Skateboarding and the ‘Tired Generation’

I stumbled upon two research papers that discuss the involvement of middle-aged males in skateboarding. They helped me get a better understanding of the conservatism of members of the community on various equipment-related topics.

Willing I, Bennett A, Piispa M, Green B. Skateboarding and the ‘Tired Generation’: Ageing in Youth Cultures and Lifestyle Sports. Sociology. 2019;53(3):503-518. doi: 10.1177/ 0038038518776886 took a qualitative look at a promotional video for a brand aimed at older skateboarders. Abstract:

This article extends current discussions of ageing through a study of the continuing involvement in skateboarding of individuals who are no longer young adults. We qualitatively examine The Tired Video which features older and mostly middle-aged male skaters as our case study. This is done in light of discourses of ageing and a lack of studies examining how older participants remain involved in lifestyle sports typically associated with youth and risk. Our findings reveal four main processes, which we argue assist older skaters to establish an ongoing sense of inclusion in skateboarding. These are modification, dedication, humour and homage. Our study can also contribute insights to other scenes that have reached a ‘coming of age’ where they no longer accurately fit the description of being a youth culture alone, and the need to redirect thinking about ageing away from notions of imminent departure and deficit over to positive adaptations.

Another interesting paper based on ethnological research is: O’Connor P. Beyond the youth culture: Understanding middle-aged skateboarders through temporal capital. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 2018;53(8):924-943. doi: 10.1177/ 1012690217691780. Abstract:

[T]his research presents an analysis of the experiences of middle-aged skateboarders. Through qualitative interviews, ethnographic observation, and discourse analysis of skateboard media, skateboarding is revealed to be an integral part of the biographies and identities of middle-aged skateboarders. These accounts challenge the imaging of skateboarding as a youth culture and indicate that age and time have an important currency to skateboarders. The value of age is not confined to middle-aged skateboarders but is also observable in skateboard media which corresponds with the values held more broadly in skateboard culture. The concept of temporal capital is proposed as a way to make sense of the experiences of middle-aged skateboarders, highlighting how time is at once a path to subcultural authenticity, but also a resource to be managed and scheduled for their continued engagement in skateboarding.

Both papers point out that a way older skaters retain their street credibility is through insider knowledge of the conventions of the subculture. In LDP, where the currency is equipment, rather than tricks and style, I notice an extreme persistence in and reverence for pieces of equipment that carry a certain aura of authenticity, such as Bennett Vector (whose hype dates all the way back to the 70s) or Dont Trip Poppies (whose hype is recent, probably connected to the formidable “Ultra-skate” race and a sponsorship by Dont Trip of the foremost LDP athlete, Andrew Andras – more on this here). Also, I notice a disdain for factual reality and a preference for viewing reality through emotional lens. I can find numerous quotes that exemplify this, but I’ll choose one by the major influencer of this sub-discipline of skateboarding, James Peters (the owner of the Pavedwave site and by some accounts “godfather” of LDP), who explicitly prioritizes feeling over logic:

“All math equations aside, one thing I feel is different on ride feel of 0 degree rear versus a dewedged rear, is that some dewedge in the back gives the feeling of digging into and snapping out of turns more like when you’re going edge to edge on a snowboard. [reference]

I believe that, if it’s true what the research claims, i.e., that middle-aged skaters are after “a sense of community and personal sense of mental well-being that does not decrease with age and may even be more valued with time” (Willing et al., 2019), then the stakes are very high for these individuals. If insider knowledge of skateboard conventions equals disregard for logical arguments along with equipment totemism (e.g. for Bennett Vector), then cognitive dissonance is unavoidable.

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