While skateboarding is said to date back to the 1950s (California surfers wanted something to surf when the waves were flat), the craze dominated suburban streets in the 1970s – before kids had to wear helmets. Crafty teenage boys convinced their parents to (allow them to) build handmade wooden ramps in their backyards to practice tricks. The first public park built specifically for skateboarders opened in Carlsbad, CA (1976). Injuries and related lawsuits ensued, causing a lull in skateboard popularity (at least among parents), but that made the sport even more attractive for a subculture of radical skaters.
Those teenagers of the 70s are now grown-up, teaching their kids how to skate and petitioning for more parks. 101 new parks were built in 2011. Tony Hawk, no surprise, is a big advocate – he just held his 9th annual fundraiser to help build more half-pipes in low-income ‘hoods. Perhaps such promotional efforts could be coordinated with the US military. A growing population of skateboarders among active, veteran and retired military personal is seeking parks near bases (including the Armed Forces Skateboarding Association). Remember the video of the US soldiers skating on a ramp they built on the roof of Saddam Hussein’s Abu Ghraib palace complex, in 2003? There’s even a NGO park now in Kabul, Afghanistan called Skateistan that offers free classes to hundreds of kids. Skateistan prides itself on its diverse student body: nearly 40% are girls. They’re looking to replicate their efforts in Cambodia and Pakistan.