Subcultures and Week 1 of Skateboarding

Despite my husband’s insistence that I would wipe out and kill myself, I am successfully still alive after one week of skateboarding. I have also reassured him that I am not going to turn into one of “those people”: snowboarders. (Mostly because I am afraid of going downhill fast, and also because I don’t have the time and money to go skiing.)

I find it mildly hilarious that there is a cultural difference between skiers–proper, refined, pinkies in the air denizens of Deer Valley–and snowboarders–potheads, troublemakers, and young people with attitudes. Waterskiing also comes in two ski and one ski varieties, but as far as I know, there is no cultural difference between waterskiers who slalom and those who don’t.

In fact, snowboarding used to be banned at most US (and European) ski resorts:

Even though snowboarding was accepted by the mainstream winter sports industry in the 1990s, and is now recognized as a Winter Olympic sport (debuting in 1998), ski areas adopted the sport at a much slower pace than the winter sports public. For many years, animosity existed between skiers and snowboarders, which led to an ongoing skier-vs-snowboarder feud.[9] Early snowboards were banned from the slopes by park officials. In 1985, only seven percent of U.S. ski areas allowed snowboarding,[10] with a similar proportion in Europe. Because of this, snowboarders sought ways to protest such treatment from resorts owners and to a lesser degree, other skiers. Indeed, the snowboarding way of life came about to rebel against skiing. As a result, snowboarders chose to “shock” skiers by snowboarding at ski-only resorts as a protest.

Today, only Alta, Deer Valley, and Mad River Glen maintain the ban; the other resorts have recognized that snowboarders buy lift tickets, too.

Sam Baldrin has a good article on the conflict: Snowboarding vs. Skiing: The dying feud:

However, in those early days, skiing was still very much an elitist sport. Seen as expensive, and catering largely to the more wealthy citizens, resorts weren’t about to let this new, dangerous craze into their exclusive runs. …

But the boarding boom of the 1980s brought with it a very different type of personality to the slopes; droves of teenage skate punks with an accompanying ‘bad ass’ attitude that the average skier didn’t appreciate. This new form of snow sport brought the lawlessness of street skating to the arena of strict slope etiquette. …

And so the war began; on one side, the traditionally upper class, rich kid skiers, who wanted the slopes free of these rude, dangerous, disrespectful hoodlums with their baggy trousers and “trash and thrash” attitude. On the other, a rapidly growing army of young, enthusiastic new snowboarders, scornful of skiing’s conservative yuppie style, pumped full of teenage angst and reveling in the sport’s rebellious image.

How did two activities that are essentially the same–strapping a board or two to your feet and going downhill–develop radically different subcultures? Some sports obviously attract different sorts of people–basketball players are taller than jockeys, for example, but I doubt there’s anything about fine wine or baggy pants that makes one good at one or the other, and both groups have enough money to afford lift tickets at Vail.

In this case–as skiers and snowboarders have grown less antagonistic over the years–I think it’s mostly founder effects. Learning to ski or board is tricky, but people who could already skateboard had an advantage over those who didn’t. And while plenty of serious skiers saw the potential of snowboarding, once it was outlawed, only outlaws rode snowboards.

And who rides skateboards is itself at least partly founder effects that don’t have too much to do with skill, like who lives in cities with lots of smooth concrete.

Of course, young or old, yuppie or punk, one demographic variable unites the majority serious sports enthusiasts: they’re male. Yes, there are a few sports that women dominate, like rhythmic gymnastics, but the vast majority of athletic subcultures, professional, amateur, or merely fan, are dominated by men–and this is not a founder effect.

Some typical men’s hobbies, include riding motorcycles, working on car engines, woodworking, building computers, playing Call of Duty, and sports. Some typical women’s hobbies include include reading books/book clubs, arts and crafts, baking, playing the Sims, and shopping.

Men tend to get involved in hobbies that demand either high levels of skill–technical or athletic–and tend to enjoy tinkering for its own sake. They love optimizing their rigs, maximizing performance, or just hauling the motorcycle into the living room to do whatever repairs need done. Women, by contrast, tend to prefer their hobbies less DIY (except for art and baking) and more ready-off-the-shelf.

