Is skateboarding the last rebel artform?

Dane Swan
We're Still Cool
Published in
3 min readApr 19, 2019

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Photo by Shea Salisbury on Unsplash

I spent a good chunk of my twenties hanging out with graffiti writers. In my early twenties that meant hanging out with writers in Ottawa and Montreal. In my late twenties I found myself drinking with graffiti artists in Toronto. It was always a similar vibe; tales of exploits, hiding from police, climbing buildings in the pitch black darkness of night. Sometimes a kid would get arrested, get roughed up, etc. But their passion to create unique works of art, and share their nom de plume to the world was so compulsive, that they felt driven to take the risks that they did.

Eventually, street artists with more formal art training infiltrated the scene. Opportunities to do commissioned work suddenly became a thing. Charities and nonprofits hired some of the better known graf’ writers as workshop leaders. More and more, galleries started accepting their work in shows.

Unfortunately, as graffiti has become just another genre of visual art, it’s lost it’s way. Many of the people I used to know were pushed out. Right now, most people can’t tell the difference between graffiti (a modern, rebellious, counter-culture folk art)and street art (formally trained artists, interpreting graffiti through an academic lens). Being a graffiti writer is no longer seen as a counter-culture act. You’re just another artist.

This reality, has made me ask myself: Is there an art, that is counter-culture for current generations? Where are the real rebels? Seriously. Partying isn’t rebelling. I’m in my 40’s I still hit clubs. Some of the people I hang out with are in their 50’s. Some of them still do the same stupid stuff they were doing in their teens. Real rebels are usually creative people. Or, they are surrounded by creative people who see the world differently. Walls, roads, sidewalks are none of the above; instead where we see these things they see — a canvas.

After some reflection, the art that came to mind; today’s art for rebels, is skateboarding.

Pro skater Garrett Ginner painting his canvas

I know most people look at skateboarding as a sport, but most professional skateboarders don’t compete in competitions. Instead, they perform at events, or at skate tours. They record full-length skate parts for companies like Thrasher, or much shorter Instagram videos. The modern skateboarder is more of an artist that creates content for those who wish to sponsor them, than an athlete entering contests.

Ginner (the kid in the above video) has pro (signature) model trucks from Krux, a long standing relationship with Arbor skateboards and his own clothing line. I believe he’s still sponsored by Adidas as well. None of his sponsors pay him to win contests. Instead, he’s paid to do creative things, like jumping the LA River.

Even most of the cream of the crop competitive pro skaters are influenced by skateboarding’s counter culture roots.

Meet Nyjah Huston, a favorite to medal at the next Olympics and one of America’s most successful competition pro skateboarders in history. He’s one of Nike’s star athletes, and has major corporations behind him like Monster Energy. Despite that, his Send Saturday series follows him essentially breaking the law skating spaces not meant to be skated.

That’s skateboarding. Even when you’re a multi-million dollar corporation onto yourself, you’re still a rebel. I could say the same for multiple men and women in the scene. Leticia Bufoni brings the same attitude. This isn’t a race or gender thing, it’s a skateboarding thing.

The counter culture attitude is likely what draws so many people to skateboarding. In 2009, 6 million people jumped on a skateboard in the US. Half of those people would be considered core, or hardcore skaters, practicing their skateboard skills at least once a week. What drives people to skateboarding’s community is the fact that race, body weight, and economic standing are not hurdles to being accepted. Instead, enthusiasm and effort into your craft determine whether you’ll be welcomed.

Yes, men are disproportionately represented in the community. However, there are groups changing that. For example in New York, you have skate crews like BRUJAS.

And here I’ve been worried that the upcoming generations lacked the counter culture attitude that has pushed me creatively. Thankfully, people who take risks are still out there. If you’re looking for them, go to your local skate park.

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Dane Swan
We're Still Cool

Spoken word artist, poet, musician, author and editor.