Opinion » Editorial

Warren Miller

Skateboarding to the Olympics

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In the recent Winter Olympics, the only clean sweep by the Americans was in snowboarding. The men swept the gold, silver and bronze in the halfpipe and the women won the gold. These athletes performed gravity-defying stunts and captured everyone’s attention.

Apparently, they can perform a lot of the same moves on skateboards. The public relations director of the U.S Alpine and Snowboard team told me that many of the snowboarders got their start through skateboarding. All of the halfpipe riders still use skateboarding as a form of training. As a matter of fact, the entire snowboard team goes to a skateboard park in Pennsylvania for two weeks every summer.

Lately, I’ve taken an interest in skateboarding. We’re trying to build a skateboard park here on Orcas Island. The other day I asked a man who has been an icon in the ski industry for years to donate money for our Orcas Island skateboard park. You can imagine my surprise when he replied, "I wouldn’t give five cents to that bunch of body-pierced, tattooed, ponytailed, pot-smoking bums."

That might have been the case 40 years ago, when skateboarding got started in Southern California in my then hometown of Hermosa Beach. Then, as now, it has always been against the law to skateboard anywhere except on your own private property. Things are changing, though.

Today, more American kids are skateboarding than playing baseball. In any little league baseball game, nine kids always lose, right along with their 18 parents. At a skateboard park, however, everyone always wins because there is no score.

Skateboarding offers the same freedom as a pair of skis or a snowboard, without the cost of a lift ticket. Skateboarders do many of the same tricks that snowboarders and figure skaters do, only without bolted-on shoes.

Last summer, I witnessed the freedom and fun of skateboarding at the skateboard park near the Space Needle in Seattle. Regardless of the hoodlum image, these skateboarders perform amazing tricks. I watched a young skateboarder with long dreadlocks, lots of tattoos, and half a dozen body piercings perform so well on his board that within a few minutes everyone else in the park stopped to watch him.

A few minutes later, two businessmen showed up in their suits and ties. I thought they were just going to watch, but they took off their coats, folded them neatly and draped them over the fence. Then they took their skateboards and sneakers out of their briefcases and performed some skateboard tricks that the young star couldn’t do. In less than 10 minutes, these three unlikely people were busy trading tricks. Each could do a special trick that the other couldn’t. Soon thereafter, all three of them were explaining to some of the younger kids how to move up to the next level of freedom on their skateboards.

I believe that man’s basic instinct is his constant search for freedom and I have been trying to show that in my ski films for the last 53 years. Now, I’m seeing that everyone finds that freedom in a different place and some people find it on a skateboard.

We have the same problems on our island that other communities have. Apparently, our local kids also have double the booze and drug consumption of the rest of the state. During a 30-day period, 73 per cent of our high school seniors drink alcohol two or more times a month, and almost 54 per cent use drugs.

Sooner or later, some of these kids are going to run up against the law and wind up in the slammer. When they do, it will cost taxpayers $25,000 a year to keep each one there. I want to do something. I think our skateboard park can turn some kids around before that happens. All we have to do is change the path of six kids and the park will have paid for itself.

To date, we have raised $70,000 of the $150,000 it is going to cost to build our park with no administrative overhead or government support. We also have the land, the insurance and the bulldozing donated. We have formed a 501-c3, tax-deductible corporation and are taking donations. We are also building some barbecue grills and picnic places so that anyone can come and watch the skateboarders. We have no paid staff and once the park is built, anyone can come and ride the park for free and camp in nearby Moran State park.

Who knows, maybe we’ll develop some future Olympic snowboarders. At the very least, we’re getting kids outside, away from the TV and video games. Feel free to send a donation in any amount to: The Orcas Island Skateboard Park, P.O. Box 350, Deer Harbor, Washington 98243.

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