This weekend saw the grand opening of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Skatepark (featuring the amazing artwork of Nooksack tribal member Louie Gong). The skatepark, made possible with donations from the Sheckler Foundation and Grindline, is one of many that we have seen popping up all over Indian country. Much more than concrete and metal, these parks save lives.
Despite what is portrayed on the X-Games and in Mountain Dew commercials, skateboarding is not a sport. It is not a hobby. In the words of Ian MacKaye, "Skateboarding is a way of learning how to redefine the world around you. It’s a way of getting out of house, connecting with other people, and looking at the world through different sets of eyes."
In this way, skateboarding does what basketball, football, and other organized sports do not. Indeed, skateboarding is extremely personal. It allows a person to develop a style that is all his or her own, and it encourages creativity and thinking outside of the box. Which is why it attracts misfits -- kids that do not fit in anywhere else are embraced by skateboarding. Unfitting pants; oversized t-shirts; ripped up shoes. These were all popularized by skateboarding, trendset by parents who could afford to buy their kids only one set of clothes a year to "grow into." While this fashion faux pas would get you beat up at school, skateboarding embraced it.
To say that skateboarding isn't a sport is not to say that it isn't physically demanding. To the contrary, skateboarding takes a tremendous amount of physical strength and endurance. And, despite the myth skateboarders are stoners and drug addicts, just the opposite is true. Junkies do not frontside flip 10-stairs. Indeed, studies have found that kids who skateboard are less likely to engage smoking, drinking, and drug use. One study on the Long Beach City Skatepark, located in a very high crime area of the city, found that from when the skatepark was installed in 2003 to 2008, drug related incidents dropped 60.9 percent.
Skateboarding provides native youth with freedom -- the freedom to take control of their lives, their bodies, the world around them, and their futures.
Native Americans and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to be diagnosed Type 2 diabetes. Native kids that skateboard are much less likely to suffer complications from diabetes, and are 48-percent more likely to stay healthy as an adult (compared to 20-percent for kids who play organized sports).
Native American families are 50 percent more likely to endure domestic violence. Skateparks provide a safe haven for Native kids, creating opportunity for social interaction with other youth which helps develop trusting and cohesive relationships that many of these kids just cannot receive at home.
Native Americans have one of the highest dropout rates in the Nation. Skateboarding gives an outlet for hyperactive children who have trouble learning, and has been shown to improve performance in the classroom.
Young Native Americans are more than three times more likely to commit suicide -- up to ten times on some reservations. Skateboarding creates a supportive environment for these at-risk youth. You don’t have to be a cool kid. You can’t get cut from a team. You can show up with clothes that don't fit you, and nobody cares. You can be a weirdo -- in fact, being an individual is encouraged. Kids that skateboard generally have less anxiety, less depression, less feelings of hopelessness, and more satisfaction with life.
For Native youth trapped within the confines of the Rez, skateboarding gives an identity, a purpose, and a meaning to their lives. When you fall down, you get back up and try again. And skateboarders fall a lot. Mad props to the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe and all of those who are helping its Native youth rise up.
Ryan Dreveskracht is an Associate at Galanda Broadman, PLLC. His practice focuses on representing businesses and tribal governments in public affairs, energy, gaming, taxation, and tribal economic development. Prior to practicing law, Ryan could be found shredding at any number of the skateparks between Southern California and Northern Washington, often sleeping in a van and living off of dried top-ramen. He still skates. He can be reached at 206.909.3842 or firstname.lastname@example.org.