My focusing question for my senior project was what is the pubic perception of skateboarding in Durango, Colorado and what can be done to improve it. For my project I decided to focus on something that was I have been interested in years, skateboarding. I started this project hoping to weld a couple of rails, clean the places that I skateboard, and also raise some money to build a small skate feature at the man-made skate park in town. Through this project I learned lots about how to weld, and the history of my favorite sport through writing a 10 page paper about this sport and the public's perception of it.
What is the public perception of Skateboarding in Durango, Colorado and what can be done to improve it?
Senior Project Advisor: Susy Raleigh
12th Grade Humanities,
Animas High School,
27 February 2017
Part Ⅰ: Introduction
Imagine it’s 1976, you’re living in California and you are required to drain your backyard pool because of the harsh drought. You have heard stories of surfers’ new fad due to flat waves called sidewalk surfing but are unaware of its newfound popularity, and can’t imagine this new trend lasting much longer. Looking out the window of your kitchen you see a group of tan young boys, making their way back to your empty pool with long blonde hair, ripped up shoes, and seemingly weird wooden boards rigged with metal pieces and plastic wheels.What do you do? Do you go and yell at them for being active, or do you allow them to put your pool to good use for the incredibly dry heat wave?
Every youth wants the ability to express themselves in a way of their choice. Skateboarding offers an opportunity for youth, who don’t find pleasure in the more traditional sports, a healthy, creative alternative for self-expression. Skateboard is a very diverse subculture that has never been more prevalent in society than it is today. According to a report in 2009, the skateboarding subculture comfortably supports 11.08 million active participants (The State of the Skateboarding Industry). With more and more adolescents partaking in this activity, it is necessary for the benefits and setbacks to be understood. Negative stereotypes skateboarders are known for include them being unproductive, troublemaking, marijuana smoking and alcohol drinking minors, that are disrespectful and don’t care about anything but themselves. These negative stereotypes that revolve around the sport are often based in bias rather than evidence. Although there are negative connotations that revolve around this sport, Durango’s community perception is fairly indifferent. Despite the neutral perception in Durango, there is still a need for education around the culture and sport of skating.
Part Ⅱ: Historical Context
It is unknown who created the first skateboard, because there were many models and materials being experimented with during the early years of this sport. The common belief is that skateboarding was first started around the 1950’s in California when the waves were flat and un-surfable, but it is more complicated than that. The 1950’s until the mid 60’s was a period of trial and error both for the creation of skate wheels and also skateboard decks. This was a time when stereotypes were starting to form, noisy wheels made this sport sound intimidating, and the lack of skateparks around this time forced skaters to go to the streets. This rocky start of skateboarders getting in the way of the public and creating unattractive sounds didn’t allow skateboarding to have a great relationship with the general public.
Furthermore, because this was a very new fad, few participants had a lot of influence in the general perception of skateboarding which is truly unrepresentative of what skateboarding has become in the world today. From the previous models of wheels, major improvements were made in 1973 including: wheels being made from urethane transforming the noisy, bumpy ride into a smooth and more quiet way of getting around. The establishment of urethane wheels revolutionized skateboarding; with wheels that grip to the concrete, ditches and banks become skateable with so much more comfort. The formation of urethane wheels continued to encourage people to experiment with skateboard decks, utilizing everything from aluminium, to wood, even fiberglass. With the creation of new wheels that were able to grip to the concrete, skateboarders begin to see the emptied backyard pools as unconquered terrain. New terrain guided them to discover new tricks on the daily, some of the first professional skateboarders began to receive recognition, and new skateparks were beginning to be built. The 20 years between the 1980’s and 2000’s was a time of exponential growth. Skateboarders began retreating from the drained pools to more urban environments in or around the city. These environments consisted of stair cases, rails, gaps, ledges, banks, and curbs. Completing this transformation from backyard pools to the streets, skateboarders were now being used as actors for some commercials as we reach the early 2000’s. Children seen skating are as young as 2 years old, with more and more skateparks being used and built all over the United States. Lastly this brings us to now, where skateboarding is worldwide with a very diverse range of participants, having its own culture and revenue, while also being televised nationally over channels like FOX Sports 1.
