Monday, May 20, 2013

Street Dreams

Regardless of the available number and quality of skate parks, skateboarders seem compelled to skate 'Street': to jump stairs and fire hydrants, slide down handrails, assail monuments, grind ledges, and ride walls. This has sparked ongoing confrontations between skaters and authorities, be they security guards, home owners, building managers, police officers or council members. What underlies this obsession with the ‘street’? Here are some possible motivations:

Availability: It may be suggested that travelling to a skate park takes time and one may not even be available in some places or at certain times. The street, however,  is readily available.

Along the way: Many skaters, especially non-drivers, use their skateboard for transport and typically have their boards with them much of the time. If they're already skating, surely they'll use the obstacles they encounter on their way.

Although these reasons may explain why people street-skate, they don't explain why skaters will leave a skate park in order to skate a street spot. The following explanations try to address this.

‘Stolen waters taste sweeter’: The Talmud explains that people have increased excitement when  benefiting from things prohibited to them. Skating a set of stairs in a high school complex may therefore be more exciting than skating a similar set at a skate park.  

Novelty: Skate parks are limited in the challenges and obstacles they offer. The 'Street' however, has relatively limitless opportunities for novelty, experimentation, and adventure.

Conquest: Many skaters are also graffiti artists or associate with people so inclined. 'Writers', as they're called, spread their signature -‘tag’ - in order to make a reputation for themselves in the underground culture and in order to feel that they've 'conquered' a place by signing it. Many skaters enjoy a similar attitude: knowing that skate spots tend to trigger skaters to recall the tricks landed in those spots, he leaves invisible traces of his artwork in many different places. He may also feel that he's conquered much territory.     

Living 'out of the box': There's something special about viewing and using objects in unconventional ways, especially in ways unintended by the designers. It’s as if one becomes a co-creator of the object. Thus, when Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal in an art exhibition (which he called ‘Fountain’) rather than creating anything new, he merely reinterpreted a ready-made item. Still, this opened people’s eyes to the beauty and art in even the basest objects. Along these lines, skaters may have fun revealing the artistic potential of otherwise ordinary street objects.  

Being real:  Whether aware of it or not, most people desire to live and thrive in the ‘real world’. To confront reality as it is without escaping into the comforts of fiction and fantasy. In this way, one validates himself as being real.
When skating in a skate park, a skater feels that he is escaping from the real world, entering into a space which is designed for skateboarding, where the ramps, ledges, handrails, stairs, etc., are not real but artificial – in a sense, fictional. The stairs don’t really lead anywhere, one walks up them in order to jump down them. The hand rail is not for holding onto when using stairs, it was made for grinding and boardsliding.
As long as a skater feels he is not skating in the real world, he feels he is escaping from it and thus not being real. This is why many skaters see the skate park as a preparation for street skating: for them, it amounts to flying lessons on a simulator in preparation for actual flight.         

Check out this clip of some New York Street Skating: