On the blistering, dirty, and cracked streets of Southern California, it is difficult to avoid skateboards.
It is not unusual to see toddlers, enveloped in protective padding, learning how to skate in their front yard on weekends. On campus, stairwells and cafeterias become ramps and obstacles. Each afternoon, groups of students are seen skating home from school.
Skating has become an essential aspect of Californian culture and continues to be one of the most influential and important parts of growing up in Southern California.
There are many hypotheses about why skateboarding has taken such a strong root here, each being unique from he rest. Some claim it is because the warm weather makes it easy to practice almost every day. Others say it is because of the 1970’s drought, which urged residents to drain their pools and sparked the first usage of the famous skate park “bowls.”
Most tell it is because knowing how to skate is, simply, cool.
The truth is, skateboarding became popular for all of these reasons. Through its popularity, skating has changed lives and inspired fashion trends that have permeated television, movies, and social media.
In 1966, brothers Paul and Jim Van Doren began to produce “deck shoes” with sticky soles marketed towards skateboarders. By the early 1970’s, these shoes, called “Vans,” were worn by skateboarders all over Southern California.
Twelve years later, character Jeff Spicoli sported the iconic checkered, slip-on Vans in the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” helping the shoes to gain international popularity.
Today, Vans are on the feet of almost every high school student across the U.S.
Expectedly, the fashion has most strongly affected Californians over all others.
Each Thursday has recently become unofficial “Thrasher Thursday,” where high school students from the Valley wear the famous skate magazine’s merchandise. Boys and girls, skaters and non-skaters alike, participate.
However, more than influencing fashion trends, the sport has positively impacted lives.
“Skateboarding has opened up a whole new world for me,” Shane Gomez, 15, said. “It’s become a community.”
Skate parks, although appearing harsh with graffiti and sticker-covered exteriors, are actually homes for a community in which skaters help each other improve and learn new tricks.
“It opens the gates to meet new people and to progress with the people around you,” Gomez said.
Many do not expect skateboarding to provide such a healthy environment, as movies such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Clueless” have perpetuated negative stereotypes for skaters. They are often portrayed as being poor students, dumb, and constantly stoned. These stereotypes undermine the true talent these athletes have, and often overshadow their impressive drive to improve.
Thankfully, the stereotypes have never negatively affected the community. Some skaters perpetuate them, others do not. Regardless of character, many different types of people have been welcomed through the gates of the skate park.
The skateboard has become a symbol of Californian life and is the most important item to get into the hands of Californians, as it has impacted life here forever.
“I’ve progressed a lot over the years of skating,” Gomez said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”