Editorial: Skating and city streets don't mix

Laguna Beach city officials are finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to curtail something that is a lot of fun. And fun is important to Lagunans, especially those reared on the thrills of surfing and other water sports. Of course, the subject here is skateboarding.

Skateboarding has its origins in the sport of surfing; it's a combination of surfing and skating, invented by some genius who thought 'Why not put wheels on a surfboard?' It's thrilling, exhilarating, dangerous and can be a lucrative sport for those who excel at it.

But while surfing takes place in the ocean — except for spots that are "black-balled" to surfers as a concession to the safety of beachgoers — skateboarding happens on public sidewalks and streets. And Laguna Beach — with its quiet, steep and winding canyon roads — has become a mecca for speedboarders who use their special boards to zip downhill at astonishing speeds. It's no doubt fun, and a test of skill and mettle, but it's also a safety hazard for the speedboarders and the general public who must also traverse these streets, with hairpin turns and narrow lanes that test the best of drivers.

Laguna Beach has been extremely fortunate that, so far, no one has been reported to be seriously injured or killed while skateboarding or speedboarding on city streets. According to statistics from Silverfish Longboarding, a group that is lobbying for more skateparks around the country, 42 people — half in the age range of 13 to 18 — died because of skateboarding injuries in 2006, the latest year for which we could find such statistics.

These statistics, although five years old, are sobering. Only two of the deaths occurred in designated skateparks, according to Silverfish. The youngest victim was a 7-year-old from Soulsbyville, Calif., struck by a truck while skateboarding in front of his home. The oldest was a 49-year-old Idaho man.

These numbers tell the story: Skating, speeding and city streets makes for a deadly combination.

Skateboarding is rightly hailed as a healthy outdoor activity for young and old. It will take nothing away from speedboarding enthusiasts if they are "black-balled" from the city's most treacherous streets, like surfers are from busy public swimming spots.

We want our skateboarders and speedboarders to have fun, enjoy themselves and test their skills, but not endanger themselves or others in the pursuit of their sport.

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