Niche Turned Normal: How a Cult-Favorite Pastime became The New “It” Sport

By: Isabelle Mokotoff

This article was originally written for The School of The New York Times Summer Academy.

At Golconda Park, a skating hot spot in downtown Brooklyn, kids sporting Vineyard Vines and Nike run up and down the pools of a skating park, boards in tow. A self-taught skater girl in an oversized t-shirt and khaki shorts carefully observes a veteran boarder whizzing past at top speed. The atmosphere feels approachable and communal, a stark contrast to the exclusive picture the media has painted of skate parks in the past.

Skateboarding was a sport once synonymous with white dudes, baggy clothes, and the spirit of rebellion. Now, that could not be further from the truth.

The changing scene at Golconda Skatepark is emblematic of a citywide phenomenon as New York, a hub of urban skateboarding, has seen a drastic shift in its skating community. Kids, parents, and people of color alike have joined the ranks of New York skaters, each donning a unique approach to the sport through fashion and technique.

And so, the question is posed: as the notion of a “New-York skater” is redefined, is the death of traditional skater culture near? And, according to the New York skating community itself, is that really such a bad thing?

Every community has its leaders and, undoubtedly, Steve Rodriguez is a trailblazer in the New York skating world. A permanent figure in the sport since its citywide genesis, Steve has earned the title of Mayor of NYC skateboarding. During the course of his skateboarding career, Rodriguez has gone from boarder to builder. He designed some of New York’s most notable skateparks, such as Golconda, and has forged personal relationships with three generations of New York skaters along the way.

The bottom line — if there is one person qualified to speak on behalf of the entire New York skate community, it would be Steve Rodriguez.

Rodriguez expressed his excitement about the growing community with passion and a powerful vocabulary to match, perfectly blending heightened semantics like “notoriety” with colloquialisms like “gnarly” in a style completely his own.

When asked about whether the creation of mainstream skateboarding has caused the sport to lose its sub-culture and tightknit feel, he simply and emphatically replied “No.”

“I see many times when different types of people teach each other and learn from each other,” he said. “It’s amazing.” Clearly, “The Mayor” welcomes all new skaters to NYC parks. And, it turns out, Rodriguez isn’t alone in his perspective.

On the other side of the East River, at L.E.S. skatepark, skaters of all backgrounds and identities unknowingly reaffirmed what Rodriguez believes.

 Jean, a 24-year-old skater from Houston, TX, had a sense of determination that astronomically eclipsed her five-foot frame. Even with an injured ankle, she looked effortless as she cruised around on her board. She had come to the park to be around her community, even if she felt limited in the extent of her mobility. The skaters continued to embrace her, physical constraints and all, and Jean was vocal about returning the favor, urging others to join the community.

“I feel like the popularity [around skateboarding] is going to be great, it is something new people could try, you know?” she said. “I love it! Kids should pick up a skateboard rather than picking something else.” 

Miracle Jimenez, 15, stylishly dressed in boot cut jeans, a white crop top, and a bucket hat, has a personality that can only be described as infectious. She glided around L.E.S., flashing her soft smile and holding the hand of new skaters who were apprehensive about trying out her favorite pastime. Jimenez perfectly exemplified the multifaceted personality of a twenty-first-century skater, somehow managing to be badass AND adorable.

It was Jimenez, among the youngest skaters in the park, who delivered the pithiest aphorism of all. In a polished summation of the skating community’s accepting mindset, Jimenez professed, “There is not one ideal skater. There are so many different people, so many varieties… You skate to find joy in the little things, and that’s why I’m here.”

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