AUSTIN (KXAN) — The popularity of skateboarding has waxed and waned since the inception of the sport in the 50s. In recent years, it has seen another spurt in popularity, but what role does skating play in American society? Why do local skate scenes matter?

One nonprofit is hosting an event in Austin on Aug. 25 and 26 to build and donate dozens of skateboards to fourth and fifth graders at Oak Springs Elementary.

Can’d Aid volunteers will build 70 skateboards at Machine Works in Austin on Aug. 25 and then the boards will be donated on Aug. 26 at the school. Why skateboards? Can’d Aid said it’s to encourage kids to get active outside. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages eight to 10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen.

“At a time when our nation’s youth are experiencing extreme levels of anxiety, depression and mental health issues, Can’d Aid’s programs provide healthy and active outlets for underserved and at-risk children across the country,” a press release about the event stated. Can’d Aid has donated more than 2,000 bikes and skateboards nationally to students in the past year. In 2021, Can’d Aid hosted more than 60 volunteer events in cities across the U.S., ranging from skateboard and bike builds, art supply kit assembly events, community mural paintings, and sustainability projects.

Event locations

Why Machine Works? Alyssa Lile, Can’d Aid’s Director of Programs, said that the nonprofit is working to build a nationwide movement, rallying volunteers from all walks of life to give back in their communities. To facilitate that, Lile said Can’d Aid strives to make their volunteer events fun, accessible, and engaging. So, they host skateboard and bike builds at popular locations that volunteers are likely already familiar with, like breweries, wine bars, and restaurants.

“These venues are already a part of the community and make for an interactive, engaging environment where folks are encouraged to mingle with fellow volunteers,” Lile explained. “More practically, these types of event venues are used [for] handling and storing large shipments and can facilitate the pallets of bikes, helmets, and skateboards that we ship to them for the event.”

Why Oak Springs Elementary? Part of Can’d Aid’s purpose is to provide access and opportunities for underserved youth to experience music, arts and the outdoors.

Lile said that, for donations, Can’d Aid works with community leaders to identify where the need is.

“Typically classrooms that receive bikes and skateboards are at schools with Title I funding, which have a high rate of low-income students,” Lile said. “We tend to select high-needs schools in the same neighborhood that we host the volunteer event, so volunteers are giving back to the community where they live, work and play.”

According to Austin ISD, Oak Springs was a Title I school for the 2021-22 school year. The school’s overall Texas Education Agency rating, released on August 15, was a 59 this year.

In previous years, ratings were issued on an A-F scale, but this year, schools and districts were rated A-C, based on a score out of 100. This year, if a district or campus receives a score below 70, they are considered “not rated.”

Can’d Aid donation events’ long-term impacts

Can’d Aid launched their skateboard build/donation program in December 2018, so there’s not yet recorded long-term data from students, but the nonprofit does collect feedback from teachers a month or two after the donation to get a gauge on the number of students using their boards (or bikes when it’s a bike build/donation), and whether students self report diminished screen time. So far, Lile said they’ve seen great responses and are encouraged by the impact they’re making for students.

Lile said that the skateboard donations also include a demo and inspiration from a skateboarding expert, who shares safety tips and interacts with the students to help inspire them to get on their boards.

“The reaction from the students is always really powerful, they are so excited when they get to hold the board in their hands for the first time,” Lile said.

Can’d Aid’s take on skateboarding

KXAN asked Can’d Aid, “does skateboarding matter? If so, why/how?” Here’s their response:

Healthy, active outlets are important for physical and mental health. Skateboarding is a unique opportunity for these students, because all you need is your board, your helmet and yourself to get out and be active – it’s you against yourself. The skate community is famous for encouraging self-expression and being a judgment free space. This introduction to skateboarding empowers the students to not only get away from the screen and spend more time outside, it helps them create new connections with their peers. Wherever you go, you can always find a community and friends at the skatepark.

Alyssa Lile, Can’d Aid Director of Programs

A look at skateboarding as a whole

Why skate?

Skateboarding can have a positive impact on the people that participate, from improving mental health wellness, to building physical strength, and it even gives people a sense of community that they may lack elsewhere.

The University of Southern California conducted a study on skateboarding in which over 5,000 people from across the U.S. were surveyed about skating. “Despite skateboarding’s popularity, little is known about the effects of skateboarding on youth and their educational and career trajectories,” the study website read.

People who took the survey provided reasons they skate, and the top two reasons correlated to mental well-being.

Here’s how the reasoning broke down in the survey:

  • 76% said have fun
  • 62% said get away from stress
  • 58% said to learn tricks
  • 57% said be creative/express themselves
  • 53% said meet up with friends
  • 52% said exercise
  • 37% said transportation
  • 26% said to be alone

Effects of skating

Skaters described, in the Beyond the Board survey and interviews, a variety of skills and competencies connected to skateboarding. Those include the ability to navigate social institutions, develop resilience, build community, communicate, and express themselves, among other skills.

