Some Thoughts on Gatekeeping In Skateboard Culture

Many skateboarders strongly identify as skaters and are very invested in the idea that, as skaters, they are members of a prestigious elite group of renegade outlaw athlete/artists. These skaters often have a sense of ownership over skateboarding and feel it is their responsibility to protect skateboarding from outsiders who they see as trying to change, corrupt, or co-opt this thing they love so much.

These guys see longboarders as dilettantes who are trying to steal their glory* by claiming to be skaters without suffering through the hard work, frustration, palm scrapes, and minor orthopedic injuries required to learn how to kickflip down a six stair. Talking trash about these “longboard kooks” provides an opportunity to make fun of strangers while reinforcing the skater’s identity as a member of an elite in-group.

That in-group/out group dynamic also manifests as a suspicion of women and lgbt people who skate, many of whom are accused of being posers because they wear skate-branded clothing without having met some arbitrary definition of “paying your dues.” This comes marbled in with garden-variety “she’s just doing this to get guys” and “she’s only sponsored because she’s a sexually attractive woman” sexism and low-grade “I don’t understand why you have to flaunt your sexuality in the skatepark” homophobia**.

Suspicion of and hostility toward outsiders has been actively encouraged by a legacy skate industry wary of competing with big businesses. Convincing kids that purchasing your sub-par sneakers at premium prices is a blow against Big Corporate is fantastic marketing. Declaring yourself the Bible of Skateboarding is a great way to extract lots of ad dollars from Big Corporate. If hating on longboarders helps you do that, well, go ahead and call them fags.

This anti-outsider attitude is bad, wrong, and unsustainable as skateboarding moves into the mainstream.

While lots of rad people skate, Being A Skater does not make you cool or smart or interesting or a member of a prestigious club, it just means you skate. Plenty of extremely talented skaters are genuinely terrible people: Jay Adams single handedly made skateboarding cool, then beat a gay dude to death and spent the rest of his life being a junkie loser. Jason Jessee had the cover of Thrasher last year and that dude is a literal Nazi. Gator killed a girl. Koston is kind of a douchebag on social media. I sometimes wait until the last second to merge into busy traffic. You get the picture. Skaters are just people.

Being a gatekeeping asshole about skating might make you feel superior in the moment but telling people who don’t look like you or skate like you that they aren’t real skaters is a dick move that helps keep skateboarding white, male, and straight by sending the message that difference isn’t welcome. We don’t actually lose anything when a stranger calls herself a skater because she pushes to work on a drop-platform longboard every day. Skateboarding is awesome. Why wouldn’t we want more people to do it?

The idea that you, me, Thrasher Magazine, or anyone else needs to “protect” skateboarding from hordes of businessmen, longboarders, girls, and homosexuals who want to co-opt** or change it is reactionary nonsense that has made skateboarding insular and exclusive, and for what? Skateboarding’s past is, uh, not great. Some change is a good thing.

The only rules in skateboarding are that there are no rules and you can do it yourself. Skateboarding is going to be just fine, even if someone, somewhere is doing it in a way you don’t like. There is no need to be a jerk to people who do it differently.

*I have been a pro longboarder for years. I can assure all of street skateboarding that none of us are trying to do a “stolen valor” on your frontside flip or culturally appropriate Dickies, Vans, and Thrasher shirts. Calm down.

**OBVIOUSLY, there is no real equivalence between the systemic injustice of misogyny and hating longboarders, but they’re both products of skate culture’s longstanding distrust of outsiders.