In the past few years, we’ve witnessed a huge uptick in visibility and awareness of skateboarding and skate culture. The 2020 Olympics are significant, but there are so many grassroots movements that grow from skateboarding, addressing so many different interests and needs. Ours is focused on youth, personal development, and social justice, while others are a voice for skate infrastructure, LGBTQ folx, intersectional feminism, refugee rights, and environmentalism, to name a few.
Even within Toronto, there has been a surge of activity, and so many amazing movements emerging through skaters and skate culture. We’re fortunate to live in a place that’s so vibrant, with so many creative, forward-thinking people who want to make a positive difference in our scene and our city! With all these groups and organizations, the core tenets and values of skateboarding are often echoed: inclusion, innovation, equality, and freedom of expression.
But there are some negatives. Just as individuals are beautiful and flawed and complex, so are the movements we create, as well as those of us who take positions as leaders. Whether an activist, advocate, business owner, or grassroots organizer, the role of leaders is to influence. There is a level of self-awareness and humility required to be an effective mentor—someone who lifts others up—and on this front, no one is perfect.
I’ve noticed a growing problem: a fringe trend of insecurity and immaturity that manifests in ways that are harmful to the individual, as well as those they aim to serve. This problem is significant, and is glaringly obvious to people I’ve spoken with who are visitors to Toronto, or otherwise newly immersed in the scene. Those who appoint themselves as leaders need to be cognizant of their conduct and how it trickles to others in their wake—especially children and youth.
Things like excluding, back-biting, blocking, and the notion that it’s better to be selfish than generous, are all borne of a poverty mentality: a fear of having “not enough”, aversion to sharing recognition or credit, a fearful and fragile ego. As summarized by Stephen Covey (in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), it’s seeing “life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else”.
This is nothing new, nor is it specific to skateboarding or Toronto. It happens in business all the time, especially in areas that are niche or specialized. But things are changing. Inclusivity and integration are pushing out the old. The countercultural and creative bedrock of skateboarding morphed into perpetuation of damaging, stagnant societal norms. But the new vanguard of skateboarding embraces the diversity and flourishing of our art, and recognizes the efforts of our contemporaries and those before them. In any healthy community, there is collaboration and co-laboring, ensuring that the community thrives and inspires.
Skateboarding holds a unique space for progressive-thinkers because the ethos of skateboarding is rooted in boundless growth. It is not immune from the problems of racism, greed, exploitation, and toxic masculinity, but it is built on a foundation that inherently rejects these evils. And things will always change and grow. Coming up as a skater 20 years ago, I witnessed behavior and attitudes that weren’t only negative, but downright abusive. Things that were once swept under the rug are now recognized as harmful and unacceptable; those who refuse to awaken to that are already irrelevant, whether they realize it or not.
Children and youth in skateboarding today deserve better, and it is on us as leaders to correct our mistakes and pass on a culture that is vibrant and life-giving. Where we were cliquey and territorial, we must now be supportive and encouraging; where we dragged others down, we must now raise them up, higher than ourselves. We as mentors need to constantly check ourselves and realize that we are stewards—that it is an honor and a privilege to be in a position to influence others, and we must treat that responsibility the sober thoughtfulness it deserves.
We are all human, all flawed, just trying to do the best we can. Yet in the midst of growing out of the old and into the new, I am encouraged by the humility and dedication I’ve seen brought to the table by so many amazing people in our scene, and for that I am grateful.