There's something undeniably cool about skateboarding, from its rebellious attitude to its larger-than-life stars like Tony Hawk and Shaun White. It's fun, it's hip, it's a way of life. There's a good reason why skateboarding's popularity has soared in the last few decades, and why offshoots like long-boarding and mountain-boarding are becoming more common.
But skateboarding also can be an easy way to hurt yourself, particularly if you skate in the wrong place or don't wear protective gear. Scrapes and bruises are almost a fact of skateboarding life, but broken bones and sprains are also common. To keep it safe while skateboarding, stick to the rules wherever you skate, and follow these safety tips.
Why Is Safety Important?
Believe it or not, more than 25,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for skateboard-related injuries every year. Some of those injuries can be severe, and skateboarders have been killed by head injuries and collisions with cars.
Kids and beginners are the most likely to get hurt. More than half of skateboard injuries happen to people under the age of 15. One-third happen to those who've been skateboarding less than a week.
Experienced skaters get hurt, too. As the difficulty of tricks increases, so does the risk of injury, while things like rocks and poor riding surfaces are always a threat.
It may seem like all you need to start skateboarding is a board and an attitude — until your first wipeout. Asphalt, concrete, wood, and other common riding surfaces have one thing in common: none of them is soft. Helmets are a must for all skateboarders, and all beginners should use pads until they gain more experience.
Here are some of the things you'll need to get started:
Skateboard. Different boards do different things. If you're mountain-boarding, you'll want a big board with knobby tires. In the park, you'll want something considerably smaller. Make sure you have the right board for your activity and that all of its parts are in working order. Check your board for cracks, sharp edges, damaged wheels, and loose parts before you skate.
Helmet. Get a helmet that is specifically meant for skateboarding, not some other activity. Look for a sticker inside the helmet saying it meets the ASTM F1492 skateboard helmet standard. All helmets should have a strong strap and buckle, and the strap should be securely fastened and snug any time you ride.
Shoes. Skateboarding is tough on shoes, not to mention feet and ankles. Spend a little extra money and get a good pair of shoes made with leather or suede. Be sure the soles are made of grippy gum rubber, not regular shoe rubber, and that the shoes fit properly.
Pads. All beginners should start off with at least knee and elbow pads, which are recommended for riders of all levels. These should have a hard plastic shield and should not hinder your movements. Make sure any pads you wear are snug without constricting your circulation.
Other Gear. Wrist guards, hip pads, skateboard gloves, and padded jackets and shorts are all available and are a good idea for beginners. Mouthguards are good protection against concussions and broken teeth.
This may be the single most important decision you make, as far as your safety is concerned. Rough riding surfaces are responsible for more than half of skateboarding injuries.
You'll probably do most of your initial skating in your own driveway, a friend's driveway, or a skate park. Wherever you ride, make sure the area is free of rocks, sticks, and other objects. Look out for potentially dangerous cracks in the surface before you ride, and make sure there is no chance of an encounter with a car.
Skate parks. Obey all the rules governing use of the park, and learn proper park etiquette before you decide to venture into the park's more advanced features. Many skate parks have areas set aside for beginners. Stick to this area or somewhere similarly easy when you get started.
Empty pools. If you're lucky enough to have permission to use an empty pool, familiarize yourself with the pool's surface before you ride. If the pool has fallen into disrepair, it might be more hazard than fun.
Trails. If mountain-boarding is your thing, inspect the trail before you ride it. A surprise encounter with a fallen tree could end badly for you.
The greatest threat to your health while skateboarding is cars. Falls hurt, but they are rarely fatal. Collisions with large objects can kill you. Never ride in the street.
Before You Start
It goes without saying that the better shape you're in, the better you'll be at all athletic activities, not just skateboarding. Eat right and exercise frequently. Warm up and stretch before you skate, especially your back, legs, and ankles.
Make sure the place you plan to skate is dry. Clear the area of anything that might interfere with your wheels.
Before you shove off and start skating, be sure it's your turn and that no one is in the way. Collisions can happen if skaters don't communicate. And never ride with someone else on your skateboard. One rider per board, period.
You will fall while skateboarding. That much is a given. So:
Learning how to fall properly can help reduce your chances of injury. If you start to lose your balance, crouch down so you will not have as far to fall. Try to land on the fleshy parts of your body and roll rather than breaking a fall with your arms and hands.
Bigger tricks and bigger features equal bigger injuries. Once you've learned a couple of tricks, practice them a lot before you move on to more complicated maneuvers. Leave the gnarly stuff to the experts until you're experienced enough to pull it off safely.
Know and practice skateboarder etiquette. If you're at a crowded skate park, wait your turn instead of jumping blindly into the bowl. This will not only keep fights from breaking out, it will also help you avoid colliding with another skater.
A Few Other Reminders
Never hitch a ride from a bicycle, car, truck, bus, or other vehicle.
Don't take chances. That rail you want to slide might look cool, but is it worth knocking your teeth out? Be aware of all the consequences that could happen if things go wrong.
Be honest about your abilities. Don't attempt tricks that are too advanced for you. This may well save you some embarrassment as well as an injury or two. Practice what you know until you can do it in your sleep, and then move on to something new.
Talk to the people at the local skateboard shop when you buy your gear. Not only can they tell you how to get the most out of your gear, they usually also know good, safe places to ride.
Skateboarding is great way to have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment. There's nothing like mastering a new trick to feel a surge of self-confidence and pride. Practice, practice, practice, and before long you'll be the one doing the kick-flips and spins and owning the skate park!