New hobbies are often male dominated because new things tend not to be very refined or have well-established supply chains: you can’t find them ready-on-the-shelf. The early internet, for example, wasn’t available on phones. To get on the early internet you had to figure out for yourself how to get on Usenet, and few enough people joined each year (mostly in September, when they arrived at colleges that had internet access), that the internet maintained a specific culture. Then in 1993, AOL went live and an unending stream of normal people flooded onto the internet, swamping the original culture and changing it forever, in what is known as “Eternal September.”

Ham radio–which I regard as the precursor to the internet–also required technical knowledge and assembling giant antennae; early rocketry (before WWII) was a highly technical hobby, with many parts and fuels built and mixed by hand.

In the cultural realm, watching anime was much trickier in the early 90s, before you could just stream it on YouTube or Netflix. (I got into anime because my best friend was Japanese, and we watched it together.) In those days you had to look in the Yellowpages to see if any video or comic shops near you carried it. Fan communities devoted to distributing, translating, dubbing, and subtitling anime developed on the internet–active communities, not just passive consumers.

The entry of large numbers of women into a community tends to mark a fundamental change in the nature of the community, not just because they are women, but also because whatever activity or skill it involves has become easy to get into. You no longer need to build anything or have specialized technical knowledge or spend hours working on a project to get in the culture; just buy something off the shelf and you’re there. Normies of both genders show up. The place changes.

Change isn’t always bad. Most of us seem to like that we can access Google Maps on our phones when we’re lost, or that our favorite shows are easy to find on Netflix or Hulu. I appreciate the skateboarding videos on Youtube that have taught me proper board stances, since there’s no one in my neighborhood I can ask.

But this is still change, and for the people who liked their communities the way they were when they were DIY, something they enjoyed may be lost.

(But don’t worry about me; I won’t be invading your skateparks.)

Anyway, skateboarding, week one:

Since my husband’s assertion that I had bought a “murderboard” and was going to “kill myself,” I have been keeping a list of things that have hurt me worse than skateboarding injuries:

Biting my tongue at breakfast
Stepping on a small plastic Pokemon that nearly punctured my foot
Bumping into the table (I still have the bruise)
Whacking my ankle with the scooter while picking it up
The pain in my elbow from using Twitter

I think a lot of people (including my husband) jump on a skateboard once, the skateboard flies out from under them, they crash to the ground, and they decide that skateboarding must be for people with better balance and pain tolerance than they.

But this is like jumping on a bike without training wheels, immediately falling over, and concluding that bike riding must be really hard.

So if you want to skateboard and you don’t want to fall on your butt, try watching this video first:

A real skateboard is a bit expensive (mine was about $120 dollars), which is a fair impediment to figuring out whether you enjoy skateboarding enough to want to put in the effort to learn it. A good compromise might be starting with a Razor Scooter, which are pretty fun to ride but more stable, due to the handlebar, or borrowing a skateboard from a neighbor.

After my first couple days of awkward step, skate, step, skate, step, skate, leap off the board, repeat, I got used to keeping my weight on my board foot and swishing the ground with my free foot. In the process I had two falls, but neither of these actually resulted in injuries or even pain. I decided to wear a helmet anyway, just in case.

Little known fact: humans are footed, just as they are handed. If you’re having trouble getting comfortable on your board, it might be because you’re using the wrong foot. When I use my non-dominant foot to practice different stances, I feel terribly clumsy and awkward.

So far everyone who has said anything at all has been very friendly and supportive (obviously I don’t look like a miscreant teenager, but a mom supervising her kids at the playground), and most people seem to be impressed that I can just stay on the board while gliding across a flat surface.

I was originally going to name my board “murderboard”, but my lack of injuries (other than a small bug that got squashed,) has made me reconsider.

I will probably never learn any fancy tricks (because I am not very good at athletic things) but I’ve had a really fun first week and am happy to have a hobby that I can actually discuss with strangers (unlike my blog).

We’ll be discussing legal systems on Friday.