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Skate culture: possible effects on youth

Based on Wilkinson, P. (1994, September 8). "Skate till you die." Rolling Stone.



Thirty-year-old professional skateboarder, Jeff Phillips, described by friends and family as drunk and despondent over the loss and closure of his own skate park, took his own life on Christmas Day, 1993. Mourning his passing, friends popped a skate video into the VCR:



There he was on the screen: tall, square-shouldered, graceful Jeff at 6 feet 2 inches, looking huge on the ramp, muscling himself back and forth on the half-pipe, gathering speed. He rode backward up to the lip, planted his hand, swung himself completely upside down, then shifted his weight, twisted around and dropped back onto the ramp. A perfect Phillips 66: his signature maneuver, the one few other skaters could ever do.



Friends indicated that Jeff lived a boy’s life right up to the end. Adulthood mystified him and maturity was too confining for him. Skating, model spaceships, Japanese cartoon heroes, a tree house, and many reptile pets occupied his magical life.

So, why suicide? Judy Walgren, Jeff’s friend and neighbor postulated,



So many young people in America are so concerned with getting a grown-up house, having a grown-up life, getting on the treadmill. ‘It just hasn’t hit me, man’ Jeff would say. I loved and cherished that about him but that may have been the thing that was his downfall.



Wilkinson evaluates skateboard culture and how it fits (not) within the rest of society:



Skateboarding is a sport for rebellious individuals—no coach to chew you out, no fat 50-year-old guy to criticize your athletic ability.

Even for all its loner quotient, skating is also a brotherhood. Skaters from rival parks form teams to compete.

Being a skater in a Dallas high school, that meant being a distinct minority, being vilified by jocks and rednecks, as well as by your parents. ‘What are you going to do with that toy in class?’ football players asked skaters in the hall at Lake Highlands High School. These volleys of disapproval, of course, bound the skaters even tighter. Reveling in their new, private rebellion, they vowed to skate forever.



But by the end of the eighties, the skateboarding boom had diminished. Skate shops and skate parks had closed down, lost money, gone bankrupt. And then skating itself changed. Ramp (vert) lost its appeal and street skating took over. A true fad was reborn—with the fashion statement of baggy shorts, Etnies (shoes), and shorter hair becoming almost more important that the act of skating. Old-school skaters were sickened by the slick, new trend. Skating seemed to them to have lost its edge.


  1. Was Jeff Phillips a good role model? Why or why not?
  2. Is becoming a grown-up really that important? Explain.
  3. Discuss the relative merits of old-school and street skating, or roller-blading versus skateboarding.
  4. How important is image for skaters? Fitting in?
  5. Is skating cool? Why or why not?


  1. Skater culture may foster rebellion. Be ready to embrace these young people and address their deepest frustrations with the real world.
  2. Skating definitely fills a need in young people for self-expression. This must be encouraged and applauded.
  3. Hopelessness, depression, and suicide may plague skaters more than other teens. Be alert to danger signs and intervene.

Ken Ball cCYS