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With a global pandemic, hostile political climate and a planet on the verge of dying, it is no wonder why teens look to drugs to cope with the existential crises around them. Drugs have always been looming over the youth, from opioid epidemics to Juul releasing flavored nicotine products. Parents have tried their best to keep their children off the streets, but what if being out on the street is exactly what they need?

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Ever since they were created, skateparks have been scrutinized by the public eye. Many adults feel like these unsupervised concrete pits are ridden with illegal substances and activities. But what if their opinions are just rooted in bias? What if skateboarding is a coping mechanism that alleviates teens from becoming prone to dangerous vices? I thought I could further understand the types of vices that our youth face by looking at a notorious epicenter for trouble: skateboarding.

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Skateboarding was first developed by surfers looking for a way to “surf” the inside of empty pools. In the 1980’s, a revolutionary skateboarder by the name of Rodney Mullen modified some tricks and began to skate the streets and anything else he could get his wheels on. This is the time that skateboarding began to gain popularity. Because of these new tricks and ideas, Rodney Mullen made skateboarding accessible to anyone who could save up for a board. Parks with obstacles designed for skaters popped up across the country allowing access to crazier tricks for the skater community. During the 90’s, the introduction of skateboarding into extreme sports gained even more attention and following from the public. This is the time period that we see the stereotypes for skateboarding created.

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Fast forward to 2020 and we see the stigma has changed with new skateparks continuing to pop up in communities. While TikToks have gone viral of teens demonstrating tricks, learning to skate and even folks drinking cranberry juice whilst coasting and listening to Fleetwood Mac (shoutout to @420diggface208 for that happiness that saved 2020), skateboarder’s are still facing stereotypical criticism, especially from adults. Skateboarding is perceived as hooligans going around and destroying public property, but a look into a group of friends who Avril Lavigne would deem “skater boys” would provide a whole new perspective. 

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During my visits to the park and the subsequent trips to “skate spots” elsewhere, I focused mainly on one group of friends. They opted to use their first names, Paul, Nick, Troy, Damien and John (name changed for privacy).

Most of them were high school friends who were now facing the daunting introduction to college — during a global pandemic. As a way to ease the pressure and mental distress, they began to skate together during quarantine. Nick explained, “Covid really hit me like a semi truck, we had all these plans for college and then there was, like, nothing. A lot of us started smoking together, kind of like group therapy (laughter), but we knew we needed to get out of the house.”

All of the boys agreed that their relationship with marijuana was becoming “one-way” and their bank accounts were suffering from their smoking addictions. John opened his car doors and revealed a plastic rainbow of various nicotine products that hugged the flooring like shag carpet you regret the minute you lay it down. It was clearly evident that these boys had a dependency, during our interview there were numerous interjections of “Where’s the sucker (vaping device)?” or “Can you pass me the nic (nicotine)?” and “Where’s the blear/blicky (THC vape pen)?” Yet, they all agreed that this usage was way down from earlier months. 

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Back when the lockdown first dropped the iron bars upon teenage freedom, the group had been having daily “smoke seshes” and frequented various vape shops in their area so much so that they were on a first name basis with the cashiers. However, this all changed when Troy started waking up at 7 a.m. to go skateboarding down the street. A few self-taped videos later and the group was hypnotized. “It’s the challenge that’s so addictive. Plus, eating shit really humbles you. And Troy needs a lot of humbling.” said Paul. 

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Because of skating, an issue in all of their lives that they have collectively struggled with is vaping. It doesn’t take a chemical engineer to know that smoking damages your lungs, and these organs are vital to a skateboarder’s performance. Due to this fact, freshman Nick was determined to quit his half-pack-a-day habit in order to master the Tre Flip.

He stated: “It’s a lot more concentration than you think, even more so than erecting pools.” To the naked eye, skateboarding seems effortless, almost easy, but this naiveness is exactly what lands you kissing the cement with your teeth. Troy joined in on Nick’s quest, hoping they could hold each other accountable. Fast forward a week later and they were coughing less and skating like Jaws (otherwise known as Aaron Homoki).

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Witnessing this suburban miracle, the whole group pledged to decrease their addictions in place for a more beneficial one. In place of hot-boxed cars and head buzzes, there were daily trips to skateparks, city streets and other cement jungles where they spent hours on hours perfecting their ollies, nosegrabs, no complies, five o’s, kick flips, shuv its and many other tricks that seem humanly impossible and therefore should not be mentioned. This intense practice ended up saving the group a mini-fortune.

Well, everyone but high school senior Damien. He’s probably the most advanced skater amongst the group, which comes with breaking his board every few weeks. He considers this endeavor to be “oddly therapeutic and makes for a sick collection.”

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It is fair to say that you can most likely find a pothead, a drug addict or someone who doesn’t have much regard for others at every skatepark, but it’s wrong to label the whole skateboarding community as such. These teens are not skating as a way to piss off police or ruin public property, they’re skating to escape something. Whether it’s stress, mental health or an unhappy home, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the skateboarding community allows a wide variety of individuals to bond over common issues and create a positive impact upon their lives. Skateboarding is rallying youth together which is more important than ever during such an unprecedented time.

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