Skateboarders never want to talk about religion, unless it’s to praise their favorite ‘switch god,’ show off their burning nun graphic, or ridicule an aging, born-again pro. But, as a skateboarding sociologist that focuses his research on religion, I wanted to take a different approach and ask the question: Can skateboarding itself be a religion?
People have struggled to define skateboarding, arguing that it’s not a sport, not a subculture, more than art, beyond fashion. Similarly, many of us devote our lives to skateboarding, following codes, maintaining a community. So it only seemed natural to pursue this commitment we share and test one of the greatest taboos: religion.
That question might seem ridiculous to many of you. We skateboarders tend to imagine some sort of separation between church and skate, to the point where even talking about the two together sounds blasphemous. But doesn’t that reaction say something about how sacred we consider skateboarding? We see ourselves as privy to some special, esoteric knowledge, something that can only be understood through painful practice and devotion, indecipherable to the unenlightened.
One of my work colleagues came along to a skateboarding event and said, “When I hear you talk of skateboarding, it sounds like a cult.” Cult is just a four-letter word for a religion someone doesn’t like. If they could see the cult-like, religious elements present in the skateboarding community, why can’t skateboarders?
First, we need to figure out what we’re talking about when we say “religion.” Often, the concept of religion is over-simplified to simply a church and a book. But if we reconsider the function and formation of what we consider religious, we can see that it is a means to organize community and express deeply held beliefs about origins and traditions.
Of course, we have to acknowledge how traditional religions have tried to use skateboarding for their own purposes. There are Christian board brands, annual conferences of skateboard ministers, and even a Skaters Bible–no, not Thrasher–published by the Australian Bible Society.
It’s easy to criticize these groups as appropriators, seeking to infiltrate, expose, or exploit skateboarding. Some are. One decided to give up skateboard ministry and pursue scooter ministry instead as he felt it was easier to reach those kids. Skateboard ministry is about turning skateboarders to Jesus. None I spoke to were even slightly interested in converting Christians to skateboarding. Most interestingly, none of the skateboard ministers I spoke to saw anything inherently “spiritual” in skateboarding at all.
Skateboarding, though, is actually already full of religion. Skateboard graphics employ religious elements in order to lampoon, shock, or pay homage. Think of the Natas 101 devil board, a whole collection of Jamie Thomas’s Zero boards, or the intricate and layered satire of Jeff Grosso’s crucified board with Antihero.
We talk of skateboarders as gods, sages, philosophers, and gurus. We study skateboard videos like scripture, focusing on the smallest of details. More often than not, we congregate at special places, locations we think of as hallowed ground. We perform our acts amidst a community. For years I have listened to skateboarders talk of the “skate gods” as watching over them, of visiting the skatepark as “going to church,” or, more poignantly, marking births, marriages, and deaths through skateboarding in some way. The shallow connections between skateboarding and religion may be deeper than they seem.
There’s also plenty of religion in our everyday skateboard practices. A simple way to observe this is through the creation and reproduction of standardized skateboard mythology: the glory of the legendary Californian surfers who decided to cruise the sidewalks when there was no surf. This origin story replicates the features of other religious mythology, and some would say it is just as questionably truthful.
Didn’t skateboarding originate from kids riding trolleys in Brooklyn in the 1890s? Or, as one academic suggests, didn’t it originate in Japan in the 1960s? It doesn’t matter. The truth is secondary to the legend. I spoke to a devout Muslim skateboarder in Malaysia who skates in a part of the country which is so conservative that all the cinemas must show films with full lighting in the auditorium, and even he was able to reproduce the origin story of Californian surfers starting skateboarding.
Then there are our anointed saints and holy folk, a pantheon of venerated skateboarders lauded for their contributions. SOTY is like an annual honors list where the brave are canonized and a new saint is made afresh. While there are no shortage of wrinkly skaters who are alarmingly aligning Jay Adams with Jesus in repeating the phrase “what would Jay do?,” I also found a skateboarder in Hong Kong who referred to Leticia Bufoni as her “Goddess.”
