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Norman skateboarding community considers availability of local facilities

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Brandon Martinez

Brandon Martinez skates at Blake Baldwin Skatepark on Feb. 28.

Skateboarding is an internationally popular sport, but one wouldn’t think of Norman as a skateboarding hub, let alone the state of Oklahoma. However, Normanites of all ages and backgrounds enjoy the popular pastime. 

According to Britannica’s website, the first commercial skateboards appeared in 1959, but crude, homemade versions were first built after the turn of the 20th century. These skateboards were made by attaching old roller skate wheels to a board.

Britannica also mentions that in the early 1960s, skateboard manufacturers such as Makaha and Hobie attempted to profit from the rising popularity of surfing by promoting skateboarding. At the time, surfing was very popular and skateboarding was created based on the former sport. When skateboarding was beginning to grow, people called it “sidewalk surfing,” as an alternate diversion when no rideable waves were available.

In 1963, Makaha formed the first professional skateboard team. The same year, the first skateboard competition was held in Hermosa, California, which included events in freestyle and downhill slalom skateboarding.

Ever since then, there have been many skateboarding professionals including Tony Alva who, from his website, was one of the first skateboarders to bring skating empty pools into the mainstream, along with Stacy Peralta. Here in Oklahoma, Peter Ramondetta, who is from Tulsa, is known for skating in terrains others wouldn’t skate, like on jagged runways. Other honorable mentions are, of course, Tony Hawk and Rob Dyrdek.

Skateboarding is becoming more popular throughout the decades. According to Board Coast’s website, from 2020 to 2021, the number of worldwide skateboarders grew by 18 percent. However, in places like Norman, there aren’t a lot of skateboarding shops or skate parks. In fact, there are more skate parks than skate shops in Norman. 

Cameron Smith, assistant manager at Zumiez, said that Norman residents need to travel if they want skateboard help.

“Norman has zero skateboarding shops at all,” Smith said. “If one can’t find what they’re looking for at the store, they will go to Oklahoma City to other local skateboarding shops. I think more people kind of outsource to the skate shops in OKC like Core and Money Ruins Everything rather than Zumiez and (Sooner Mall) is kind of dying compared to the last few years especially.”

Smith said there should be more skate shops in Norman. 

“Local skate shops get a lot more support because Zumiez actually takes away from their sales, especially in the last couple of years,” Smith said. “This year, it actually has grown for Core and Money Ruins Everything. 

But Smith said the Norman skateboarding community is already realizing that it needs change, and that nobody likes to drive an hour to go to a skate shop.

When asked why there weren’t a lot of skate shops in Norman, James Briggs, Park Development Manager for the City of Norman said that skate shopping can be done online to some degree. 

Briggs did mention that in order to build a new skate park, people would need to come to the city council and ask them to set aside money to build one. 

“You have to create advocacy and then use it and prove it’s not a waste of money,” Briggs said. “The more skaters that use the things we build, the easier it is to ask for more skate parks.”

Briggs said they are planning to build more facilities. 

“We’re in a huge 15-year program to build a whole lot of facilities,” Briggs said. “One of the things we put on that program is to rebuild a bigger concrete skate park in Andrews park. That’s why we have the new million dollar Blake Baldwin skate park rebuilt in Andrews park.” 

Briggs said that projects in Norman for recreation have changed a lot in the past decade. 

“We used to create a lot of adult softball fields and tennis courts,” Briggs said. “Now pickleball is taking the place of tennis and action sports are taking the place of team sports. We’re building skate parks and off-road bike courses.” 

Even though there aren’t a lot of skate shops in Norman, there are a few skate parks. The Blake Baldwin skate park across the street from the Norman Central Library is one of them.

Sam Suflita, local skateboarder at Blake Baldwin skate park, said the community is open and accepting of everyone at the parks.

“Anybody who comes to the skate park is welcome to skate and have fun,” Suflita said. “You won’t be made fun of and won’t be judged.” 

Suflita said that skateboarding is a sport that can do more than improve your balance.

“Skateboarding is one of those sports that teaches you a lot,” Suflita said. “(It) teaches you perseverance and to keep working hard for your goal.”

One con Suflita had about the skate park was a lack of restrooms and a water fountain. 

Smith said that the demographic for skateboarders is changing rapidly and that Norman’s community is more accepting than that of his hometown.

“You see a bunch of new kids, even younger kids that started to skateboard now,” Smith said. “I sell to a lot of little kids, not even really older people anymore. People used to be made fun of for skating, now it’s seen as being cool.”

With all sports, there are always health concerns. However, skateboarding isn’t as dangerous as one may think. Skateboard For Kids’ website mentioned a study that said “out of over 200,000 participants and 20,000 injuries recorded, skateboarding only accounted for 399 of the 20,000 injuries.” That’s 2 percent.  The other sports mentioned in the study were basketball, soccer, football, baseball, ice hockey, archery and 14 others. 

"Skateboarding offers an array of advantages, including coordination, pain tolerance, stress relief, precision, reflexes and patience. … When skateboarding, you need to alter your movements so you skate smoothly and accurately," the website reads.

Smith said that he hopes more people will give the growing sport a shot.

“Everyone should try it at least,” Smith said. “It’s a passion that everyone should be able to at least experience once, because it’s different for everyone.”

This story was edited by Silas Bales and Emma Blakley. Teegan Smith and Nikkie Aisha copy edited this story.

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