It’s rarely good news when skateboarding pops up in mainstream media. Recently we have: Ohio outlawing skitching, a skate bro groping women at cruising speed, and something nobody asked for: a skateboard emoji. But the latest normie skate news to blast across our screens is this year’s biggest let down to date: the local government of Madrid, Spain proposed a law that would effectively ban skateboarding throughout the entire city after February 23, 2018.
In an attempt to reduce current sidewalk traffic from non-pedestrians like skateboarders and motorized scooterers, the law would ban anyone from riding a skateboard or a motorized scooter on the sidewalks. However, while the scooterers would simply be relocated to the street, skateboarders would not be allowed there either. The only place skateboarders could even step on their boards would be skateparks.
Under Madrid’s proposed law, anyone caught riding a skateboard anywhere outside skateparks — meaning plazas, sidewalks, streets…anywhere — would have their board confiscated and be fined. Because the law’s stated aim is to reduce sidewalk traffic, skateboarders caught on off hours in low traffic areas would receive €200 tickets, and skateboarders caught on busy streets in the middle of rush hour would be fined up to €500.
What are skateboarders doing to stop this from happening?
Noah Alcalde lives in a suburb outside Madrid, and he told me skateboarders are planning to protest the proposed law at city hall. “It’s a proposed law, but if we don’t do anything the proposal will be a law on the 23rd of this month,” he said. So on the 22nd, Noah and other skateboarders around Spain will hold a demonstration at city hall.
Being denied an entire city worth of Spanish marble would be a blow to skateboarding worldwide, but to skateboarders in Spain it could be devastating.
“Madrid is a community of all of Spain. It’s a little family here,” Noah said. Skateboarders from both surrounding cities and as far away as Barcelona commonly flock to Madrid to skate. “Imagine people who live in the smallest town with nothing to skate and they have to travel to other cities to skate. Those are the people that arrive in Madrid,” Noah said. “They don’t skate in the skateparks because the streets are beautiful. Madrid is made for skating.”
If Madrid is such a skateboarding hotspot, I asked Noah whether local politicians might be using pedestrian traffic ordinances as an excuse to address a much more common complaint against skateboarders: damaging public property. But Noah insisted the law is only concerned with cutting down traffic. “The problem is the mobility in the city. If the problem was destroying the ledge, that’s understandable, but the problem is mobility.” Noah paraphrased the politicians, “They say, ‘We can make a new lane for bikes and scooters, but skateboarding is a sport and it belongs in skateparks,’” which, he added, are overrun by scooter kids.
Madrid’s politicians’ misunderstanding of skateboarding is a good reminder of the tangible dangers skateboarders everywhere face as we approach the 2020 Olympics.
The closer skateboarding comes to resemble a sport, the more outsiders will treat it as one, arguing that like other sports it should only be practiced in its designated zones (i.e. skateparks).
“They say, ‘skateboarding is a sport and it belongs in skateparks.’”
That limited viewpoint is of course bullshit that fails to appreciate the paramount role of environment in skateboarding. If lawmakers are not shown how necessary urban exploration and travel are to skateboarding, we could risk losing them. It’s ironic that politicians will approve spending money on skate plazas that look like street spots without realizing the importance of keeping street spots.
Noah described how cops in Madrid currently don’t actively pursue skateboarding as a crime. They might tell skateboarders to leave a spot, but they don’t usually dish out tickets or confiscate boards. Noah said you’re more likely to meet cops who want to see your board to show you how much they “used to skate.”
Noah and the skateboarders of Madrid created an online petition to add weight to their protest. When they hold their demonstration at city hall, they’ll bring printed copies of every signature to show how many skateboarders within and outside of Spain want to keep skating in Madrid alive, and, maybe just as importantly, how much skate tourism they’ll potentially lose.
“The politicians don’t understand skateboarding. They don’t understand the culture. If they see that Madrid is an international tourist destination for skaters, then they can see that skaters are not thugs, they’re citizens like everyone else,” Noah said.
Whether the petition prevents Madrid’s street skating ban or not is in some ways less important than whether the skateboarders of Madrid can change how politicians and average citizens conceive of skateboarding. People can call skateboarding a sport but it’s much more than a sport, and to stay healthy it needs more unintentional architecture than bountiful skateparks.
But I’m still signing the petition on sheer principle: no ledge should be denied its right to be grinded, slid, and hell, even darkslid.
For more info, follow @fromcongresswithlove, see Madrid’s street spot map, and read the complete law here.