Photo Essay: The Youth’s New Take On D.A.R.E.
With a global pandemic, hostile political climate and a planet on the verge of dying, it is no wonder why so many 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 tobacco products. Teens have been told to stay off the streets, but what if being out on the street is exactly what they need?
Ever since they were created, skateparks have been scrutinized by the public eye. Many on the outside 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?
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.
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), skateboarders 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.
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 and John (named changed for privacy).
Most of them were high school friends who were now facing the daunting introduction to college during a 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 habits. 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 evident that these boys had a dependency, but, they all agreed that this usage was way down from earlier months.
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,” Paul said. “Plus, eating shit really humbles you. And Troy needs a lot of humbling.”
The group has struggled with nicotine addiction, but they say skateboarding has given them a reason to break the habit. To the naked eye, skateboarding seems effortless, almost easy, but this naiveness is exactly what lands you kissing the cement with your teeth. Nick was determined to quit his half-pack-a-day routine in order to master the Tre Flip. Troy joined in on this quest, hoping they could hold each other accountable. Now they were coughing less and skating more.
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 upon hours perfecting tricks that seem humanly impossible. 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.”
It’s wrong to label the whole skateboarding community as potheads or drug addicts. 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.