Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saying Thanks to the Mall Shop?

Back when I was 12 years old, I had a favorite skateboarder. I still have a favorite skateboarder today, although it’s difficult to narrow it down to one skater. Before, there was only one. No doubt he’s a heck of an accomplished skateboarder, and I spent too many hours playing his video game. That’s right: my first favorite skateboarder was Tony Hawk.

There’s a simple reason Tony Hawk was my first favorite skateboarder: he was the only professional skateboarder I’d heard of. I was 12, all of my knowledge of skateboarding came from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and damn straight I wanted a Birdhouse for my first skateboard.

At least I have the guts to admit my wholly ignorant skateboarding roots. Sure, Tony Hawk’s an incredible skateboarder, but if your mom had to pick a favorite skateboarder, she’d probably pick Tony Hawk by default. If she can even name another pro skateboarder, then she should be wearing one of those corny World’s Coolest Mom t-shirts with pride.

Well, I never ended up getting a Birdhouse, but I did stick a Tony Hawk sticker on my first deck. Tony Hawk isn’t amid my favorite skateboarders today. Yet I have to wonder, although I credit an early friend with getting me into skateboarding, if I didn’t spend all those hours playing Pro Skater would I have had something, as sad as it sounds, so able to pump me up to skate? When I went to the mall, you can bet I was drooling over the mall skate shop’s limitless shoes and skate stuff while rocking a DC hoodie that was probably purchased right there at … yes, Zumiez. (Oh, forgive me for my sins!)

That was a past life. I was just another skateboarding pipsqueak yet to receive any sense of skate education. In a funny way, though, I’m glad for those past ideologies. I’m glad I spent hours playing Tony Hawk’s videogame, and, yes, I’m even glad I was able to shop at mall skateshops. Essentially, I was one of the millions of young, clueless skateboarders, too blind to care or even notice where (my parents’) money was being spent—yes, I’ll take that deck please, Mr. Zumiez! Oh, and it comes with free grip. Mr. Zumiez, you’re so thoughtful!

As damning as it is to say, I don’t regret those days. I don’t even regret my former uneducated actions—at least not in full, and I’m not just pleading age-related ignorance. While this is taking an incredibly optimistic outlook, there is some benefit that mall skateshops, corporate skate companies, and overpaid mega-star pros bring to skateboarding: they’re single handedly capable of getting the young masses into skateboarding.

It would be great if every young skater could come to skateboarding through organic means, such as stumbling into a legit local skateshop, buying a made-in-the-USA board, and idolizing local skaters, instead of pros who have their own TV shows and Cadillacs with their initials embroidered on the headrests. The truth is, most kids will probably buy some discount board from Zumiez, start following The Berrics, and then make sure even their socks have some corporate skate-company logo on them. 

That’s how most younger skaters start off, and if that’s what gets them into skating, then that’s what gets them into skating. No skateboarder who actually cares about skateboarding itself should be spending a cent at a mall skateshop. No skateboarder who’s actually delved into skateboarding’s history should limit his favorite pros to today’s hammer-dropping, get-rich-quick, sponsored-by-Zumiez charlatans. Nascent skateboarders, however, cannot and should not be blamed. If skateboarding were still as independent and underground as it was in the days well before I started skating, I would have probably never become a skateboarder; I honestly might have seen skateboarding as too polarizing to really get involved with. It was the mainstream mall store and big-name, hot-shot pros that drew me to skating. In this, I am hardly unique.

This is where I have to give a smidgen of credit to the lambasted world of corporate skateboarding. I, and millions of others, would have never picked up a board without the lures that corporate skateboarding spends millions to implement. Don't get me wrong. I’m not saying thanks to Zumiez. In fact, it can go shove a flat bar up its ass. Mall skateshops are money-sucking murderers of independent skateshops, and super-corporate skate companies do more damage than good. Still, although it's taking a generously optimistic, look-on-the-bright-side view, the influence of these sell-out skate conglomerates can't be denied.

It is the hopes of all real skaters that those drawn to skateboarding through these mass-marketing influences quickly wake up and realize where they should really be spending their dollars and which skaters and shops they should really be supporting. However, skateboarding or all forms still has a pretty decent learning curve to it, and so does learning about and supporting bona fide skateboarding. In the end, we can't deny that skateboarding is awesome, even as it moves farther and farther away from its roots. As their absolute sole benefit to skateboarding, big, pseudo skate companies and mall shops are still spreading skateboarding; sure, they're going about it all wrong and want kids to get into skateboarding just so they can fatten their wallets. But if that's what it takes to get some kid to choose skateboarding over some lame-ass hobby or unfulfilling other sport, then let him buy his first board from a store located next to a food court. He'll regret that first purchase eventually—but he won't regret choosing skateboarding.