Austin Paulenske started skateboarding when he was 13. He had a cheap board from Walmart that he rode in his driveway until he graduated to skate parks where he fearlessly tried new tricks without concern. It was fun to be good at something, he said.
The culture of skateboarding has gradually made its way back into the, perhaps as part of a cultural obsession with the 1990s. But the authenticity of the new wave of skate culture has come into question. Many, like Paulenske, think the spike in popularity has more to do with the fashion appeal. Thrasher T-shirts and Vans sneakers are trendy — the sport isn’t.
“Skateboarding was originally a counterculture,” Paulenske, a senior studying mechanical engineering, said. “It was against social norms and stuff. Now you see, like, sorority girls walking down the sidewalk in Thrasher T-shirts and it kind of takes away from the uniqueness.”
The Pedaler and the Packer, an outdoor sports store, has catered to the needs of Athens’ skaters for nearly 40 years. The store doesn’t sell skating apparel, only equipment, and owner John Tobin said much of the skate gear he gets is specially ordered. If customers ask for it, he’ll have it in a few days.
“I rely on the local skaters to tell me what products they want. I do an awful lot of special orders for them,” Tobin said. “It depends on what customers tell me they want and need, and I’ll get it for them.”
Tobin said he’s recently seen a shift in the kind of gear that sells.
“I’m seeing people move away from the skate park type stuff and get more into longboards and cruiser type things for just skating the streets,” he said.
Nate Mascha, a freshman studying engineering technology and management, was introduced to skateboarding by his childhood babysitter. He looked up to the older boy and became a dedicated skater himself a few years later.
Mascha said many people have misconceptions about what skate culture really is. Some want to make it about money, clothes or an exclusive scene when really it is about being a part of an inclusive group.
“There’s definitely a culture to skateboarding, but I think people look at the wrong aspects of it,” Mascha said. “For me, the culture is the community. Going to a skate park and knowing all the dudes are cool. They’re not going to judge you.”
An old misconception about skaters, Mascha said, was the burnout stereotype. Now the misconception has altered, and skaters are perceived as hipsters dressed in trendy attire.
“I’ve seen dads that are in just regular casual wear ripping harder than anyone at the skate park,” he said. “Or little girls wearing, like, a pink helmet and a little tutu. It doesn’t matter how you look. People that think it matters, they’re wrong.”
Paulenske doesn’t skate as much anymore. Falling hurts a little more now than it did when he was a teenager, and breaking bones is a bit of a hassle when you’re a college student. His love for the sport has remained, though.
“It relieves stress,” Paulenske said. “It’s always cool to be good at something.”