They say that youth is wasted on the young. If you’re anything like me, you look back on being a kid and wonder why you didn’t learn how to do this or that when your brain was still like a big sponge—become fluent in a second language or master the electric guitar, for example.
But when I turned 27 this year, I realized that regretting not learning to do things as a child or a teenager isn’t productive. Before, I worried I had gotten too old to learn something new, too busy with work and other grown-up stuff. But then it came to me—who cares how old I am? And now, as a working adult in charge of my own time, I have more freedom than I’ve ever had to do the things that make me happy, including learning new skills.
Enter skateboarding. It was one of the things on my regret list. So, I went out and bought a board from a local used sporting goods store. Yeah, I was scared and I fell off like 100 times my first try, but it felt great to actually start a new hobby, especially one that got me outside.
Turns out I’m not alone in this. Skateboarding is the fastest growing sport in the United States, according to research published in the International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics this year. More than 10 million people skateboard across the country.
This could be due in part to a shift in attitudes about skateboarding. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was common to see indignant bumper stickers affixed to urban bathroom stalls and lampposts declaring “Skateboarding is NOT a Crime.” U.S. cities had implemented limits and bans on skateboarding, according to the Encyclopedia of Urban Studies. The activity was seen as dangerous and a threatening symbol of young people acting out against authority, probably in part because of the fashion, music and culture it was associated with.
Today, more and more public skateparks are being installed. Skateboarding has become more normalized, accepted and even celebrated in popular culture: “attitudes (toward) lifestyle sports (like skateboarding) are shifting from participants being perceived as antisocial and deviant, to being embraced as creative entrepreneurial… citizens,” wrote researchers Paul Gilchrist and Belinda Wheaton in their paper.
For a lot of adults, the thought of playing a “sport” is horrible, even anxiety-inducing. For some, thinking back to being forced to play team sports in school brings up memories of being picked last for the team, or never passed to on the court, or embarrassing volleyball moments. According to research from 2015, 60 percent of adults say they’re not more active because they “just don’t like sports,” whatever the reason may be.
That’s where individual sports—like skateboarding—come in. Some researchers believe these are key for getting those of us who stay far away from team sports more active.
For the students among us, physical activity has been linked to better grades. More specifically, individual physical activity (as well as team sports) has been linked to better grades for female students.
Sports researchers have called for more attention paid to the impacts of individual sports like skateboarding, parkour and mountain biking, but “emerging research… has demonstrated the potential to engage those young people disenfranchised by traditional competitive team sports” and to engage those of us with risk-taking tendencies “in managed risk-taking, thus, addressing community engagement, creativity and healthy lifestyles in new meaningful ways,” Gilchrist and Wheaton wrote.
Have I convinced you to try out skateboarding? Here’s how to get started:
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.