Skateboarding Laws

Skateboarding has been considered a counterculture sport since its inception. In part because of this fact, numerous local laws exist to prohibit or control skateboarding.

The first laws to ban skateboards were passed almost at the beginning of the sport itself. The first known ordinances began in 1965, when a New York Times Story covered the banning of skateboards in one town by quoting a local official: “These devices are most dangerous... because of their speed on inclines and the difficulty in controlling them."

In part, these local restrictions are due to the “extreme” nature of skateboarding, or how dangerous it is perceived to be. In fact, studies have determined that skateboarding is actually less dangerous than more accepted sports, like basketball. It is clear that skateboards can be dangerous, depending on who is using them. Like bicycles, skates, and other devices, you must know how to use one, and wear the proper safety equipment, in order to lessen the likelihood of a crash, which could injure the rider as well as bystanders.

The laws vary from town to town; most skateboarders are familiar with signs around businesses grouping skateboards in the same category as skates, bicycles, and other devices. In other cases, skateboarders are targeted where bicyclists and other pedestrians are not; for example, many local ordinances prohibit skateboarding in bike lanes or on sidewalks. Some laws require helmets and pads; others prohibit skateboarding after dark.

Although most skateboarders see it as a serious sport, others not involved in this counterculture activity see boarders as loiterers. Skateboarding is often prohibited in local parks and other facilities due to fear over injuries and lawsuits. These too-familiar signs are grounded in well-meaning, but are often seen as discriminatory or misguided by skateboarders.

The first skate parks were introduced in the 1970s, specially designed with bowls, pipes, and other obstacles to challenge riders. However, as this sport became increasingly identified with “antisocial” youths, these skate parks often became embroiled in local controversy. By the end of the 1970s, many skateparks had closed due to fear of lawsuits stemming from injuries. The sport again returned underground. Today, skate parks are regaining their popularity, helped by large skateboard companies and pro skateboarders who are legitimizing the sport in the eyes of the public.

The mid-1990’s helped somewhat to loosen these laws. Televised “extreme sports” competitions led skateboarding to gain an air of legitimacy. Despite its increase in popularity, skateboarding was still outright banned or regulated in many local communities.

Besides the counterculture element and possibility of injury, skateboarders are disliked by property owners and local officials for several other reasons. Skate wax, applied to boards to make them easier to slide or grind over a surface, leaves behind a residue on wood, metal, or concrete surfaces. The act of sliding or grinding itself can also damage the structure. The noise created when the skateboard hits steps, railings, and other obstructions can be quite loud and bothersome to those in the immediate area.

Some skateboarders also spray graffiti to mark their skateboarding territory; this is typically associated with a skateboarding subculture that involves heavy metal bands and a supposed link with Satanism and cults. As a result, skateboarders are often looked down upon by those who do not understand their culture.