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“Skaters by their very nature are urban guerillas: they make everyday use of the useless artifacts of the technological burden, and employ the handiwork of the government/corporate structure in a thousand ways that the original architects could never dream of.� Craig Stecyk

Skateboarding is a creative response to the urban environment. Through the eyes of a skateboarder, the city becomes an endless playground of obstacles limited only by your skill and creativity. Fear is the greatest barrier to overcome and the boundaries of the possible are continually redrawn as skaters try harder tricks, down bigger obstacles, at faster speeds. Banal architecture is transformed into a concrete canvas for physical expression. Skateboarding is an art of movement and the culture of the sport purveys the idea that all the world is a stage for your art. The public space is used to exhibit the skill and creativity of the skater in response to the environment he is placed in. This idea is prevalent in other underground cultures, most notably by graffiti writers, who view the city as public gallery for their work.

Skating is an opportunistic view of the cityscape. Other extreme sports are greatly limited by location - for surfing you need to be near a beach, for snowboarding you need mountains and snow - whereas skateboarding can take place in anywhere within the urban setting. Furthermore, in skateboarding, the size of the board and lack of foot restraints means the rider has maximum freedom to maneuver the board and himself. Skateboarding is a very personalized form of physical expression and each skateboarder has their own distinct style. This becomes evident through their trick selection, preference of obstacles and general composure upon a skateboard. A skater’s style is in constant flux and influenced by the type of obstacles available to them, their personality and their influences within the skateboard community.

Recently architects have started implementing reactionary measures to quell the use of skateboards in the public space. These vary from dividers on benches to bumps on handrails, which are designed specifically to impair a skateboarder’s ability to ride the obstacle. Not only is this ugly aesthetically, but can even encourage skaters to use these objects. They present an even greater challenge as not only were they not designed for skateboarding, like the rest of the urban landscape, but they are specifically designed to prevent the use of skateboards. This simply means skateboarders have to take an even more creative approach which challenges the presuppositions of how the architects expect the object to be used.

The question often arises about why skateboarders feel the need to use the streets even in areas where skate parks have been built. However to ask this question you must have a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole philosophy of the sport. The nature of skateboarding is to transform the urban landscape into a concrete playground in which mundane objects become obstacles to be creatively overcome. Seen in this way, a bench can become an obstacle to ride along, ollie over, grind or manual along. The skater must search for each obstacle and figure out how it can be skated. The skate park setting removes this entire aspect of the sport as skaters are presented with an artificial construction created with the specific intention of use by skateboards. It is a sterile space. Council built skate parks are often created from a small generic selection of ramps placed in a simplistic layout, which greatly limits the creativity of the skater. They are also often only built by councils as an excuse to get skateboarders off the street with the reasoning that they are anti-social and destructive to public property. However parks have gained wider use due to the increased presence of anti-skateboard architecture and heightened security measures, such as criminal fines, that render street skateboarding much more difficult and create higher likelihood of prosecution. Generally skate parks are seen as a training ground to experience a variety of different transitions, and a place for tricks to be learnt and perfected until they are ready to be attempted on the street. Part of the allure of skateboarding is the quest for skate spots and whenever possible skaters are much more likely to frequent places they have discovered than those that are purpose built for them; even with the risks involved.

Skateboarding is an unappreciated art of urban movement which, due to the threat of prosecution, is being pushed from the public space into artificial zones created with the specific intention of use by skateboarders. This is stifling the creativity of the sport which advocates the idea that the city is a concrete playground to be explored and creatively conquered. Confining skateboarders to a skate park works in the same way as restricting graffiti writers to a gallery. The same form of expression can be produced but only in a sterile space, greatly removed from the central philosophy of both practices - that the city itself is a canvas for your art, limited only by your creativity and skill.


Concrete Canvas  
Concrete Canvas  

An ongoing project exploring skateboarding culture and lifestyle.