Sweat, Soul and Scabs: the Skate Culture

Skateboarding is more than maneuvering a board on wheels. It’s a way of life.

Those who pledge allegiance to the skateboard, otherwise known as skaters, put sweat, soul and scabs into it. It’s not a sometime thing.

“It's always on my mind,” said Kaleb Hall, 27, of Santa Cruz, who has been maintaining the skate lifestyle for 15 years strong. “I'd say I'm obsessed with skateboarding.” 


Skateboarding spread worldwide in the mid-1970s and gained an underground following come the 80s, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica. Skateboarding has since commanded itself as a professional sport while continuing its independence from traditional team sports.

The skate lifestyle is a world of its own. The skate culture consists of a potpourri of people. There may be the overwhelming commonality of skateboarding, but each skater bears a diverse range of behaviors, habits and likes.

For starters, there stands a separation between a sometime skater and someone psyched on skating. There’s the skater who only cruises on a skateboard to and from campus. Then there’s the skater who’s spent hours each day on a board.

“The guy who breathes and lives it has heart, passion and drive. It's a drug for him,” said Hall, who estimates he dedicates 20 to 25 hours per week to skating. He also works in the skate industry doing sales administration at NHS Inc., a skate, snow and surf product distributor. He handles trade shows, sales meetings, sales reports and domestic and international accounts. When he’s not pursuing paper, he reads skate magazines, scopes skate videos or views online articles.



Then there’s Oregon native Kevin Kowalski, 20, who embodies the skate lifestyle. His eyes shine a bright blue. His fair skin freckled with tattoos. He speaks in a soft and calm voice. Kowalski’s been skating for 10 years. “Maybe longer,” he said. He tries to skate whenever possible, but it rains a lot in Oregon. “It makes you really appreciate just getting a nice dry day to go outside and skate.”

Even after spending 12 years grinding on griptape, Evan Mutter, 22, from Azusa, Calif. still gets a thrill being on a board.

“Each year it gets progressively new and exciting,” said Mutter, who aims to skate everyday. But it doesn't always happen that way. Injuries are frequent, a rolled ankle here, a hurt knee there.

“Everything else that’s not on the legs, I’ll usually skate anyway.”

Vista native Shonn Oquendo, 24, has been on a board since he was 5 but really got into it at age 10. When he was a kid, Oquendo’s uncle bought him a board and took him to an empty pool to skate. He was fascinated by the people and the environment he found there.

“It seemed like these guys didn’t have one care in the world,” he said. “These guys skate this pool and make something of it, even though it’s not meant to be skated.”

Oquendo has hazel eyes and brown shoulder-length hair that hangs in ringlets. He tries to get on the board for an hour every day. If he’s super sore he’ll take a day off. “But some days I go all day,” Oquendo said. “I pretty much skate every single day of my life.” Sometimes he’ll go out and skate. No car, just the board.

Skateboards can range as much as the skaters who steer them. Graphics and stickers make for easy customization, but there are several essential parts every skateboard has. Mutter simplified them for the non-skater.

The board itself is constructed of seven layers of compressed wood for strength. Griptape prevents feet from sliding off. Trucks bolted below the board can be adjusted if necessary. Bushings lie inside the trucks as a cushion; there are two in each truck. Four wheels, usually made of urethane, enable the skater to act as pilot of the board. Located within each wheel, two ball bearings allow the wheels to spin. Last, the nuts and bolts keep everything secure. 



Although skateboarding is not a team sport, the social aspect is another facet of the subculture. Comradery is key. The friendships made through skating are solid. Skaters often share norms and values but aren't as uniform as the media make them out to be, according to the Sociology of Sport Journal. For example, one pal may like to pound beers while another may be completely straight edge, abstaining from all drugs and alcohol. The skate lifestyle ranges per person or per group of friends, said Mutter.



Mutter himself digs partying and mingling, kicking back brewskis. Occasionally, he smokes weed or partakes in psychedelics like mushrooms. “Some people can do them and not go down the rabbit hole, but some get sucked in and quit skating and change.”

He admits he has a calm side though, one that reads, reflects and relaxes. When he’s not fraternizing, he enjoys a stroll through nature, either the woods or desert to “get in touch with what’s truly real.”

The social aspect is also apparent for Hall. Cameras, chicks, drugs and friends correlate to the skateboarding way of life in his eyes. He noted the importance of one thing in particular. “Beer. That's a huge part of skating,” said Hall. 

Skateboarding is a key component in Kowalski’s universe. He’s met many buddies and made many memories through skateboarding and skate-related traveling.

“I remember every year more and more skateparks got built. My friends and I would just go skate them and take a road trip every weekend around Oregon,” Kowalski remarked.
The skate lifestyle greatly molds a person. Men and women can be shaped by three dominant sources—basic human nature, culture via social roles and personality via individual identity, according to the Journal of Personality; all social animals have at least a basic form of culture consisting of social customs and adaptations. Verbal language such as syntax and grammar was one discussed example.

“Skaters love to make up phrases and nicknames for anything or somebody. It’s in our blood,” said Hall, who recited a laundry list of slang terminology he uses. Gnarly, rad, insane, sick, sweet, pitted, kook, barney, mark, chad, richard head, snaked, dangler, sketchy, buttery, steezy, stoops, hyped, amped, jonezin', fiendin', jockin', park shark, tech, boostin' and lofty.

