The Great Santa Clarita Skateboard BattleTim Whyte · September 28, 1997
When I was a kid, I liked to ride my skateboard. In the condo complex where we lived, there was this great hill near the pool area. It was a sidewalk that sloped steeply toward the metal gate of the pool area, with a 90-degree turn at the bottom.
In an informal competition that could be characterized as an early predecessor to the street luge, my neighborhood friends and I would sit on our skateboards a the top of the hill and, when someone shouted "go" or waved a green flag, we'd shove off.
Down the hill we raced, side by side, into that 90-degree turn and along the level portion of the sidewalk to some predetermined finish line. The key, of course, was to get the inside line going into that turn, because if you got stuck on the outside you'd get hung out to dry -- or, in the worst case, smash into the metal pool gate.
I bet the homeowners association hated us. But it was good clean fun, and relatively harmless. We didn't hurt anything except our own knees and elbows. There were a lot worse things we could have been doing.
Now, two decades later, some skateboarders are doing a lot worse.
I'm concerned about it on a lot of levels. Obviously, no sensible person wants to see roving bands of skating teens disrupting citizens' quality of life, damaging public and private property and committing other crimes under the guise of being part of a group of "skaters." And, in response to some citizens' complaints on this newspaper's phone-in line, "Tell it to The Signal," we've seen some of the worst of skateboarders. Some of them have been calling and, in a threatening, profane way, taking the citizens to task for daring to speak ill of any skateboarder anywhere.
Hopefully they'll grow out of it.
We have published many of the calls -- with heavy editing -- but refrained from publishing quite a few, too. Frankly, the poor young lady who types them in has gotten sick of hearing the profanity. You can only hear the F word so many times before it becomes tiresome.
There was one call I wish we hadn't published. It was one in which a skateboarder said it was a good thing a previous caller -- who complained about skateboarders -- did not have their name published, because if they had, he and his skater buddies would "kill" the caller. At the time, I chalked it up to a short-sighted kid running off at the mouth, not any real threat.
I ran the call to illustrate to our readers just what sort of element we're dealing with, and to show how far these skaters' antisocial behavior has eroded. However, on reflection, given the threatening nature of the call -- even toward an unidentifiable previous caller -- I probably should have sat on that one. Bad call on my part.
We've got tapes of quite a few similar calls, many of them unpublished. The typical call contains, oh, a dozen or more words that can't be printed in a family newspaper. Many of them are threatening, saying that, among other things, if we don't build a place for them to "skate," they'll take up other hobbies like drug abuse, assault and vandalism. Given the arrest Friday of an alleged skating-tagging "crew," I wouldn't be surprised if, for many of these kids, skating goes hand-in-hand with other less wholesome activities.
These are your children, Santa Clarita.
Or, at least, some of them.
That's the other disturbing thing: These kids (granted, some of them are legally adults) who call and talk dirty on Tell it to The Signal, or whose skating crews double as tagging crews, are giving a bad name to all the good kids who happen to ride skateboards.
Skateboards are not inherently evil; they have, unfortunately, attracted an unsavory element. But that doesn't mean every kid who rides a skateboard is a disrespectful punk wannabe.
I won't pretend to have any sort of solution. Some have suggested the city ought to build a skateboard park. Maybe that's a good idea, but on a gut-reaction level, you can't help thinking a lot of these kids who call don't deserve one. If they are representative of the majority of skateboarders, we ought to think more than twice before allowing a single tax dollar to fund their hobby. Their approach seems to be one of extortion: Build us a skate park or we'll make life hell for everyone.
The sad thing is, the good kids who skate -- call me a hopeless optimist, but I think they're out there -- will lose out. So, maybe we just have to keep reminding ourselves that, if we build a skate park, we're building it for them, not their criminal counterparts.
I've never completely lost my fascination with skateboards. About five years ago, I bought a cheap model, for old time's sake. I used it a few times, but I couldn't quite make a 360 without falling down. Skateboarding, alas, is for the young. I think we sold the skateboard at a garage sale.
Then, a couple of Christmas Eves ago, my brother-in-law, my wife and I took a late-night walk in the park near our condo. We'd had a big family dinner earlier in the evening, and the cool December air was refreshing. We'd consumed a bit of holiday cheer.
I found half of a skateboard in the park. Someone had broken the skateboard and left only half of it in the darkness.
I hopped on -- pushing with one foot, balancing myself on the half-board with the other. It was quite a feat, considering the "skateboard" only had two wheels instead of the requisite four. I didn't even attempt a 360.
Mark, my brother-in-law, tried next. He, however, landed on his keister, a fall that has now entrenched itself in family lore.
Thanks, of course, to a skateboard.
I imagine we made a little too much noise that late night in the park, and maybe I irked another homeowners association, two decades after those speedy races toward the pool gate. But it was fun, and relatively harmless.
I only wish that were the case for everyone who rides a skateboard.
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Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
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