SURFING THROUGH the cable TV channels, as I am wont to do no matter what programs I favor, you can often spot a trend that has taken hold in the mainstream, no longer just a fad. (Couch-potatoing and channel-surfing qualify as established male traditions, far beyond the classification of trend.)
So it was that I kept chancing upon skateboarding, a sport that has captured the imagination, and the competitive spirit, of today's youth. Its confined field of play is well suited to TV coverage, from ESPN to MTV.
Skateboarding has been around for a long time, a sidewalk sport that began when someone broke a pair of roller skates and
nailed the wheel carriage to a short plank. "Sidewalk surfing," they called it in Southern California, which has generated more than its share of trend sports. Today's equipment looks much like that original apparatus (although infinitely more sophisticated in materials and engineering).
What is radically different is the field of competition, a vertical arc or bowl of concrete or wood for the wheeled acrobats to show their stuff, and the protective helmets and pads that are a requirement for most sports these days.
These air-aware athletes can amaze you with their flips and jumps, rim-running and handstands at the crest of the arc -- all the while maintaining complete control of their boards. It demands the tight body control of platform diving and gymnastics and freestyle skiing.
In other words, this is not your father's skateboarding.
There's another view of skateboarders, as adolescent outlaws and miscreants bent on destruction of themselves and other people's peace and property. Of dangerous human missiles sailing through the parking lots and down the public sidewalks, perilously close to losing control of their speeding platforms.
Never mind that it was an exhibition sport in this summer's Atlanta Olympic Games. Or that professionals that can earn six-figure incomes with their performances and endorsements.
The problem is the kids who menace our downtown and our neighborhoods with their antics, the complaint goes. Why don't they go somewhere else to practice their mayhem?
Exactly. But where? Just like street stickball and football, skateboarding needs an alternative playing field. There's only one skateboard park in Maryland west of Ocean City. That's an unsupervised 15-year-old concrete complex in a Lansdowne park, in southeastern Baltimore County.
There could be another one, in Manchester. It would be a place for responsible, serious skateboarders to practice and perfect their moves. Given the sport's growing popularity, a public skatebowl in Carroll County could well meet a legitimate demand.
NTC That's just what Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr., himself far removed from Generation X, thought. Unfortunately, his support for a proposed skateboard ramp at Westside Park is souring. Mayor Lippy decries the growing nuisance of young skateboarders downtown, blaming them for vandalism and littering and outright theft. Public complaints are mounting.
Some wrong-headed critics have pitched this debate as a generational split, arguing that youth must always be served and that doddering graybeards are unfairly discriminating against the personal transport of the young.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Lippy cites example after example of destruction, appropriation of private property, desecration of public property, of frightening close encounters of pedestrians with skateboarders on Main Street. This is not the case of an occasional bicyclist who thoughtlessly takes to the sidewalks, but a persistent public problem.
Confiscate the boards
When the mayor tells police to strictly enforce the laws against skateboarding and roller skating in the business district, he is acting in the public interest. Parents and other residents ought to support him. Confiscating the boards of offenders may, in fact, be the most effective deterrent.
But citizens should also encourage Mr. Lippy to pursue the goal of a safe skate park in Manchester, a project he embraced when others were simply grumbling about the nuisance.
Creating a place for youngsters (and others) to practice their sport without bothering others will take many of them off the downtown streets and parking lots. It will fill a recreational need.
And it will make it even more defensible to crack down on the skateboard scofflaws who continue to disturb the peace and indulge in vandalism and petty theft. These common crimes should be punished for what they are, even if the culprits are subject only to juvenile justice.
Mayor Lippy is understandably vexed by the outlaw skateboarders who seem to be undermining his efforts to secure a municipal skate park. He should not allow that to dissuade him, but proceed with plans for a committee to design a facility and to gain support of the town council. A crucial factor will be the town's potential liability and insurance premium, which is now under study.
Go for it, dude.
Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.
Pub Date: 9/22/96