'I have to skate. I don’t care what the consequences are.' | KUOW News and Information

'I have to skate. I don’t care what the consequences are.'

Oct 25, 2017

When I see a set of stairs or a bench at a plaza, I think of the tricks I want to do on them.

It’s like, I have to land this trick.

And I'm not the only one who thinks that way.


You see skateboarders everywhere these days. From students to businessmen – even dogs are riding skateboards.

I’ve been skating for five years, since I was 11. My friend Derrick O’Neal is a skateboarder I see every Friday when I'm at the skate park in Kent. He says he skateboards because he likes to learn.

"When I learn a new trick, it just gives me a satisfaction that I couldn't replace with anything else,” O'Neal said.

For skateboarders, the city is a playground. But many pedestrians don't see it that way. They see skateboards as the preferred mode of transportation for troublemakers who skate down sidewalks and streets. That can be dangerous, and there are laws specifying that skating street terrain is illegal because of the risk of injury.

Abay created this story in KUOW's RadioActive Youth Media Intro to Journalism Workshop for high school students. Find RadioActive on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and on the RadioActive podcast.  

O’Neal said he believes street skating shouldn’t be illegal.

“At at the same time, I can see how it's vandalism," he said. "But it's just something that I have to do. So yeah, I'm an outlaw. I'm a criminal. I’ll say that.”

(That outlaw image doesn't fit all of us. Personally, I only skate at the park.)

Derrick O'Neal at the skate park in Kent.
Credit Abay Estefanos

Modern skateboarding came about during the dawn of the Dogtown era, when surfers needed something to do when the tide was low. The tricks were performed off curbs and swimming pools that resembled the waves that they surfed.

Since then, O’Neal said things have "changed a lot and not at all at the same time.”

Skateboarders are constantly innovating, but they still stay true to the idea that there are no rules.

“We all have an urge that propels us to get out there no matter what anyone says,” O’Neil said. When he sees a ledge he wants to skate on, “even though it’s out front of a business, I have to skate. I don’t care what the consequences are.”

Another thing that hasn't changed about skateboarding: It just takes one person. The only limit is your creativity. It is a pretty social sport, but at the end of the day, the only team to let down is yourself.

Because of this, some skaters think the sport is not for everybody.

“I think skateboarding is for people who have strong bodies and strong will,” said Kamilo Mendoza, who was also at the park. “It takes a lot to get up after you eat crap,” he laughed, censoring the term usually used.  

It takes a long time to get the basics of skateboarding, which makes it hard for people to join. That's why so many people quit after a year. Beginners at the skate park learn the tricks of the trade firsthand simply by being there and watching the pros.

“We're always talking like, ‘did you see my back 5-0?’” O’Neal said. (That’s a trick where you slide on a ledge with only the back of the skateboard.)

It may sound like jargon to outsiders, but O’Neil said: “It really does mean something. It means something you accomplished and want to share with people.

“Other people that don’t skate don't understand it, and that's fine.”

Skateboarding has grown into a multibillion dollar industry since the Dogtown era. These days it's more about clothing and image than actual skateboarding.

The real skateboarding community despises this.

Thrasher Magazine’s editor-in-chief Jake Phelps spoke for many when he recently said he doesn’t want celebrities to wear Thrasher branded clothes.

“We don’t send boxes to Justin Bieber or Rihanna or those [expletive] clowns.," he said. "The pavement is where the real [expletive] is. Blood and scabs, does it get realer than that?”

Skateboarders see people who wear these brands and claim they play the sport as posers. “People who fake the funk,” Mendoza said. “If you fake anything, you're untrue to yourself which makes you a phony person. People don't like phony people.”

Skateboarding's popularity is growing, and this trend doesn't look like it's going away.

“It's not something you can get rid of, because it's an expression of individualism,” O’Neal said.

I'm definitely not throwing my skateboard away anytime soon.

This story was created with production support from Angela Nguyen and edited by Carol Smith. Music: “Ruaschad” by Dee Yan-Key and “WATCHING IT SNOW WHILE THINKING OF YOU” by Jared C. Balogh. The RadioActive theme song is by Patrick Liu and Abay Estifanos.