Feature Article - February 2012
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Bring On the Action!

Easy Steps to Introduce Action Sports to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken

If the mention of "skateboarding" makes you instantly suspicious—searching the area for vandalism, on guard for horrific injuries, and sniffing for something illegal in the air—it's time for an update. These days action sports, which include skateboarding, BMX biking, and even freestyle scootering and rollerblading, aren't so extreme. They're pretty mainstream. Just ask the nearest crowd of middle-schoolers you can locate.

"The X Games are 17 years old," noted Justin Travis, program director at Ohio Dreams Action Sports Camp. "So kids who are 17 [and younger] have always known action sports as professional sports—the same way their parents knew baseball and football." Tony Hawk, rad skater dude of the 1980s and '90s, is now a dad and the head of the Tony Hawk Foundation, a charitable organization that helps create skateparks in low-income communities (and he's still a rad skater dude, by the way).

"Skateboarding used to be a rebellious thing," Travis said. But over the years it has grown into a legitimate sport—one that requires skill and focus and continues to grow rapidly—so it's a mistake not to acknowledge it as such.

For one thing, action sports may appeal to a different sort of kid than other sports do and provide opportunities for additional children and teens to find their niche and get involved in your community. "The appeal of action sports is 'I can do this on my own'," Travis said. "For kids with ADHD, high-functioning autism or a learning disability, team sports are difficult. But with action sports they can be very successful because they can grow at their own rate. It's like a freedom of expression," he said.

Travis added that action sports offer a refreshing lack of structure for kids who may live a highly scheduled life. Many are taking lessons and playing organized sports before they've hit kindergarten. "Even my daughter is in preschool, and she's 3," he said. "Today's action sports, a skatepark, is yesterday's kids playing out in the woods," he explained. "Kids are kids. They want to go play in the woods and build forts." But since that's harder to do in today's world, kids are embracing creative, freeform play and challenge on a skateboard, bicycle or scooter.

But what about safety? How can it possibly be safe for kids to hurtle themselves off ramps, down steep inclines, and even over stairs and railings? Those we spoke with for the story encourage the use of helmets and other safety equipment, but the truth is in the numbers. Skateboarding has a lower incidence of accidents than many other much more common sports. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that ice hockey has a 3.6 percent rate of injury, basketball a 2.57 percent rate, and soccer a 1.42 percent rate. Skateboarding beats them all with a 0.49 percent rate of injury. When injuries do occur, they're often due to irregular riding surfaces, and they also frequently happen within the first week or two of someone learning the sport, according to the Skate Park Association of the United States (SPAUSA).

Both of those variables are manageable when you take charge and get involved with cultivating the sport, so what are you waiting for? Read on for advice (received from the pros) about the best ways to bring the action (sports) to your community.