Beyond these declarations, there are various skateboard videos that present skateboarding as a philosophy, lifestyle, or set of ethics. The Search for Animal Chin, which suggests skateboarding is a philosophy of fun, to the more recent We Are Blood, that frames skateboarders as a globally connected tribe. There is clearly no shortage of mythmaking in skateboarding past and present.
CULTS & DEVOTION
Additionally, I found a variety of groups that equated skateboarding with fullfilment, transcendence, and joy, some of the hallmarks of religious salvation. People spoke of freedom and meditative states whilst on their board. Others spoke of the lifelong community that skateboarding had given them, and plainly seeing something deeply emotional about their time on the board.
I spoke to one middle-aged skateboarder who described Mark Gonzales as Yoda, and committed to watching one video (“A weekend with the Gonz”) at least once a week. Another spoke about business trips to San Francisco where he would always book a room overlooking EMB in order to pay his respects, while a third confessed to having a parking block altar in his home.
Take, for example, the Barrier Kult, who have constructed a religion around skateboarding in everything but name. Even if this is demonstrated through Black Metal, balaclavas, and a rigid commitment to only skating Jersey Barriers. Ba.Ku. have made a big impact with devotees, which they call Hordes, across the world. Their influence has also spawned numerous curb cults, some of which have their own websites and apparel.
Then there are the skateboard pilgrims and fetishists who travel to iconic spots simply to be in their presence. Some, like Frank Gerwer, collect the relics of skateboarding’s past, a chunk of concrete from the Hubba Hideout, a brick from EMB, and part of the Cardiel Rail.
Much of what I saw were obvious attempts to mark skateboarding as special, and to mark special moments of life with skateboarding. One member of a skate cult organized around a DIY bowl said that they “jokingly referred to weekly sessions as ‘going to church’ and members as ‘sinners.’” He would go on to suggest that by framing their sessions ritualistically, it made outsiders cautious of joining in and kept the group unique. So, while this might not be an example of spiritual fulfilment, skateboard cults work like many other religions. They create a boundary, are organized around a community, and have some ideology to uphold.
Why would skaters want to cordon themselves off like this? For many older skateboarders, the Olympics, big shoe brands, and energy drink companies signal the end of the way things were. Concerned that our special club has folded for good, perhaps some of these attempts to make skateboarding sacred are a way to hold on to those more ineffable, secret elements of skateboarding, expressing commitment that simply can’t be bought in a Zumiez.
Perhaps the most convincing way that skateboarding and religion are connected is through ritual. If you remove ritual from religion, it is empty. It is through practice, repetition, or worship that religions remain alive and meaningful. Similarly, the physical act of skateboarding is the chief requirement of being a skateboarder, and the main motion of our religion.
Skateboarding is vibrantly ritualistic, and these rituals relate to all areas of life, from gripping your board to mourning the dead. When one of my skateboarding friends died, his wife scattered his ashes in our local skatepark. This seemed the most meaningful way she could mark his death. Another skateboarder in New Orleans had his casket pushed up a quarterpipe to do a final rock to fakie.
We use our skateboarding achievements to mark the contours of our lives in ritualized ways as well. The rites of passage of dropping in, landing your first kickflip, or for some, getting a photo in a magazine, become pivotal moments in a practitioner’s life, like the Christian sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.
Skateboarding also appears to remake festivals and celebrations, as we have our own holidays now like Go Skate Day. We’ve also transformed older religious festivals into our own traditions. Halloween at Tempe park in Arizona has become a ritual, and Yom Kippur for Israeli skaters is a time to skate empty streets because no one is allowed to drive on that day.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
The truth is, our modern world seems pretty slim on magic and meaning, but for some, skateboarding provides precisely that. It generates a shared cultural bond amongst a diverse group of individuals, and creates a celestial communion for those that otherwise might feel alienated in our increasingly secular world. So, when you start hearing people say stuff like, “skateboarding saved my life,” or “I can’t live without skateboarding,” you might still roll your eyes, but you can do so with the understanding that, for that person, skateboarding fills a spiritual void in the same way religion does for others.
