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Picture this: four wheels, a wooden plank covered in shiny black grip tape, and a jukebox on the sidewalk. Skateboarding is the pinnacle of the culture of the 1990s, and it's making a comeback.
Skateboarders go by many names: crushers, concrete surfers, mountain bombers. Celebrated as a sport and recreational activity and now viewed as a means of transportation, skateboarding has catapulted from the streets of Los Angeles to the entire world.
It all started when surfers attached clay wheels to wooden decks and began skating through new urban developments in Southern California in the 1950s. Yet for decades, the skater counter culture has become intertwined. with changes in the environment.
When a drought hit Southern California, pools dried up and sidewalk skating days suddenly found new habitats to flourish. The empty pools, now abandoned in the wake of the drought, became grounds for skateboarding tricks and flips to evolve. Street skaters used architecture and adapted to suburban and urban structures to perform tricks.
As one of the main alternative methods of transportation, the act of skating is sustainable. My friends use skateboards to go to class or work and contribute less carbon emissions than their classmates who drive. Additionally, skateboarding uses fewer materials than bicycle manufacturing, and mastering its techniques can make skateboarding faster than riding a bike.
So why is skate culture not green?
While skater culture continues to flourish in the form of fashion and new tricks, its reluctance to innovate and adapt to a world that requires sustainable solutions causes more environmental damage than their counterparts, the bicycle and electric scooter.
By using public structures to land kicks and ollies, skateboards erode banks and curbs, thus causing urban decay. Skate parks, often made up of large concrete structures and ramps, occupy land and resources that could have been used for neighborhood gardens, parks or fields.
Skateboarding itself uses unsustainable materials. Many mainstream brands use maple wood as the main material to build the deck of the skateboard, and this industry is one of the "major contributors" to the deforestation of maple.
Deforestation is a major environmental problem; causes the destruction of natural habitat by devastating local plant and animal populations and increasing carbon emissions. The loss of trees increases soil erosion. Because maple takes 40-60 years to mature, deforestation greatly reduces the Canadian maple population.
Replacing clay wheels with polyurethane wheels has made skateboards safer, but the environmental ramifications of producing polyurethane, which causes harmful emissions, leave room for improvement.
Recreational skateboarding is also growing in popularity. In 2018, the skateboard market was valued at more than $ 1.9 billion, and that number continues to grow. Breaking boards and ripping shoes is common in skate culture from general wear and tear to more extreme situations like accidentally breaking the board.
It's normal for boards to be replaced every two months, further contributing to higher demand for boards. Skate shoes wear out quickly and need to be replaced periodically as well. These incidents increase the demand for shoes and skateboards, further contributing to carbon emissions.
As skateboarding culture grows in popularity, many people are adding popular clothing brands, from Supreme to Thrasher, into their closets, and fast fashion companies are struggling to keep up with demand. H&M and Forever21 mass-produce baggy T-shirts, straight pants and hats, exacerbating the environmental impact of the fast-fashion industry.
However, these impacts can be mitigated through innovative design, from the manufacturing process to the redesign of the skate parks. BambooSK8 designs boards made from bamboo, a fiber that has proven to be much stronger and more sustainable than maple, at a similar price. Iris Skateboards in San Francisco repurposes old skateboards and makes them brand new.
Other companies like Satori have piloted recycling programs to reduce unnecessary waste. They urge consumers to return worn wheels and trucks to make new wheels from recycled ones. The gaskets have also been completely reused. Ada Cheung of Billy Would Designs makes handmade earrings and jewelry from recycled skateboard materials. Deckstool manufactures furniture and home décor from worn covers. MapleXO uses old trucks to make bottle openers and other tools.
City planners are incorporating sustainability into skate park designs by planting trees and shrubs within the parks. This reduces the effect of urban heat and stormwater runoff, filtering much-needed water from the ground.
These projects, programs and initiatives demonstrate the potential for sustainable practices within the skate culture. Now it's up to the skaters to adopt them.