August 17, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature 

Head games, part I

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Page 3 of 6

"The skateboarding boom that followed the 1973 innovation of the urethane wheel, for example, spurred the construction of commercial skateparks nationwide. But most of these early parks – the majority of them built with gunite – were so poorly constructed that they became dangerous and began to suffer insurance and liability problems. At the end of the seventies they began to close en masse; eighty per cent of them were bulldozed in 1979 alone."

Things have turned around recently, mostly in recognition of the popularity of the sport. In the U.S. alone, there are 6.2 million skateboarders, making it the sixth most popular sport in the country. At the same time, there are relatively few skateparks in comparison to other athletic facilities.

Without parks to go to, those skaters tended to run amok in downtown areas, and with them came the complaints, the noise, the scratched up curbs and benches, and the graffiti. In one of the most famous cases, skaters completely thrashed the new $9.8 million Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque in a matter of months, with the cost of restoration being pegged in the millions.

Faced with a decision of either trying to chase down and confiscate every skateboard in town or bringing the parks back, a lot of towns and cities went with the park option. They’re coming back slowly to give these kids a place to go, and disclaimers were posted in the parks in an attempt to head off any liability issues.

In California, a law was passed proclaiming skateboarding a dangerous activity, along with rock climbing and surfing, which protects cities from being sued for injuries by anyone 14 or older.

Head injuries are the main concern. The big question is whether you can convince people to start wearing helmets on their own, or whether it’s up to the resort operators and cities who supply the venues to mandate and enforce helmet regulations.

Helmet use has increased dramatically in recent years, especially among the younger generations that have grown up with helmets. As they become more accepted in some mainstream sports, notably cycling, so do they become more accepted in sports like skiing and skateboarding.

Education and positive role models have also helped to get more people into helmets, teaching people the risks and showing kids that it’s okay to wear padding.

Helmet designers are taking care to make their products fashionable, resorts are making them mandatory for kids taking lessons, and rental companies are offering helmet for free or for a nominal charge with bike and skate rentals.

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