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December 18, 2019 5:59 pm
I got mad stoned and literally thought about this 2 nights ago. Glad were on the same page Jenkem
December 21, 2019 4:59 pm
Best 1st comment ever.
December 19, 2019 12:43 am
Religion is what defines it. It is what made it possible. Tony Hawk claims to be a Jew but he bible thump F.B.C. King James. In Newark lingo yes hes jewish. And I’m to press charges on people extorting me and publicly. Cause they the types to use or abuse public practice or public rights. Plus all of the Pros back then were in trouble with Cops err Police. So those parole officers err what have you offered those work in skateboarding as a job or career and stuff. Because parolees and felons were not allowed work of high pay or state and government jobs.
December 19, 2019 12:45 am
Articulate but at law it’s kinda destruction of property and architecture.
December 19, 2019 2:52 am
“THE WAR ON TERROR IS ALL OVER FUNGI’S AND HARRY BALLS, SOMEONES SON HAD TO DICTATE IT TO BRING DOWN THE DEATH PENALTY IN AMERICA AND AT LAW” HOW’D YOU LIKE IT IF WE DID THIS TO YOUR ONLY CHILD” HM? JUST TRASH. LONG STORY SHORT I’D SHAVE HIMS NUTS.” “ALL OWA SOME PARLIAMENT MLK AND COOKIES AND SOME TEA (T) AND TRUMPETS (CRUMPETS).”
“WERE HOPING HE’D BE A GANGBANGER”
“WHITE MAN’S MAFS!”
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY ITS YOUR GANG RAPING AND EVERYBODY’S INVITED”
“DAMN MAN MOFO’S IS PSYCHIC THESE DAYS, AND AS IM TYPING THIS”.
“AND KING MCKINNEY WAS TO BE HIS BUTT HUMPIST MIGHT I ADD N AT LAW, YOU SALACIOUS PIK”
“ALL DONE IN A TENURE, WHAT HAPPENED TO AIR FORT WORTH SECRET SERVICE TELEVISION THAT AIRED FROM THREE THIRTY AM TO FIVE AM”
“FOUND OUT MY PARENTS SMOKE MORE COKE THEN SHERWIN YGNACIO COLASTE”
“ADOLF HITLER, FLO DA REALTY”
“HOW’D JIMMYS CHUDDERS LOOK WHEN HE SUCKED MY DONG”
“LOOKS LIKE DAD SOLD HIS KID AND KIT FOR SOME SYMPATHY”
“JIHAD JIHAD LIKE NINE TEN GRAHAMS EEK AND HRAMBE AND HMOOB’D AND HMONG”
LONG STORY SHORT STAY OUT OF WORST FAVORED SOCIETY. AND DADDY YOURE WORLDS WORST FAVORED GIRLFRIEND TO GIVE JOHN MALONE AND HIS BROTHER DAVID. THE MGM GRAND OWNER THE MAN G MAN MICHAEL JACKSON NORTHWEST EMERGENCY ROOM THE GRANT WINNER. MGM AND MOST HOTEL AND CASINOS WERE FUNDED THROUGH AND BY NATIVE AMERICANS THROUGH GRANTS OF HARDSHIP AND CLASS HISTORY. ACTS OF KINDNESS, GENEROSITY, COURAGESSNESS, AND STANDING UP FOR WE THE PEOPLE AS ALSO WHAT HE/SHE BELIEVES IN. DOING A GOOD DUTY OR DEED OUT OF KINDNESS BY CHOICE NOT BECAUSE THEY FEEL OBLIGED OR OBLIGATED TO. PLUS RIO VISTA, CA HAS BEEN UNDER THE HIGHEST TERRORIST ATTACK ON AND IN THIS PLANETS HISTORICAL EXISTENCE. AND THE PERSONS WHOSE