Skating often captures the imagination of those who lack the will, temperament or dedication to take it up. This is why trends like rollerblades, snakeboards, rip-stiks, and razor scooters are always yapping at skaters' heels.
The latest incarnation of this phenomenon, the Razor scooter, has been especially persistent, not to mention obstructive to the modern skateboarder. More than one skater has placed the blame for the scooter epidemic on the high-impact, highly technical trends in modern pro skateboarding. At a glance, the connection seems plausible: Elite level Skateboarding has developed a more risky dimension than it had in the good ol days, they say. An emphasis on increasingly complex and risky tricks rather than "just rolling", is making kids take up scooters instead of skateboards. The skate world, they posit, has become an all jocks club that welcomes only the most athletically driven skaters.
Take a closer look at skateboarding, and a good hard look at the Razor scooter, and it becomes clear that the kids riding those Razors wouldn't be riding skateboards no matter what sort of stuff was going down in Thrasher magazine.
Skateboarding is hard, and not just hard to master, its hard form the first push. The basics; standing up, staying balanced at a decent speed, turning, doing a basic kickturn on a quarter pipe, not to mention dropping in or doing an ollie, are all harder than sinking a basket, harder than popping a wheelie on a bike, harder than hitting a baseball, and much, much Harder than rolling around a skatepark on a scooter.
The fact that skateboarding is really hard at the entry level is crucial to the nature of skate culture and the identity of skateboarders. It shapes every aspect of skating. It is an element that has existed since the skateboard was invented. It is the most important filtering mechanism in skateboarding.
But it isn't a mechanism that filters for athletic ability. It filters for passion.
For the new skater, skateboarding has a maddeningly steep learning curve. It is just as steep for the captain of the jock squad as it is for the 90 pound poindexter. This is because, unlike football, track and field, or any other sport, skateboarding requires you to use your body in ways that have no analog in everyday life or conventional sports. No matter how much of a leg-up genetics or training has given you, there is no way to become a competent skateboarder without spending a lot of time looking real stupid. You have to figure skateboarding out before athleticism makes any difference, and that figuring out takes a long time and a lot of seemingly fruitless repetition. No matter how tall you are, how strong you are, how fast you are, no matter how gifted you are, you will hit the ground hard. Over and over. Most of the time, you will look like an idiot. That’s something the misfits will always handle better than the golden boys and girls.
The truth of skateboarding is this: it is only for those who care about riding more than they care about being better than everyone else, because at the point of the first push, being better than even the local kid on your block will take so much effort, you won't ever want to do it unless you get hooked; unless the love hits you.
Even before the advent of Jamie Thomas and his daredevil descendents, skaters coming into the culture with an eye only on being the best, had to face the reality of wobbling, flailing, and slamming their way to bare bones basic competence. There's no shortcut to getting rad. Paying the dues early on teaches every new skater one thing: the glory of being the best, of being like the guys on Street League and in Thrasher, will never be easy. It will never even be probable. In fact, that dream will seem downright nonsensical once you actually begin to skate. Mounting the grip tape and going for it on that first push is a rubicon that, once crossed, forever changes the way you see those pros and their amazing achievements. It forever changes your relationship with them and the entire context of skateboarding. Once you actually begin to skate, the distance between your abilities and even the abilities of the local flow kids is so big that the distance between yourself and the top pros, whether they are Gonz and Natas in 1987 or Jaws and Nyjah in 2016, is so cosmic, it becomes an abstraction. Skaters have always had to face this challenge, even when state of the art was a single kickflip.
Put it this way: the relative distance between a fresh faced skater and Eric Dressen in 1987, and the relative distance between some grom and Nyjah huston today probably is, technically, wider, but this is not so relevant a thing. Comparing how much "better" the best of today are to the best of yesteryear is kind of like comparing the difference between 1000 light years and one million. In practical terms, the difference is meaningless. Both distances are really damn far, and, in both cases, seemingly impossible to traverse.
Skateboarding is a bitch to learn. It was then. It is now. That is an equalizer when it comes to jocks versus nerds, not a discouragement. The skateboard has never been a vessel for the casual dabbler. To even master the basics of skating requires dedication. To have a foundation of simple tricks to really bring out the creative and expressive aspects that are at the heart of the pursuit requires nothing short of obsession. There is no such thing as a "casual skateboarder".That defines us as much as haircuts or attitudes or punk rock music or whatever you want to name check.
With this in mind, you can begin to see the real reason more kids want to ride Razor scooters than skateboards, and why the Razor scooter is more reviled by skaters than any of its predecessors.
