and recreation departments on skateboard programs.