Part Ⅲ: Summary of Past Research
Although skateboarders have come a long way from sneaking into backyards to skate new features, there is still too much negativity around the activity of skateboarding. A prevalent perception is that skateboarders themselves, just by their nature, are aggressive and antisocial. Antisocial behaviors include crowding, collisions, injuries, smoking, drinking alcohol and illicit drug taking, littering, graffiti, and vandalism. Wood, Carter, and Martin they work to invalidate these stereotypes a lot of people have. This paper discusses the methodology which trained observers had not only recorded 11 hours of the actions of the skateboarders, but it also explains how a survey was sent to record the community perception of skateboarding. This data tested 97 skate park users from observation at different times during the week and found that, “during the observation periods, crowding and a small part of litter were the only anti-social behaviors observed. Prosocial behaviors were witnessed during each of the observational periods, with taking turns, socializing with others, and respecting others the most commonly noted behaviors” (67). This example works to show how negative behaviors are actually a lot less frequent than the general public may think. Another quote that works to clarify the actions at skateparks is, “Prosocial behaviors were much more frequently reported by respondents than antisocial behaviors” (66). Clearly skateparks aren’t as bad as some communities think since, overall there were more prosocial behaviors observed it doesn’t make sense for skateboarders to continue to fight this stigma that hovers over their sport.
A perception that an entire group of adolescents are troublemakers doesn’t make it any easier for skateboarders to shake unrealistic negative stereotypes and associations. Aside from the public's general perception of skateboarders being antisocial and aggressive, it is also clear how people assume skateparks are a place that generate negative behaviors. This fear is contradicted once more skateparks are studied, and it is clear that there is a lot more that determines the nature of skatepark. Understanding all of the planning that can go into the placement of a public skatepark, while there is evidence that policy makers and officials are aware of some of the qualities that make a good park there are many examples of public figures acting on this evidence in the incorrect way. Psychologists Jones and Graves explain how teenagers may be one of the most underserved members of the community: “There were also few examples of skateparks with additional facilities such as bathrooms, drinking fountains, and seating that would support the use of the skatepark by a wider array of participants and observers, and that encourage longer visits (i.e., support for hanging out)” (145). This displays how even if policy makers are aware of some of the qualities that can lead to a pleasing skatepark, they are either ignoring these qualities or deliberately not providing teenagers with support around their sport. Jones and Graves also discuss how much of the resistance skateboarders face is because the wear and tear of the sport on infrastructure, and existing stereotypes. It is important to question if we should shun or dismiss an entire bunch of adolescents who are choosing to participate in a sport. Counter arguments are that skateboarding is “ 1) one of the fastest growing sports in North America (Rankin 1997); 2) safer on accident-per-participant basis than soccer and baseball (Rankin 1997); and 3) promoting physical fitness, self esteem, and a sense of belonging for an age group sorely lacking in these types of opportunities (Thomas 1997). Skateboarding is, in fact, a multifaceted activity that must be understood” (138). Further understanding skateboarding and the potential developmental benefits it has for a variety of participants will only conclude that skateboarding really isn’t as bad as connotations and stereotypes suggest.
Another challenge that the skateboarding community faces is the perception that skateboarding isn’t a healthy alternative to the more traditional sports like soccer, football, or baseball. This challenge could stem from people not understanding how active and physically demanding skateboarding is, but could also stem from the lack of coaches or scheduled practice. Considering how it is much more dangerous for adolescents to not be active than partake in any of these sports, it is important to discuss the problems active sports like skateboarding work to minimize. Goldenberg and Shooter address this idea stating, “Obesity and cardiovascular disease are often associated with inactivity and it is widely accepted that physical activity is an effective way to overcome these and other health related challenges… Skateboard parks represent on outlet, among other programs and facilities offered by community recreation centers, that can address a growing problem of youth inactivity” (Goldenberg and Shooter). There is no question that inactivity in youth is dangerous, the consequences of not being active at all are a lot more dangerous than adolescents being supported when they skateboard. Although not all participants of skate parks are youth, many of the users are and these places should be embraced because of the positive benefits that skating has for adolescents. Further explaining this idea Goldenberg and Shooter write, “While not all skateboard park users are young adults, many are, and young adults need a variety of leisure options in order to overcome the many health and developmental challenges that they face today” (Goldenberg and Shooter). Undoubtedly skate parks are able to provide support, with an area for leisure while helping youth develop. It is clear that skate parks are one of a kind in this type of support to an underserved group.
