Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Skateboarding as Leisure

Many people classify skateboarding as a form of leisure. Perhaps that's true. But what is leisure? Is it relaxation, an escape, a way of enjoying oneself, or something else?

Commonly, leisure is seen as a counter-reaction to work. Indeed, sociological research suggests a correlation between the nature of people's work and the types of leisure activities they engage in. Particularly, three relationships have been identified:

1) Overspill: People who find their work meaningful and enjoyable commonly engage in leisure activities associated with their work or where they can apply their work skills.  

2) Neutral: Those who find their work to be monotonous, commonly engage in leisure activities that have no clear correlation with their work at all. Book keepers and bank clerks have shown this pattern. 

3) Compensation: Individuals with little autonomy in their work may compensate by seeking leisure activities which offer high levels of creativity and control such as chess, art, and sport. Workers with very difficult work conditions such as miners and pipe layers are statistically more likely to engage in leisure activities that allow them to vent their frustrations, including alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and violence.

Interestingly, leisure as a counter-reaction to work only accounts for some peoples interest in leisure activities; many others actually take work with them into their leisure time.

More than specific types of activity, work and leisure are states of being. The implication being that one can be 'leisurely' in the office, and at 'work' on holiday. Here are a few of the psychological factors that distinguish between leisure and work states of being:

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivation:

When one engages in an activity in order to receive some sort of reward, such as payment, one's motivation is deemed extrinsic. If however, one enjoys the activity for its own sake, he is said to be intrinsically motivated. Intrinsic motivation is apparent in children playing games where their motivation appears to be the enjoyment of the game itself and not some external factor. Intrinsic motivation is considered by many to be the hallmark of leisure.

Whereas many serious joggers will admit that they jog primarily for the health benefits of the exercise (though they may enjoy it as well), one rarely encounters a serious skateboarder who skates for any reason other than the sheer joy derived thereby. Almost all people at the skatepark are intrinsically motivated to skate. This is one reason that the skatepark environment is so easy going: the people there are doing what they love to do.     


'Flow' is a psychological state where one's immersion in an activity reduces one's awareness of self and the passage of time. According to one theory, the 'flow' state is aided by undertaking challenges that match one's skill level. Generally, there are four combinations between challenge and skill levels, each with allegedly different outcomes:

1. Challenge and skill levels are both high = 'Flow'
2. Challenge is high and skill level is low = Anxiety
3. Challenge is low and skill level is high = Boredom
4. Challenge and skill levels are both low = Apathy

In actuality, whereas the product of the skill/challenge balance in 1. and 2. have been substantiated by research, the effects of 3. and 4. have proved less predictable. For instance, people seeking leisure activities that allow them to feel in total control, or completely relaxed, commonly choose activities belonging to the 3rd and 4th categories, respectively.

Every skater knows that a skate session is one of the most effective ways to forget about everything other than the present moment. In this way, skating offers a rather accessible and reliable flow experience. However, there's flow and then there's FLOW, and if a skater desires the latter, then he must challenge himself according to his skill level.  

Positive forms of High and Low Arousal:

Research indicates that people commonly use their leisure time seeking activities that induce either high or low arousal levels. There are two major theories explaining this trend:

a) Optimal arousal theory states that an ideal arousal level exists. Hence, one under-aroused feels bored and lethargic, and one over-aroused, feels nervous and stressed. Much like one that feels too warm seeks ways to cool down, and one that feels cold seeks ways to warm up, one over-aroused seeks activities that induce calm, and one that's under-aroused seeks excitement.
b) Reversal theory holds that there are two general frames of mind: 1. Telic: one pursues serious goals and must plan, strategize, and execute one's strategies in order to attain them. 2. Paratelic: one is playful and lives in the moment. In the former, high arousal levels are allied with stress, anger, and anxiety, whereas low arousal levels relate to confidence, and security. In the latter , however, low arousal equates with boredom, while high arousal implies increased fun and stimulation.

The name, 'Reversal Theory', relates to the fact that the negative high arousal in the telic state - i.e. anxiety - can be reversed  into the positive high arousal of enjoyment if one shifts into a paratelic state of mind. Conversely, positive low arousal in the telic state - confidence - can be reversed into negative low arousal - boredom - in the paratelic state, etc.

Whether one has a low level of arousal and wishes to increase it, or whether one has a high arousal level but in a telic state and wishes to 'reverse' it by entering a paratelic state, skateboarding offers a solution. However, some skaters seem to have a highly telic state of mind while they skate. As a consequence, their increased arousal levels while skating are not experienced as fun, excitement, and enjoyment, but as frustration, stress, and anger. For such individuals skating is no longer pure leisure, it has taken on the character of work...       

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