Cities Fed Up, ‘Making Criminals’ Out of Skateboarders

Associated Press

Robert Sabala takes the vertical drop into the concrete bowl, then zooms up and down the inside of an adjacent concrete pipe, his skateboard making wings for his feet.

“There’s no other feeling,” he said later, awaiting another turn at the 20-foot-tall “Pipeline,” the primary attraction at a skateboard park here. “It’s like defying gravity.”

Skateboarders from California to Massachusetts are finding they need to defy more than gravity these days to enjoy their sport. In many cities, they defy the law.

Communities fed up with skateboarders who dash between cars, scar concrete and plow down pedestrians increasingly are closing their streets and sidewalks to the sport.


Chased Off Drainage Pipe

In Southern California, sheriff’s deputies chase skateboarders out of the huge Mt. Baldy drainage pipe.

In Washington, D.C., they are shooed from dry fountains in Freedom Plaza.

Across the country, skateboarders, also called rippers, brave trespassing fines to sneak into back-yard pools of vacant homes and drain them for skating.


“It’s making criminals out of kids,” said Jason Danziger, 17, who took up the unicycle when his hometown of Northampton, Mass., banned downtown boarding a year ago.

In April, 1987, Palm Beach, Fla., police arrested three skateboarding teens as they were performing stunts in violation of the city’s 31-year-old anti-skateboarding ordinance. The boys, ages 14, 15 and 16, were handcuffed and taken to the police station, then later released to their parents.

“There is a duty to protect these kids from becoming paraplegics,” now retired Assistant Police Chief Richard W. Wade said at the time.

In Issaquah, Wash., reckless skateboarders face fines of up to $250 under a 1985 ordinance.

To cut down on reckless riders in Rosman, N.C., aldermen in February passed a law requiring them to have a driver’s license or be supervised by a licensed adult.

“They just took over the roads,” said Lois Terreri, town clerk of Clinton, N.J., where a skate ban, prompted in part by the skating death of a 15-year-old boy, carries a $50 fine.

“Some of these kids consider themselves fairly skilled,” she said. “Tell that to the little old lady walking down the street with someone coming barreling at her.”

All the bad press prompted Santa Cruz Skateboards, among the largest manufacturers of skateboarding equipment, and Transworld Skateboarding magazine to give out hundreds of thousands of bumper stickers with the message: “Skateboarding Is Not a Crime.”


“Skateboarding just doesn’t receive the social acceptance,” said Carl West, associate editor of Transworld, based in Escondido. “For a long time, skateboarding was associated with punk rock. It was more of a statement than a sport.”

Not so now. A recent revival in interest has made skateboarding a multimillion-dollar industry, with shopping mall fashion shows and ESPN coverage for competition that earns winners thousands of dollars and lucrative professional contracts.

Bob Denike, production manager for Santa Cruz, estimates the Soquel, Calif.-based company and two large competitors, Vision and Powell Peralta, pull in $150 million a year altogether just for skate hardware. Boards cost an average of $100.

“If you’re a young kid, you buy a bike and you buy a skateboard. It’s part of your life,” he said.

Since skateboarding evolved in the 1960s, as an alternative to surfing when the waves were flat, it has developed its own culture.

Skateboarders have their own vocabulary--words like lame (uncool), poser (a kid who pretends to be a good skater, but isn’t) and ollie (a trick that involves popping the board up in the air by bearing down on the tail.)

The clothing also is a skateboarder’s own--high-top sneakers; long, colorful shorts; emblazoned, oversized T-shirts. Shirt graphics tend toward the bizarre: freaked out rippers with zapped hairdos and bugged eyes.

‘Don’t Look Back’


One T-shirt advises: “Think Fast. Skate Fast. And Don’t Look Back.”

Skateboarders say the sport is popular because it allows them to develop skills at their own pace, without letting down a team, or even Dad, who probably has never been on a board.

Avid skaters support three magazines, whose photos show kids skateboarding on everything from pools to banisters. But all that free flying can be hard on surfaces--one reason for anti-skate sentiment.

Just a few blocks away from the White House, the Pershing Park Memorial, dedicated to Americans who served overseas in World War I, lost a chunk of granite to the boards. The Freedom Plaza fountains have been scarred and chipped by boards, said Lt. Hugh Irwin of the U.S. Park Service Police.

Riverside banned skateboarding in business districts after skaters turned bus benches into ramps, broke windows, nicked walls and “knocked over little old ladies,” said City Councilwoman Jean Mansfield.

Skaters say they’ve been unfairly stereotyped as bad boys. “Like bikers,” said Gabe Roth, 13, who fought the Riverside ban.

Danziger said it’s not uncommon for motorists to shout profanities at him while he is skateboarding. “Just like two days ago someone threw a beer can at me,” he said.

Maybe there’s some resentment of skateboarders’ highly individualistic ways.

Take, for example, Steve Alba, 25, of Ontario, a professional skateboarder for the Santa Cruz Co.

At the Pipeline in Upland, one of four concrete skate parks in the nation, Alba is wearing two dangling earrings, one a crystal, one an evil eye from Mexico. His Converse high-tops don’t match either: one is gray, one red.

Dotting his forehead is a reminder of the 90 stitches needed after catching his board on the edge of a pool. He plunged to the bottom, his fiberglass helmet shattering into his forehead.

Alba, known simply as Salba on the professional circuit, is back from an illicit skating session at the Mt. Baldy pipe, just north of here. Authorities have flooded the concrete with tar and surrounded it with barbed wire, trying in vain to deter skateboarders.

Fines Mount Up

Sessions at Baldy, and others in back-yard pools, have left Alba with $500 in fines so far this year. But, like a skier, he seeks untouched territory.

“We’ve got like a little team called Team Virgin to find places nobody’s ever skated before,” he said.

Alba was skating a back-yard pool the day Stan Hoffman stopped by to ask what it would take to get local skateboarders out of back yards and into a skate park. That was the beginning of the Pipeline, a 2 3/4-acre site, dotted with concrete bowls and anchored with a 20-by-40-foot pipe.

But sometime this fall, Hoffman, 59, and his wife Jeanne, 62, plan to close the park and rip up the concrete, to be replaced with an industrial park free from the liability associated with skateboarders.

“I feel bad,” said Jeanne Hoffman, watching dozens of skaters zoom around, “because there isn’t any place for these kids.”