Skateboarding now and then; Reflections on the big kahuna

Friday, August 3, 2007

My how things do change.

Here in this small town during the 21st Century, a man who owns what used to be a middle school has endorsed use of the building for a skateboard park and if things proceed as planned, there'll be a place for an extreme sport and "hot dogger" tricks on the second floor of the old school.

There in the suburbs of the nation's capitol several months before Jack Kennedy was shot in Dallas, skateboards succeeded hula hoops as the latest rage and became the fastest way to get from one class to another in a junior high school where they were eventually banned.

The funny thing about that ban in my junior high school was how long it took to impose. Teachers saw what was happening, but were told by young wiseguys there wasn't a rule against it, so enforcement had to wait for due process.

The remarkable thing about what happened here and now is that young skateboarders immediately realized something about democracy. According to a really "rad" granny, some of the guys circulated a petition and -- shazam -- there was support for a skateboard park. Now, there's $10,000 in the city budget to improve the old school to install what may be half pipes in what was a classroom.

My how things have changed.

It really raises a question: Why is skateboarding banned from sidewalks in any town when there can be a constituency that elected leaders recognize? Sure, most skateboarders are too young to vote, but it's pretty clear they've got friends who do, and this isn't to say Lewisburg's leaders didn't respond to the request for a skateboard park for the right reasons. From all indications, they probably did.

Maybe skateboarding is banned in some places because it became more than transportation. Jumps and other tricks cause damage. Some say there's fear of injury and liability. It could happen.

Skateboarding was what I did one summer. Fast, downhill rides lasted as long as the wheels. They were the color of clay, so they were called clay wheels, although there was more to them. New materials are used now and wheels last longer. Fast straightaways weren't as challenging as long sweeping turns in sort of a zig-zag pattern down the hill with some four-wheel drifts that ground down clay wheels.

Skateboards are still about the same length as they were, but instead of jumps and tricks that have become possible with specialized surfaces, the length of the board became the issue for me. It was as simple as realizing that a long wheelbase gives a smooth and stable ride. My skateboard course was a public road in my neighborhood with three steep hills. Moving the wheels from the store-bought board to a longer and wider board allowed faster rides.

Since then, the world has turned nearly 16,000 times but most skateboarders are still in the same age group. Early applications of ideas with basic principles teach through experience. The lessons here are that democracy works and long cars give smooth rides.

There are a couple of other points to make and it's remarkable that they come as students are returning to school.

One is that news reading and writing are learning experiences and what I see here is this: As skateboarding has become more of an extreme sport with fancy moves instead of transportation, it's become more difficult and more of a physical workout. I don't remember ever seeing a skateboarder who looks like a couch potato. That's a good thing when there are so many reports about obese children.

Another message is that this is my public notice. Like county commissioners who should declare a conflict of interest because they vote their conscience on something that affects them, I've announced that, yes, I was a skateboarder. However, the news you read by me about the skateboard park won't be affected by childhood allegiances.

There, I've said it and you can rest assured that the car I drive has a long wheelbase like the big kahuna skateboard I made back in the '60s.

Clint Confehr is the senior staff writer for the Marshall County Tribune and the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, although he's not restricted to issues on aging.