Skateboarding’s Identity Crisis
Ever since the birth of skateboarding in the ʻ60s, the now trendy bastard-child of surf(board?)ing has been riddled with the notion of identity and has escalated into a full-blown identity crisis faced by all skateboarders who made it past their parents’ garage. This makes it an excellent case-study in the field of identity crises alike.
Originally a pastime for surfers when conditions were not conducive to the odd 180 or (get ready for it) 360 grab, the ‘sport’ (for reasons I can’t explain without sounding like a wanker, I absolutely loathe calling skateboarding a sport) became popular with kids from the suburbs who didnʼt have expensive properties near beaches and the cash for ʻlittle nippersʼ surf lessons as a kid (a morally forbidden practice for anyone beyond the age of ten).
The notion of identity was already inherent in skateboarding’s formative years as being a hobby for those of a generally lower socio-economic background to surfers, but also as being ʻgnarlierʻ for obvious reasons, but I will calculatedly insult your intelligence, beloved readers, and point out that when you ʻeat shitʻ surfing the consequences are not as painful or potentially life-long as with skateboarding.
By the mid ʻ80s and ʻ90s skateboarding had exploded in popularity in America and its various cultural subsidiaries, the ʻwestern nationsʼ (some countries took longer than others to catch on). With the emergence of popularity came the concept of money to be made from skateboarding by establishing ʻteamsʻ (a group of talented skateboarders managed by an investor, more often than not a non-skateboarder with a bit of cash hoping to take home the biggest paycheck). These teams turn a profit by putting together photos (and later videos), going on tour, and of course… flogging product to the loyal pawn. Bathe in their glory, you are their slave.
Fast-forward to the ʻ00s and ʻ10s, and it is no longer acceptable to have a bunch of good skateboarders on your team, because these days just about everybody is a good skateboarder. Gone are the days when kickflipping your local ten-stair got you sponsored. Free product from your local skate shop? No worries. International acclaim and your own signature product for others to purchase? Not a chance.
These days, a team is defined entirely by the identities of their skateboarders. Teams are reliant on the cult of personality of their team riders in order to thrive in the big bad world of corporate success. Such profitable personalities include but are not limited to: ʻbadassʼ, ʻhip-hopʼ, ʻpunkʼ, ʻartyʼ, ʻnice guyʼ, ʻfunny guyʼ and ʻsuffer-for-the-art guyʻ. I havenʼt forgotten about the female skateboarders among us, but for reasons for which I am not responsible, there are only a handful who have been sponsored in skateboarding history.
Like every other victim of the media, skateboarders are faced with the same choice everyone was faced with in high school. Which one am I? Therein lies the identity crisis. For some, itʼs easy and they donʼt need to think twice about it. For others (as has been observed throughout their careers) they are constantly shifting from one to the other.
So how does the modern skateboarder define themselves in this varied contemporary world of marketable characters? Of course the perhaps slightly overused Oscar Wilde quote “be yourself, everybody else is taken” logic applies, but not wholly and utterly. A more accurate reading of the situation would be the old adage “The truth is like the sun. You can block it out momentarily, but it will never go away”.
Words by Davide Lorino