Flyboys

Ollies, fakies, and grinds: It's a sick thing, man.

As a professional skateboarder, Peterson expects to make just enough to eke out a living. "It helps to live a minimalistic lifestyle," he explains. "Because it's really not all that much money. It's about a millionth of what a fuckin' baseball player makes." ("He can make $1,000 stretch more than anyone else I have ever known," his mother points out, adding that on a recent morning she went out and duct-taped a dangling headlight back to the body of his beaten-up car.)

The Holy Grail of endorsements is to have a shoe named after you. "You have to be, like, superhuman for that," says Peterson. "I'm pretty confident that I'll never have my own shoe. But then, I didn't think I'd turn pro either."

Skateboarding has evolved since the 1960s, according to skateboard historian Michael Brooke, who chronicled the pastime's boom-and-bust cycles in his 1999 book, The Concrete Wave. Reached by telephone in his Toronto office, he notes that the current trend is different.

"There are an awful lot more pros," he explains. "Of course, you have 20 percent of the pros making 80 percent of the money." Today, there are an estimated 9 million skateboarders in the United States. World Cup Skateboarding, the group that develops international professional skateboarding competitions, lists rankings for more than 200 pros in North America. But in the Seventies, Brooke says, there were some 20 million skateboarders, and only about 50 were pros. "They were totally superstars," Brooke says. "Now you have lots of really good people, but few superstars."

Many of those Seventies superstars fell by the wayside when skateboarding lost its popularity, he notes. The giants of today--the Tony Hawks and Chad Muskas--are more likely to stay involved in the industry. Not only do they make money riding, but often they are part owners of companies that make skating gear.

In the Eighties there were only a handful of skateboard companies, most of them run by MBAs who didn't know anything about skateboarding. Today, however, there are many more small companies owned and operated by skaters. Beyond that, there is a more expansive infrastructure of independent skate shops that sell boards, shoes, and clothes; up to 5,000 in the United States, Canada, and overseas, Brooke estimates. "There is a viable skateboard industry," he says. "Wal-Mart will never get it."

And supporting local skate shops instead of giant, out-to-make-a-fast-buck chain stores is the rallying cry for skaters everywhere. An anti-establishment sentiment is central to skateboarding. It's partly pragmatic, to ensure the longevity of local shops that both bolster a community for skaters and sell quality equipment. And it's partly rebel mystique. Consolidated's mantra spells it out: "Less is more. Stay pure, stay poor."

Skateboarding's popularity, predominantly a youth culture, is likely to ebb and flow over time, Brooke notes, though each time it crashes, the fall is a bit softer. From about 1991 to 1993, skating hit rock bottom, he says--a contention supported by figures from the National Sporting Goods Association, a U.S. trade group. Sales of skateboards hit a high mark of $86 million in 1989. By 1993, sales had dropped to $18 million. Starting in the mid-Nineties, however, the trend started to reverse itself; in 1999, the most recent year available, sales were a brisk $69 million.

In the mid-Nineties ESPN decided to air the Extreme Games (now known as the X Games: It highlights "action" sports like skateboarding, aggressive in-line skating, and bicycle stunt riding), and with that came the current skateboarding upswing--the Fourth Wave, as Brooke calls it.

But the moment something once considered counterculture is embraced as mainstream, it's likely to be out again. "By the time skateboarding winds up on network television, a backlash starts to ensue," Brooke says. "Every few years the media latch on to skateboarding. It gets blown up, with Tony Hawk, NBC, ESPN."

But, he continues, the hoopla never lasts. "Football doesn't die. Baseball doesn't get unpopular. Skateboarding does. What's kept skateboarding alive is that real core skater who, when it gets really, really small, still skates."

 

At the downtown Minneapolis Fobia, everyone seems to know everyone. They may be different ages, with different backgrounds and desires, but most everyone who walks through the door shares the common bond of skateboarding. The population in the store, just like the overall population of skateboarders, is overwhelmingly male: According to the National Sporting Goods Association, more than 90 percent of skateboarders are males; more than half of users are kids under age 14.

The two-story shop is like a fashion show for the latest line of hip slacker-wear: Everyone is clad in enormous baggy pants, pulled down low to expose a couple inches of plaid boxer. The T-shirts are threadbare; baseball caps ride backwards. They nod to each other, grasp hands like they're going to shake, but then slide their palms back and end with a snap of the fingers. The rhythm is repeated around the shop: slap, slide, snap; slap, slide, snap. Then they compare spots, or talk about skating a backyard mini ramp in the 'burbs. They sit on the floor in front of the big screen TV, sip bottled water or brightly colored Jones Sodas, and watch skate videos, oohing and aahing as boards and bodies fly across the screen.

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