Photo Essay: The Youth’s New Take On D.A.R.E.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - 8:35pm

The group watches as Troy skates the pool bowl at the Ann Arbor Skatepark.

The group watches as Troy skates the pool bowl at the Ann Arbor Skatepark. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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?

The boys insist on fueling up at Joe’s Pizza before skating.

The boys insist on fueling up at Joe’s Pizza before skating. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

John warms up for more intense tricks at the Sterling Heights Skatepark.

John warms up for more intense tricks at the Sterling Heights Skatepark. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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?

Troy performs a rail slide in Ann Arbor.

Troy performs a rail slide in Ann Arbor. Buy this photo
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Paul works on perfecting his fly out from a mini bowl in Ann Arbor.

Paul works on perfecting his fly out from a mini bowl in Ann Arbor. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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.

Paul finally gets air after weeks of practicing his fly outs.

Paul finally gets air after weeks of practicing his fly outs. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

 Nick flies during a three stair jump in Ann arbor.

Nick flies during a three stair jump in Ann arbor. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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. 

All of the group shoes feature rips and tears from the grip tape on their skateboards.

All of the group shoes feature rips and tears from the grip tape on their skateboards. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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).

Nick displays how to produce a 50-50 skate trick for the group.

Nick displays how to produce a 50-50 skate trick for the group. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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.” 

Troy gives an encouraging speech to freshman Nick after he fails to perform a 5-0 grind.

Troy gives an encouraging speech to freshman Nick after he fails to perform a 5-0 grind. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

John shows off his board to me whilst explaining the various scrapes and dents.

John shows off his board to me whilst explaining the various scrapes and dents. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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. 

Troy attempts a fly out but misses his footing.

Troy attempts a fly out but misses his footing. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

Nick finally gets his 5-0 down after his friends hype him up.

Nick finally gets his 5-0 down after his friends hype him up. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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.”

Nick hits his head on concrete and tries to finds comfort.

Nick hits his head on concrete and tries to finds comfort. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

Troy jumpsuit from the steep sides of the pool bowl.

Troy jumpsuit from the steep sides of the pool bowl. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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.

 Nick ollies off a manhole in downtown.

Nick ollies off a manhole in downtown. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

The group still deals with nicotine addiction during their skate breaks.

The group still deals with nicotine addiction during their skate breaks. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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. 

High school senior Damien hovers in mid-air while street skating downtown.

High school senior Damien hovers in mid-air while street skating downtown. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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.”

Group members take turns taping videos, bringing snacks and providing beverages for each other.

Group members take turns taping videos, bringing snacks and providing beverages for each other. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

Aside from performing difficult tricks, the boys enjoy riding next to one another down various streets and alleys downtown.

Aside from performing difficult tricks, the boys enjoy riding next to one another down various streets and alleys downtown. Buy this photo
Megan Ocelnik/Daily

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.