From a distance, the two groups – the pool-riders and the freestylers – make the gray pool area look like the temporary home of a visiting circus. And I notice, as the afternoon wears on, that very few skaters are switching groups. “The pool rats aren’t that good at freestyle and vice versa,” one freestyler tells me, “so most of us sort of specialize.” Even fewer skateboarders professed any interest in the old skateboarder’s terrain – the hill. “I don’t bother with hills,” Jake tells me, “no way – too boring.”
So will he continue to specialize in pool-riding? “Not for long,” he replies with a distracted glance. “They’re filling this pool with water June 19.”
Late in the afternoon the scene switches to Zero Gravity, an indoor skateboard park a few miles away (on Lansdowne Street in Cambridge) that has a variety of ramps, half-pipes (which look like the bottom halves of huge conduits) and freestyle space. Here Jake and Patty don’t stand out as much; most of the skaters have sophisticated equipment - $80 boards are the norm – and all seem to know what they are doing. The reason behind this high-caliber skateboarding, according to one observer, is the admission charge - $2.50 for an afternoon, so that only those who have already mastered their driveway and the nearest hill show up.
The facilities are a skateboarder’s paradise, and most gravitate to the gigantic half-pipes, riding them as if they were swimming pools – spinning turns on the top edge of one side, then flying down to the middle and up the other. The ramps and freestyle areas are also busy, and when there’s a lull in the action, there’s always the pro shop – a small room at the entrance that overflows with colorful equipment: boards, wheels, shirts, bearings, gloves, elbow and knee pads, helmets, skateboard carrying cases, decals, skate keys, and so on.
One look around the shop makes it obvious that one of the primary reasons behind skateboarding’s new popularity is a simple one: money. Clever entrepreneurs have discovered that skateboarders, like other sports enthusiasts, must have the very latest equipment, and from the looks of the shop, they have all been busy supplying the demand. A set of Emotion Slix urethane wheels can be had for $26; a Fiberflex Warptail board – (without wheels or axles) costs $32.95; Bennet Hijacker trucks (axle assemblies) are $14 a set – and the list goes on, right down to Kanoa Hip Saver two-tone corduroy Skatepants for $18.95. Last year skateboard-related sales amounted to more than $1 billion nationwide, and industry sources are predicting a dramatic increase this year.
Skateboard parks like this one also figure into the picture. Although Bill Keene, a former banker who opened Zero Gravity roughly a year ago, got an early jump on the Boston-area market, he will be facing some competition soon. Despite the high initial investment – building a facility like Zero Gravity now costs around $100,000 – skateboard parks are currently springing up at the rate of two to three a week in the United States (already there are 15 in New England).