As a tool of the wannabe, the Razor scooter is magnitudes better than rollerblades, snake boards or anything else mass culture has come up with. Now, people who are too intimidated to try skateboarding or not passionate enough to persist with it, have an easy option that is, unlike rollerblades or snakeboards or even bikes, also extremely well adapted to the modern public skatepark. Where, in the past, those who didn't have the temperament to skate just sort of disappeared and did their own thing, now, thanks to the scooter, they can stick around, clogging up the concrete on a device that is cheap, easy to master and, crucially, creates the illusion of participation in the spaces skaters have pioneered.
The razor is not an alternative to the skateboard, it's a substitute. It's the Mcdonald’s cheeseburger to skateboarding's Kobe beef . It is something anyone can do, and learn almost instantly. Kids who can barely run can pick up a scooter and start riding it around their neighborhood in a matter of minutes. There's’ nothing wrong with that.
The problem is, they can start zipping around the local skatepark almost as fast.
In the 90's In-line skaters were our biggest bane, in the early 2000's and even today, kids on bicycles have caused frustrations. In between there has been a smattering of short lived gimmicks like ripstiks and hoverboards. None of these things have proved as destructive to scenes as the scooter.The reasons for this are pretty simple, and they have nothing to do with any pro skateboarder, beacuse for all their irksomeness, scooters, unlike rollerblades or bikes, are very well suited to skateparks.
In the 90's the average skatepark was almost always a pretty standard quarterpipe, flat bars and funbox type of configuration. They were linear, straightforward... in other words, ideal for in-line skaters. Bladers clogged up the parks in irritating, but manageable, numbers. This was because, although inline kids could get wobbling around a street course much quicker than beginning skaters, it still took a fair amount of dedication and skill to ride in-line skates functionally in a skatepark. On top of that, even for the “experts”, blades never quite had the versatility or style of a skateboard in a park designed for skating. Even the best bladers would admit this if you pressed them on it. This put a cap on how many bladers were ever going to jam up your park. Once concrete parks became the standard, so did round walls and flowing curves. This sort of configuration is the antithesis of what blades were made for. Predictably, "extreme in-line" died off, and now you don’t see very many of them pirouetting their way through the public crete.
Skaters have also maintained a tentative balance with BMX riders through the years, but unlike the scooter, navigating a bike through a bowled corner, or even just turning one on a quarter pipe, is much harder and more dangerous, than doing the same thing on a board. Likewise, cities have been pretty proactive about officially prohibiting bikes from skateparks. Because of this, even though bikes are even more common than scooters, they have not caused as much frustration to skateboarders.
A scooter, on the other hand is not just simple to use, but they can navigate those concrete curves easily, and it's easy to fly into the air on one, even if the average scooter kid is only getting a few inches off the ground. Scooters have brakes for speed control. Even worse, the norms don’t know enough to differentiate them from skateboards. The fact is, they work beautifully in a skatepark if all you want to do is zip around and pretend you are doing something "radical".
And that is all most people aspire too. The instant gratification, or rather, the instant appearance of gratification. It's why there will always be more of them than us. Aaron Homoki has no culpability in that. Jamie Thomas is not to blame. You can't even pin that one on Monster Energy
Scooters are the perfect storm for making your local skatepark blow. There will always be many, many more kids choosing scooters than skateboards. Erasing drive, audacity, and mastery from our culture will not change that. We can't stop scooters by going back to "just rolling around", because, At the end of the day, "rolling around" on a scooter will always be 100 times easier and simpler than pushing on a skateboard.
It is the wild creativity, diversity, the crazed adaptability from adversity that makes skating endure. That is why skating has substance. That is why scooters lack it. Substance is never as accessible as consumption. That is what matters.
So what is the answer? Bullying tykes at the skate park who just want to have fun? Ranting online about how much scooters suck? Posting videos full of implied threats and homophobic insults?
No. We need to use what gives us strength. We need to take the same route that every skater takes when he chooses the board: the hard route, the one with substance. We need to start being vocal with city administrators, parks boards, and parents about why skateparks need to be spaces for skaters, and only skaters, we need to be able to articulate why this is so important, and be prepared to stand firm and dig in our heels, even if that means waiting a little longer for that new park. We need to be examples so we make sure every kid on a scooter who really wants to skate has a way in. We need to make our case through substance. That's what we have, and they don't.
Scooters aren't going away. Putting a cap on how big you should ollie or how many times you flip your board isn't going to change that, so let the eagles soar as high as they want. They aren't the problem.