To complicate the sport even more, skateboarding is attacked when people begin to think that the skateboarding culture doesn’t play an active role in society. Even with existing stereotypes and connotations, skateboarding has proven to be beneficial for the community in a couple of ways. As I have explained before, research suggests that the sport of skateboarding offers developmental potential for many adolescents: “potential positive outcomes associated with skateboarding or skate parks are often overlooked, and the benefits of skateboarding settings for youth development have rarely been the subject of empirical research” (Goldenberg and Shooter). Aside from positive youth development possibilities, skate parks have also been able to turn threatening places into clean and acceptable places. Jones and Graves discuss the transformation of a dangerous area, now called Burnside located in Oregon, into an orderly public space: “At the time, the area was overwhelmed with drug dealing and prostitution, although there was some disorganized skateboarding taking place on the site as well… allowing the skaters to collect debris from throughout the neighborhood (which the local business community loved) to use as fill in constructing the base for the bowls…. Most of the skaters see Burnside as something that is their responsibility to preserve and protect, and the level of maintenance and the general respect that the users have for both the project and the neighborhood is apparent at first glance” (Jones and Graves 139). This story of the transformation at Burnside Park exemplifies how skateboarders have real potential to benefit their community. Changing a dangerous area into a clean and famous park is something that cannot be overlooked. This, along with the youth developmental benefits, begins to display the serious likelihood of skateboarding being a legitimate and valuable sport.
Part Ⅳ: Findings and Analysis
Many people may not think of rural Durango, Colorado as having a prominent skateboarding population due to it being a small town located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, with the population less than 18,000. This being understood, there wasn’t any direct research or information that focused on this small town’s feelings about this very controversial sport. In order to better understand the community’s impression of skateboarding, I conducted original research so that I could have useful and direct information. I created an online survey that anyone in the Durango community was able to give their feedback on. The first respondents were Animas High School students and teachers, the second group was a group of my co-workers, and lastly locals that I asked to fill out the survey in a coffee shop. The way that I went about choosing my subjects was first by encouraging everyone at Animas to fill it out. Reasoning behind allowing students and teachers to fill it out was it allowed me to understand a younger group’s perception of this sport. Furthermore the students and teachers at Animas participate while being interested in a variety of activities, so this lets me understand if because people participate in other extreme sports are they more likely to favor a similar extreme sport. I chose my co-workers because there is a very diverse age variety: there are high schoolers, college students, on up to people over 50 years old. My final group, coffee shop respondents were chosen just by me asking if they were a local and if they were willing to help me with a project by participating in my survey. At the end of my data collecting period, I had 69 respondents. Strengths of this experiment included that I was able to record a variety of responses from differing ages and interests. Another important strength of this is that because it was a google survey, I was able to create a very clean spreadsheet with clean graphs and conclusions. While there were some weaknesses in my data, these weaknesses didn’t make my data unusable. Weaknesses include that my survey was private for two out of the seven days, this only allowed Animas High School students and teachers to be the responses recorded, which was a rough start to the data collection process. Additionally when people were asked to list what sports they play, I had an “other” option. This is a problem because this didn’t clearly show if people played other sports or didn’t play a sport at all. Furthermore, at the end of the surveying period I had received more results than I had initially expected but the data would have been more useful if it was an even 100 people. An important part to focus on within my research is the validity, meaning that I’m measuring what I intended to. My intent was to focus on Durango’s perception of skateboarding by recording the results of many diverse locals. I was able to understand the perception of the people that had filled out my survey, however a weakness is that I didn’t get a large enough sample to be able to properly represent Durango’s entire perception. Lastly this brings us to the respondents themselves, who although do represent Durango in some way don’t absolutely represent the full community because my research had a lot more results from younger people. My recorded perception may have changed if my results had included larger samples of different, specifically older generations. Working through the strengths and weaknesses of my data, I am still able to conclude major themes I have found in my results. According to my results the perception of skateboarding is 47.8% neutral, and 44.9% positive. Survey respondents were recorded as 53.6% female, and 46.4% male. The majority of my responds participated in skiing, mountain biking, and other. The mass of the open responses recorded people expressing “to each his own”. For the most part my survey shows that people don’t really mind skaters, they do their own thing, however there definitely was a prevalent concern about skaters doing drugs and other dangerous activities. Overall the worry of drugs and other dangerous activities is misrepresented, especially when you focus on the few responses that expressed this idea, I am very sure the people expressing this fear of drugs also aren’t aware of the many cameras posted on the light poles of the skatepark.
