However, the proliferation of skateboard parks across the country has affected more than just the operators’ bank accounts. For as these installations have multiplied, they have linked themselves together into an informal network, a sort of skateboard subculture. This subculture, like rock and roll’s before it, is surprisingly well-developed, with its own language, music, mythic skateboarding meccas and a pantheon of heroes. All this emanates from Southern California (where else?); there, as any skateboarder will tell you, the sport exists in its truest and purest form.
Legend has it that in the early days of skateboarding (two years ago), the best skaters in the world spent every afternoon at a few seminal locales (Dogtown – the skateboarder’s name for Santa Monica – and LaCosta are the most famous of such spots), practicing, competing and advancing the frontiers of the sport. The Dogtown skaters, it is said, often spent their days visiting Southern California towns to show up the natives; the LaCosta boys, according to legend, smoked every contest, official or unofficial, they entered.
Whatever these skateboarders were doing a few years ago, it’s not likely that they are still roaming empty pools looking for action: they are too busy making money. Some of the better skaters (very few of them over 25) now earn more than $100,000 a year from a busy schedule of demonstrations, endorsements, competitions and consulting work, says the New York Times.
How do they gain fame and fortune when television coverage has not even been sporadic and demonstrations have been primarily local affairs? Simple: they appear in Skateboarder magazine, a slick, expensive-looking monthly that is currently the Bible of the skateboarding subculture. And every month, more than 200,000 dedicated readers (average age, 14) buy it to keep up with the scene: new products, profiles on top skateboarders, the latest tricks, instruction, gossip. (An example from the April issue: “Dennis Martinez has been shooting it out lately at the Mission Viego indoor park. Witnesses report higher aerials, longer grinders, and more thrills in the half-pipe.”) Best of all, the magazine is crammed with full-color photographs, many of them in sequence, depicting the top skaters performing a variety of novel stunts. These pictures are the heart of the magazine, and subscribers and their friends spend hours over each issue, searching the photos for clues to Tony Alva’s vertical 360 degree spins and Ty Page’s “aerials.”
However, unlike most youth cults past or present, skateboarding is a pastime that most parents approve of. It may be dangerous, but it’s clean. And the effect of this fresh image on the sport is not lost on Skateboarder publisher Dave Dash. “There is no sex and violence, no dirty posters or condom ads in our magazine,” he assures. “Parents can trust it.” And they can also trust the new circle of skateboard heroes, who are careful to maintain an all-American image. Interviews typically center around the importance of healthy food, physical fitness, safety and lots of practice. The industry knows that a clean sport is a marketable sport, so if there is a top-flight skateboarder out there with the personality of Johnny Rotten, no one would promote him. In the words of Bill Riordan, the agent who steered Jimmy Connors to fame and currently manages 18-year-old Ty Page, one of the hottest skateboarders in the country, “To make this sport viable in America, you need to create national heroes to sustain it. Ty’s image is apple pie and ice cream. He’s clean-cut, wears proper safety equipment, and everyone wants to mother him. Jimmy Connors came up in the age of the anti-hero. It was easy to make a rascal out of him. Those days are over. We’re in the Goldwater phase of teenagers now.”