“I could go on,” he said once he reached the end. 

Mutter mentioned many of his most-used vernacular: gnarly, sick, NBD (never been done), ABD (already been done) and tranny, which is a transition in vertical skating.

In other words, skaters speak their own language, which may sound alien to anyone not active in the lifestyle.


Not all skaters get fulfilment from their passion, some are lucky. Kowalski is sponsored by Lifeblood Skateboards, based in Portland. Being sponsored means he gets free merchandise from the respective companies. But this also means he’s a busy dude. Kowalski scored second place at the Palmdale Pool Project, a desert pool skate competition April 28. May 2 to 7 he traversed to Varazze, Italy to attend and compete at the Vans Off The Wall Spring Classic. Then it’s off to Pro-Tec Pool Party on May 12.

Like Kowalski, Mutter is sponsored. Unlike Kowalski, Mutter resides in sunny SoCal. His sponsors include Pawnshop Skate, in Covina, and Vagrant Skateboards out of San Diego. Vagrant supplies Mutter with free loot like boards, t-shirts and skate trips to Arizona and San Diego.

He also landed a gig teaching skateboarding for the summer at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in upstate New York. Mutter said it should be an incredible experience and he’s grateful for such an opportunity.

“Skateboarding isn't the most lucrative thing to pursue, but I feel like that makes me love it more in some strange way,” Mutter said.

Skating requires setting goals, then blasting them out of the park. Being sponsored motivates Mutter to develop, sharpen and advance as a skater because “you have to go out filming and get tricks all the time for upcoming company videos.”

He sends clips to other companies to try and ride for them as well. “You have to keep one upping the last stuff.” He favors skating at local parks. But when it comes to filming, he'll go anywhere from San Diego to San Francisco to “recreate the streets and explore the concrete jungle.”


Oquendo reached a milestone in the skater world. He turned pro this year for Assault Skateboards.

“It was out of the blue. They were like, ‘we’re turning you pro.’ And then they made me a board,” he said. “It was really gnarly for me.”

He said he never thought the little hyper kid who talked too much would have a board that other people ride. Oquendo got to assist in designing his board. The underside of the board includes blue, green, grey and white squares outlined in black. The center portion turns tan with ‘Shonn Oquendo’ and ‘Assault Skateboards’ scrawled in  black graffiti-style calligraphy. The illustration portrays a male skull with a goatee and Salvador Dalí-esque mustache. Upon the dead head, a cap with the bill bend up reads ‘Vista,’ Oquendo’s hometown. Small stars decorate the tan behind the skull.

                 
shonn oquendo new/old/whatever from ASSAULT SKATEBOARDS

He doesn’t receive money for being pro, but there are other perks. In addition to a board that people can purchase, he scores gratuitous trips and merch.

“No paychecks yet, but I get taken care of pretty well,” Oquendo added.

Another realm of the skating sphere involves the tricks.

“To me, all the tricks I learned in the beginning were the hard ones, like the basics, mainly because I didn’t know how to skate yet,” Mutter said, but he narrowed it down to one trick.

“Let’s just say my best trick on a ledge is kickflip backside tailslide bigspin out,” Mutter stated. His explanation: “I'd roll up back facing the ledge, pop, flip the board and turn 90 degrees, sliding the tail on the ledge backwards, then spin the board once and a 180 out, at the same time, rolling away switch.”

A prime example of the complexity of the skater language.

The skate culture is heavy on the do-it-yourself (DIY) mentality. When driving around the city, Mutter and his homies “stare out of the car windows like excited puppies looking for hidden new spots” to skate. He makes ledges to skate off of, quarter pipes and covers cracks to skate and spice things up.

Hall is also DIY fan. He creates obstacles to skate on at his house with rails and a speed bump. Occasionally he’ll street skate but skate parks are preferred. “You don't have to deal with cops, tickets, people freaking out on you for skating.”

Oquendo doesn’t have a favorite spot to skate. He skates everywhere. Sometimes it’s a ditch, sidewalks, various kinds of concrete. “I try and look at the world in a different perspective than most people.”

He likes street skating though. “It’s making something out of a decaying piece of society. The streets just seem so raw.”

What maybe a simple railing to the average human is where Oquendo spends hours of his day. What maybe a broken concrete slab is where the skaters of the world practice their moves.

Skateboarding is not a habit that can be easily discarded. It’s a lifestyle. Kevin Kowalski summed the culture up concisely: “skateboarders will always be skateboarders.”

3 comments

  1. Thank you Carmen, it's been a rough week in the media for skaters with all of the negative articles ran in the New York Times and elsewhere questioning the validity of skaters age 35 and older. Hope they all tuned into the Pro Tec Pool Party last night and witness Tony Hawk winning the Master's Division on his 44th birthday. I appreciate your writing style and approach to the subject, awesome article, Thank You!

    ReplyDelete
  2. beautiful article. thanks for sending it my way -stephendiaz

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow! great article, depicts much of the skate culture very well!
    keep it up

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for reading & writing. :] // ▲

ARCHIVES

Wishlist

© Carmen Varner // Lifestyle Blogger & Social Media + Blogging Coach
Maira Gall