Part Ⅴ: Conclusion
Skateboarding, a sport that really does help adolescents develop, is surrounded with negative stereotypes and negative connotations that hurt this beneficial sport. Through my research, I discovered that the overall perception of skateboarding in the Durango community is fairly neutral, or positive. I recorded 47.8% neutral, and 44.9% positive, and most importantly only 7.2% negative. With the smallest amount being negative, this leads me to have more room to improve the perception of skateboarding in this community by educating the public about the developmental benefits skateboarding has towards adolescents. Larger implications of my research suggest that skateparks are a great place for youth to develop and grow if the skatepark has some supervision but still allows adolescents and people to be themselves. Further research suggests that I could study skateparks in surrounding towns and cities to be able to better generalize a perception of skateboarding, while examining a range of antisocial and prosocial behaviors. I was focusing on my community’s perception of a very controversial sport. In conclusion, since Durango, Colorado’s perception of skateboarding is neutral or positive, there is an opportunity to greatly improve this perception. My research shows that although there are negative connotations associated with skateboarding, Durango is shockingly neutral or positive. This can stem from our local skatepark being in a great location, providing skaters with a river to cool off, and natural surveillance of people passing on the rivertrail included with artificial surveillance, the cameras. Furthermore the residents of Durango participate in other similar extreme sports, skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. This suggests that because they also enjoy similar intense activities, the residents are more likely to support another potentially dangerous but overall beneficial sport. Communities that share a similar indifferent perception of skateboarding similar to Durango, have a high capacity to change the more negative perception it has in some places across the world. Understanding that because they are indifferent about this activity, I don’t have to fight as much against existing stereotypes; instead I can focus on the developmental potential skateparks have for adolescents and other users. Clearly skateboarding isn’t what it used to be. It has transformed into an entire subculture that allows youth to express themselves in a healthy way. My survey and deep research uncovers the truth about skating by showing all the benefits it has for a variety of participants.
“About Surfing and Skateboarding Youth Subcultures” Mental Health in Schools Program and Policy Analysis 25, Jan. 2017 (http:/smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/youth/surf.pdf)
Beal, Becky. "Disqualifying the Official: An Exploration of Social Resistance Through the Subculture of Skateboarding." Sociology of Sport Journal (1995): 252-67. Web.
Bradley, Graham L. "Skate Parks as a Context For Adolescent Development."Journal of Adolescent Research (2010): 288-323. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
Goldenberg, Marni, and Wynn Shooter. "Skateboard Park Participation: A Means-end Analysis." Journal of Youth Development 4.4 (2009): n. pag. Web.
Jones, Stanton, and Arthur Graves. "Power Plays in Public Space: Skateboard Parks as Battlegrounds, Gifts, and Expression of Self." Landscape Journal (n.d.): 136-48. Web
NÈMETH, JEREMY. "Conflict, Exclusion, Relocation: Skateboarding and Public Space."Journal of Urban Design 11.3 (2006): 297-318. Web.
Siljeg, Sky, and Scott Starr. "Scholastic News: Skateboarding." Scholastic News: Skateboarding. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"The State of the Skateboarding Industry." Shop-Eat-Surf. N.p., 13 May 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.
Wood, Lisa, May Carter, and Karen Martin. "Dispelling Stereotypes... Skate Parks as a Setting for Pro-Social Behavior among Young People." Current Urban Studies 2 (2014): 62-73. Web.
Wedertz, Brenden. “Community Perception of Skateboarding” Survey. 27, January- 3 February 2017.