Skateboarding appropriation By @JoeySare
By Joe Sare
The skateboarding scene in the UK is in a weird place. On one side, it’s more popular than ever; it’s now in the Olympics, a lot of skaters are being paid properly like athletes, and the home-grown style from independent companies are competing on a global level with the big brands. Yet with a huge increase in its popularity, aspects of what made skateboarding integral are being borrowed by brands to give them a little sniff of cool – like a skoda with a bumper sticker. Although this isn’t cultural appropriation, there’s an awful lot of people diving into really rich culture with little regard for what it stands for. So I thought I’d whinge about it. On with the show.
To be brief with the history of skateboarding; it started as an activity for surfers in the 60’s when the waves were flat. After interest waned, it was somewhat resurrected in the mid 70’s, with a lot of help from a group of Californian skaters from Venice beach, named the Z-boys (who included Stacy Peralta, the guy who found Tony Hawk). They took to skating in empty pools during an outstandingly hot summer, which eventually became half pipes (yeah the semi-circle things we skate in). it then quickly expanded outside of the west coast, then out of the states and across the world. After a decade or so, street skating overtook in popularity with videos such as Streets on Fire by Santa Cruz, and remains the more popular form of skateboarding up to modern day.
The thing with skateboarding is, it really isn’t a sport, it’s a culture. (Which is one reason I find it hard to see it in the Olympics. There are no goals, there is no perfect style to aim for or any dramatic creative solutions to barriers with purpose-built parks.) Never has a sport, bar maybe football, ever had such a prolific relationship with music, the arts, fashion, and design. And in that sense, it isn’t owned by anyone, which is why it’s hard to describe why I feel it’s been taken. It’s never been owned by one group of individuals of any class, race, gender or nationality. Even from its roots, skateboarding has had quite a range of followers, just look at the Z boys, made up from white street rats and well to do kids, Mexican and Japanese Americans and even girls.
I think it’s partially an attitude thing. To generalise, skateboarding is a unity of people with a similar outlook on life. And although there are different sorts of skateboarders, there’s a view that it’s a culture that is to be contributed to, not taken away from. Whether it’s going out and making edits, designing clothes, building ramps, building relationships with other skaters, or just exploring creatively what you can do with a piece of wood and four wheels, we all add to the cultural ecosystem.
However, the recent explosion of popularity has allowed a crowd to buy a culture that they’ve never added to. On a small-scale level, products from higher-end skateboarding companies are being bought and sold off at huge markups. For instance, I have no problems with Palace skateboards- they make stunning visuals and their graphics were always fresh, but the crowd of kids who only last year were decked out in Abercrombie and Fitch and jeans their mum had bought them treat the product as stock on a black market. And I’m sure palace don’t give a shit, it’s lining their pockets so they can pay their skaters and buy weed, but I’m not sure the equilibrium is balanced here.
On a wider level, other high street clothing retailers (cough, H&M, cough, Forever21) regularly steal graphics from skate companies, such as Thrasher, just to buy into what’s vogue. Even when you see celebrities who don’t skate or have any connection to the culture wearing graphics that represent so much, it just feels like there’s some sort of appropriation going on here. but then again, a vast majority of streetwear and skate graphics are appropriations of logos from other cultures and groups, so this could all just be revenge. Maybe I’m just a privileged white boy complaining about people stealing my culture. But shit, it still hurts.