NAME IS UNT ON THE STREET SIGNS ON HIGHWAY 113 I.E. THE PERSON WITH NO RIGHTS OR PRIVATE DEFENSE AND ALL THE PUBLICITY THAT WAS NOT NEEEDED AS IT WAS NOT CIVIL NOR WAS OR IS IT SYMPATHY HAS BEEN THE TARGET, VICTIM AND PLAINTIFF OF ALL OF THIS” AND AS OF THIS MOMENT HE IS ABANDONED AND WITHOUT A PLACE OF RESIDENCE AND VERY NEEDY BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT THE PLAINTIFF (VICTIM OF LAW(S) OR VICTIM IN LAW(S)) TO GET THE WAY OF LIFE OR TAKE THE STAND IN HIS HOME STATE OF CALIFORNIA BECAUSE OTHERS WILL MURDER HIM WHILE ON THE STAND TESTIFYING IN A COURTROOM OF LAW AT THE CAPITOL OF 5HE STATE. THIS PERSON HAS BEEN MURDERED WITH MILITARY ISSUED FIREARMS MORE THAN TWO TIMES. THE PENALTY WAS REINSTATED IN CALIFORNIA BUT WAS NEVER UPHELD AND NOW GIVERNOR KENNICUT AKA NEWSOM IS ATTEMPTING TO BRING IT BACK DOWN AT ELECTION(S). PEOPLE IF THE USA YOU SWEAR LIKE THE DEATH PENALTY IS A BURDEN IN OUR COUNTRY AND AT OR BY LAW, WHY IS IT? AND HOW DOES “THEE MONOPOLY MAN GET AWAY WITH ALL THE LAW, LEGALLY? YOURE JEWISH JAMES ADOLF MALONE. BRINGING DOWN TGE PENALTY IN AMERICA IS NOT LEGAL SAYS WE THE PEOPLE. SEE EMINEM AND 50 CENTS VIDEO IT IS NOT LEGAL IN AMERICA, IT EXPLAINS HOW IT IS WAR OVER CULTURAL LEADERS AND THERE TURF AND RIGHTS. ITS A GENOCIDE IN ALL HONESTY. PLUS THE PERSON IN THE ABOVE MENTIONED HAS HAD HIS PLACE IN SOCIETY STOLEN FROM HIM BY TOO MANY EWES OF UNLAWFULNESS WITHOUT HIS WRITTEN, VERBAL, AND LEGAL KNOWING AND CONSENT. AND SO HAVE YOU KNOW EVERY JUDGE IN SOLANO COUNTY CALIFORNIA IS NOT A LEGALLY SIGNED OR SWORN IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE OF LAW SIGNED AND SWORN IN BY OUR NATIONS PRESIDENTS. IT IS THE LAW. THEYRE TO BE SIGNED AND SWORN IN BY OR THROUGH LEGUSLATURE AND OUR PRESIDENTS AT THE NATIONS CAPITOL IN WASHINGTON D.C. AND DONALD TRUMPS RHETORIC DOES NOT MATCH HIS VOICE OR WHERE HE ALLEGEDLY ORIGINATES FROM. HIS VOICE BOX AND HIS TERMINOLOGY AND HIS PLACE OF ORIGIN IN WHICH HE CLAIMS TO HAVE BEEN BORN AND RAISED. BILL CLINTONS WIFE IS A LAWYER AND BILL CLINTON WAS ELECTED THE MONTH HE ABUSED A SOMEONES SON WITH TWO CLONING PODS AND THEN RAN TO TEAVIS AIR BASE AND PAID SOMEONE TO JOG IN A MARATHON. A LOT BECAME OF THIS DUE TO HARD RACIAL PROFILING AND SUCH. PANTERA A BAND ENDED UP IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS HE ENDED UP MURDERING THREE INNOCENT LIVES BECAUSE OF THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN WAS NOT OF THE SAME AS HIS. IVE BEEN THROUGH THIS BEFORE OUR GOVERNER OR GOVERNMENT TRYED WASHING ME INTO CHANGING MY GENDER. TWICE THIS HAS HAPPENED TO ME SATTELITES OR SOMETHING. SOMETHING TO DO WITH BIG RIGS DIESEL TRUCKS WHILE