“Skaters modeled behaviors about appropriate ways to treat and connect with others in skate spaces,” the study noted in part. “Several case study participants talked about intergenerational knowledge where older skaters not only taught tricks and the value of skateboarding to younger (or newer) skaters, but also life lessons, such as how to be a better person or citizen,” the study said. Several respondents also expressed a desire to give back to other skaters, share advice, and/or mentor younger skaters.

The study also mentioned, however, that the skills people learn through skating do not always translate into society outside of skating. According to the study, when skaters have acknowledged a desire to pursue career opportunities related to skating, it could be unclear how to cultivate those opportunities. One of the respondents said that professors and industry contacts could broker those connections.

Skateboarding has the potential to impact mental health and communities positively, according to Beyond the Board. The study’s finding on the top two reasons that people skate (to have fun and relieve stress) are significant considering that the U.S. has been facing higher and higher rates of teen depression, suicide ideation, and death by suicide.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2021, more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. Before the pandemic, mental health was getting worse among high school students, according to prior CDC data.

Having fun and relieving stress can be monumental in improving mental health, because skateboarding has the potential to be a mechanism for adolescents and teenagers to stay active and find community, the study said.

Popularity of skating

Skateboarding phases up and down in terms of popularity, with a major increase in interest in 2020. According to Action Watch, sales of skateboarding equipment had increased 118% by June 2020 compared to the previous year.

National Public Radio (NPR) also reported last year about the increase of popularity in 2020. Jeff Kendall, a professional skater and now president and Chief Marketing Officer of NHS Inc., a skateboard manufacturer and distributor, told NPR the uptick could be credited to a few things: the pandemic leading people to rediscovering outdoor activities, social media platforms like YouTube, Instragram, and TikTok increasing visibility and representation of skateboarding, and the first-time addition of the sport to the 2020 Summer Olympics (which happened in 2021 due to COVID-19).

Austin’s skate scene

The space that skateboarding takes up in Austin is prevalent from the outside, with two parks operated by the parks and rec department, plus the recent opening of new Gaylord Sackler Memorial Skate Park in the Mueller area, and glimpses of skaters all over town, in the parks and on the streets. But once you get closer to its heart, it’s about more than just boards, tricks, or ramps.

Elias Bingham, co-founder and owner of iconic No Comply Skate Shop, has been skateboarding for over 35 years. His knowledge and community-oriented mindset is reflected in the operations of the small, downtown shop (which doubles as a coffee shop).

No Comply opened in 2007, with a foundation of providing a comfortable space with knowledgeable staff that are passionate about skateboarding and community, in Bingham’s own words.

Aside from helping with all skateboard needs, we care and are involved personally with many of our customers/community. We are also a platform to promote and showcase local skateboarders to the world and to also bring in the best skateboarders from around the world for demonstrations and contests for the local community.

Elias Bingham, co-founder and owner of No Comply

The shop also involves itself in the community through art shows and fundraisers. Each month, they host art shows in which local artists are featured, as well as bigger name artists from around the world.

In the last few years, No Comply has raised about $400K for the Central Texas Foodbank through fundraisers, and $50K for the Hi How Are You project in support of mental health, as well as raising thousands for other local initiatives, like Out Youth, serving LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults, and Rosa Rebellion, a platform for creative activism by/for women of color.

No Comply also collaborated with Austin FC earlier this summer to host a Go Skate Day and launch an Austin FC apparel line. In the future, the shop will partner with Austin Community College to promote and work on initiatives for the college and community, Bingham said.

The culture

Austin has a strong scene, accompanied by one of the best skateparks in the country, Bingham said. He’s referring to House Park, situated right behind No Comply. There are also tons of ditch and street spots that people skate throughout the city.

Bingham believes that a healthy local skate scene means having good and welcoming spaces to skate with others who are passionate, creative, and support each other. It’s clear that Austin meets those criteria with all the resources and locations to skate, within and around the city.

There are also many great skateboarders, including pros, that live here, Bingham said, and it’s a top destination for skaters who don’t live here to come visit. It’s worth noting that Bingham himself has also been sponsored by several skate brands, listed in a feature that Parade World published in 2020.

“[Skating] has been what I’ve done most of my life and is my familia and an endless pursuit,” Bingham told Parade World. “The sponsors were a lucky bonus, but it didn’t start or end with them.”

Bingham personally backs the notion that skating brings positivity to peoples’ lives, as the Beyond the Board study revealed. “The challenge and reward of skateboarding can also give confidence that leads to overcoming other life challenges,” he said.

He’s also supportive of the outreaches like the one that Can’d Aid is doing next week.

“By giving the gift of skateboarding, individuals are not only getting the physical, mental and creative outlet, they are also introduced to something where they will be welcome and interact with many others as equals, from all walks of life, regardless of race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status.”