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Skating into summer

How skateboarders in Madison can cope with quarantine and support social justice movements.

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

Madison winters can be brutal for skateboarders, who don’t have many options for indoor spots. I know I’m not alone in being forced to crouch down on a patch of cold basement concrete, hoping that when I launch off the ground, my pop isn’t high enough to inadvertently force my head into some low-hanging pipes. Most of my exposure to skateboarding during those wintry months comes via second-hand experience. I catch up with Thrasher’s Skater of the Year candidates (I voted for Mark Suciu but was unsurprised to see Milton Martinez collect last year’s win) and their video parts, see how my friends in warmer climates are progressing, and do what I can, when I can, to make sure I don’t lose muscle memory for certain tricks.

While I still went through my usual winter routine as 2019 turned into 2020, I started noticing something else via my social media feeds, which was an increased interest in skating by adults, which has prompted both encouraging support and annoyed backlash. I’d wondered about this phenomenon when my partner, who has roller skated for over a decade and owns a longboard but never skateboarded, started talking about the possibility of trying it out before coming home with a complete setup last summer. A few of our friends went down the same path and, right around that time, a new swath of 20- and 30-somethings were suddenly finding themselves precariously perched on seven layers of plywood, two pieces of shaped metal, and four sculpted polyurethane wheels.

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Journalist Dan Ozzi recently touched on this trajectory in a piece for Mel Magazine, underscoring one simple underlying truth: quarantine has provided a fascinating opportunity for either acquainting or reacquainting yourself with skateboarding. It allows for a semblance of normalcy, risk, control, accomplishment, and measurable growth—things a lot of us could use in our upended routines these days. It’s also the perfect excuse to leave the house and get both mental and physical exercise.

Madison hasn’t been exempt from this wider trend. Fortunately, for newcomers like my partner and people like Ozzi (and myself) who are returning to skating after years away, the city not only has a surprisingly rich recent history to explore but strong, current leadership figures as well. My friend Sepi “Neon” Shokri runs a small, semi-secret warehouse park north of Madison intended for all wheels with an emphasis on inclusivity and acceptance. Gender Confetti’s Elyse Clouthier was recently featured in a Vans documentary for their contributions to the Forward Living skate collective which includes but is not limited to hosting the collective’s Femme Skate NightsClean Room’s Jeff Halleran has become a fixture at Freedom Skate Shop on State Street, which offers a very welcome local brick-and-mortar reprieve from the various skate chains scattered around town.

The city’s skate community has also been stepping up to contribute visible support to social advocacy and racial justice measures. Local skaters gathered on June 21 for an event called “Pushing For Justice,” an all-wheels protest that started with a fundraising competition and raffle outside of the Freedom Skate Shop, then headed down East Washington to Madison Skatepark (colloquially referred to as Central and officially titled The Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Skatepark) for more fundraising competitions. Organizers and leaders Chris Fox, Shokri, and Freedom’s Geoff Kopski are putting on another public rollout event this Saturday at 1 p.m. to help raise money for the Black Lives Matter movement. July 11 will also mark Worldwide Rollout Day, and this event will be held in connection with similar ones taking place around the globe.

All of this also highlights the incredibly important impact that skateboarding has on a community level. While, like most any subculture, skateboarding has had more than its fair share of bigots and hateful conduct, Madison’s skateboarding community is finding ways to thrive by broadening its acceptance. Every time I’ve gone to Central over the past month, I’ve been met with scenes of support and encouragement that cross every identity line imaginable. Every time I’ve gone to Madison’s other parks, each with its own distinct charm, the presence of a shared, productive mindset has been unavoidable. Now, maybe more than ever, skateboarding has a chance to change its culture for the better. It’s unbelievably heartening to see Madison continue to find ways to help lead that charge. 

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