I WAS OUT ALONE ROAMING THE STREETS. X WHAT MORALS IN OUR NATIONS CAPITOL BECAUSE OF THEIR LACK OF CIVIL SERVICE OF JUSTICE BY LAW AND SUBPOENA’S. ME, MINES THE WAR ON POVERTY AND NOT BEING TO LIVE AT LAW WITH WORLD LEISURES AND ALSO BEING DENIED MY RIGHT(S) TO LIVE IN LUXURY AND SUBPOENA THE PRESS. THOSE ARE CALLED MEDIA STRIKES. IF YOUR EXPLOITED BY THE PRESS AT ALL EVER BY LAW THE DAY OF ITS AIRING THE PRESS IS SUPPOSED TO HAND FACTS AND DEFENSE TO THE PERSON BEING EXPLOITED, DEFAMED, BAD MOUTHED, ETC. THEY DO NOT LIKE PEOPLE WHO ARE LIKE ME, THEY HAVE COMPLEX’S ABOUT JACKSON STATUS KIDS OR WHAT HAVE YOU. THEY ABUSE THEM AS THEY HAVE BY GAYBASHING US INTO LABOTOMIES BY BRAIN OR STOMACH CAUSE THEY DONT WANT US TO GET WHAT WE WANT SO THEY ABUSE THE MASSES OF THE COMMUNITIES, SO WE END UP AS I HAVE, OR THE PUT HUMAN SEAMEN IN BOXES OF CHILDREN CEREAL AND SELL IT FOR CHEAP AT A MARKET DONE THROUGH PROFILING SO THEY CAN FRAME YOU SO THEY DONT GET SUED FOR WHAT THEY HAVE ALREADY DONE TO US. MORE THAN TWO PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CONVICTED DUE TO THIS. WORD OF MOUTH. CITY OF SACRAMENTO WHY AND HOW IS IT YOU DO NOT PROMOTE LOCAL CELEBRITYS WHEN THEY ARE IN THEIR EARLY LIFE. AND ALSO YOU ROB PEOPLE LIKE ME FOR OUR BRAIN PARTS OUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SO YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH STEALING FROM US THINGS THAT DO NOT LEGALLY BELONG TO YOU NOR ARE YOU LEGALLY ENTITLED TO. LIKE OUR PALM PRINTS, DNA, TEETH, TONSILS, VOICE BOX, RETINAS ERR IRIS’S, WITS WISDOM AND HAPPINESS THEN YOU TRY TO SALE US FORNITUDE SO YOU INFECT US WITH DISEASES THAT NEED NOT NOR DO WE SEEK OR WANT BY LAW OR AT LAW FOR THIS MATTER. THEN ALL AXXESS PAID PROGRAMMING AND CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENTS AND SOCIETYS IN TIMING AND PRE MEDITATED CONVERSATIONS OUT OF PRE REHEARSED SCRIPTS. YOU WOULD NOT EVEN OFFER US HELP OR WORK OR ADVANCEMENTS OR A CHANCE TO CHANGE OUR DESTINY FATE AND FAME. FOR OUR RIGHT TO LIVE THRIVE WITH CIVILTY. I AM PLAINTIFF OF IT, THATS CAPITOL PUNISHMENT YOUVE DONE UNTO US. WHERE WERE WE THE PEOPLE? GREATER THAN LESS THAN LEVEL….PARASITE VERSUS HOST, PREDATOR VERSUS PREY, YOU PEOPLE ARE FUCKING LEACHES. THEN YOURE PEOPLE ABUSE BOUNTY HUNTERS TOO AND MASS CELL PHONE INTERNET TEXT MESSAGES THROUGH AIR FORCE ON HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF PEOPLES DEVICES SO YOU CAN CONTROL US IN OUR PATHS. THAT IS THE DEATH PENALTY BY LAW.
December 19, 2019 9:44 am
December 19, 2019 11:51 am
December 20, 2019 12:30 pm
^about as coherent and well conceptualized as this article tbh
January 22, 2020 12:37 pm
Seek medical attention!