Is skateboarding a subculture?
I find it genuinely hard to identify groups of people as a subculture. I've been asking myself if they do even exist anymore? As I child I was inspired by many different cultures. At one point I went through looking like a rock, punk, emo and a fashionista, to be who I am today. Was it fashion that inspired me to look as I have looked or maybe music I was listening to? When I look at people around me today I can see different styles passing me by, but does any of them belong to something that could be identified as a subculture? Is it even possible to talk about different cultural environments, in commercialised era of consumption, concerning it being a subculture?
Skateboarding was born out from a surfboarding subculture in the 1960s. First boards were made from the idea of putting wheels onto a wooden board. Back then in sunny California, skaters were dropping into empty swimming pools and adjusting them to skating purposes. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, skateboarding was strongly linked with the punk rock scene, and rebellious life approach. The subculture was associated with the stereotype of people who abuse drugs, as well as with drug dealing, smoking pot and eating pizza all day. Khaled Ramadan, who's been skating in Meanwhile gardens since he was 7, explains that "skateboarding is not all about crime and illegal activities. Especially today when it's so commercialised. I know people who work in marketing or banking and who are pretty damn good skateboarders."
Meanwhile Gardens Skatepark is one of the oldest ones in London, located about 5 minutes walk from Westbourne Park Tube station in West London. Its history reaches back to 1976, about 10 years after the subculture was set in California. It has very local environment and it's a home to all sort of skaters both on an advanced level and those who are just taking theirs first drops into the bowl.
The roots of London skateboarding subculture reach back to Southbank in1960s. Matt* who is working in Slam City Skates explains that "It was not meant to be for skateboarding, but it somehow become a place where everyone met up and skated" Meanwhile many magazines inspired by Southbank skateboarding movement were published. "As soon as skateboarding become bigger all the people from America started to come over to London, and that's when it began to grow into what it is now."
Southbank skater Tyson Edenic, who have started skating at a very young age, explains that for him “skateboarding it's a way of life, and it's a way to get away of the system like work and other problems. I have to say that I don’t really believe that skateboarding is a subculture anymore, it’s mainstream." As the technology evolved so did skating culture, he thinks that 'kids now' adapt new tricks faster than before. "With Southbank skaters is a whole new scene now, because of youtube and the internet. For me, there’s no difference between subculture and above culture. I think when money touches a niche, it bring is up from underground to mainstream" - explains.
"It's not a subculture anymore but people who skated for a long time will believe that it is."
Even though London skateboarding culture is massive, it's however divided into different styles and different crews. If we reach back to twenty years ago, then for sure, skateboarding wasn't up ground as it is today. Matt who's working for Slam City Skates, one of the oldest skate shops in Europe, explains that "Back then it was a very underground thing, people didn't understand it. I think now it's more commercialized. It’s because loads of big brands like Nike and Converse are being a part of skateboarding now. It’s not so much of a subculture. However, people who skated for a long time will always see it that way."
Slam City Skates is located on the quiet as for Covent Garden road and has its 30th anniversary this year. It's started as a tiny little shop, with a record place in the basement. Matt explains that "It has become a hype of all London skateboarding. It's the oldest skateboard shop in Europe as well, that everyone knows around the world." It's mostly visited by teens however, it's well placed on the skaters map from all over the world.
Skaters groups are very tight and according to Matt, barking into one of them isn't an easy thing to do. "It's probably the scariest thing if you are a kid. It's because all of the people you look up to. These guys have been skating for years, they know everyone and are excellent skateboarders. It’s not so hard for me now, but when I was a kid it was scary going up to groups. However, as soon you get older you see younger kids doing exactly the same, you just have to be aware of that."
If considering brands that were created around the skateboarding subculture, it's also important to mention next to Slam City Skates, places like Supreme and Palace. Everyone who ever passed by the longest line in on one of the off-street in Soho on Thursday morning, will wonder what are those kids waiting for? Every dropout draws unbelievable attention that comes from the brand customers. Supreme was born over 21 years ago and since then, their marketing strategy stayed unchanged. The number of clothing they produce is limited to the interest that it had twenty years ago, as it has grown, the production remained the same.
The group created around Supreme, is quite a tough one to get into. Everyone who works for the brand has to skate, and they never look for their employees online, but throughout the skating communities, where everyone knows everyone. They are not very keen to be interviewed and are really protective about their identity too. Ironically people who shop in Supreme mostly just follow the hype and fashion. "They don't know much about the brand or skateboarding history, most of them doesn't even skate", explained one of the customer representatives.
It's very hard to talk about subcultures in the world of consumerism, where trends and fashion are the main indicators of what to like. The fast paced environment of the XXI century and our need to explore more and more, quickly brings everything from underground to mainstream. Same is with the skateboarding subculture now. True skaters will continue on doing what they love. However fashion is just a trend of coming and going and so is the hype on skateboarding today. It's fashion that have found an incredibly vast market to sell products related to this culture.