You've seen it in movies and TV shows no doubt - adults saying 'skating is a crime'. Maybe even police officers have said it, in these forms of entertainment.
However, this is not really true. However, the question 'is skateboarding a crime?' cannot be answered so simply.
While the skateboarding part itself is not a crime - there are many laws you may be breaking while you are skateboarding, if you don't pay attention. So let's do a deep dive into this topic, and see what we come back with.
The Phrase 'Skateboarding Is Not A Crime' - What Is The Origin?
You've probably seen this phrase many times, though you likely don't know why, or where it originated from. Technically, this phrase was trademarked by NHS, Inc. - all the way back in 1997.
This company distributes many various skateboard brands, like Independent Trucks, Santa Cruz, and others. So, clearly this trademark was used for marketing purposes, as a way to make money.
Despite our best efforts on Google, we have not been able to determine who the first person was to actually say this phrase, and what the context may have been. Like many street sayings, it eventually got co-opted, and used by a big corporation.
We are guessing that this phrase originated in the 1970s, when skaters were all-but-forced to skate in people's empty pools, store parking lots, or on public guardrails.
This is because until the early 2000s there weren't really many public skateparks, and this left skaters no choice but to trespass in other areas, to practice. The world is entirely different now, but as someone who skateboarded in the 1990s, I can confirm that this was indeed the case back then.
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Why Do Skaters Get In Trouble For Skateboarding?
There are a number of reasons, and this helps fuel the myth that 'skateboarding is illegal', and that 'skateboarding is a crime'. Police antagonize skateboarders usually only if they are doing one of the following things.
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This is the major one. Looking back at old documentary footage of skaters in the 1960s and 1970s - and they'll almost always be skating in an empty pool.
This was the beginning of the trespassing, but it only got worse from there. As the 2000s have rolled on, finally public skateparks have become more common - eliminating the need to trespass on public (or private) property.
The Z-Boys from Venice Beach were some of the worst trespassers - they arguably popularized the idea of hopping neighbor's fences, draining their pools, then skating them.
While there are worse crimes than trespassing, that doesn't mean it's not illegal - it most definitely is illegal. You can get in serious trouble for trespassing, and if you get hurt on someone else's property - especially without their permission - you are likely in big time trouble.
2. Skateboarding In An Area Where It Is Not Allowed
There are still plenty of places where you are not allowed to skateboard. Sometimes you'd be surprised to learn what places you are not allowed skate.
Some cities won't allow you to ride a skateboard on any sidewalk, or even in entire areas. It all depends on the local restrictions and bylaws in your particular city of residence.
There are even specific areas that can be called "no skate zones" - obviously you're not allowed to skate in these areas either. Sadly, these signs are usually in the best spots - i.e. in front of schools with great rails, malls, public buildings, or other great street skating spots.
3. Vandalizing Or Loitering
These are simple to understand - if you grind a curb in front of a 7-Eleven for hours, and then the paint wears away - congrats, you've likely loitered and vandalized. While these are not the highest crimes, obviously this is not a good idea, when you could simply be skating in an official skatepark.
Doing graffiti, or skateboarding on marble steps, on a bank's property - or anywhere similar to this - is absolutely never a good idea. If you have to hop a fence, or watch over your shoulder for police officers to show up - you know you're doing something you shouldn't be, already.
Is Skateboarding On Roads Illegal?
Usually the answer is yes, it is illegal to ride a skateboard on a road. While there are exceptions, the common answer is that no, you should not do this.
It's also very dangerous, and your risk of being seriously injured or killed, goes through the roof - as cars will win every time, if there is an accident of any sort. We recommend choosing a skatepark, over street riding, every time.
Sometimes you are allowed to ride your skateboard in the street, in which case you should always wear full pads and helmets, and properly signal for all turns. You may be limited to the bike lane, but that's better than nothing.
However, it is a serious responsibility to ride your skateboard in the street. We only recommend this if you're an adult, and you are very safe.
If the street is busy, and flooded with cars - we don't think this is a good idea. You should only skateboard on streets with very little traffic, to remain safe.
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Can I Legally Ride A Skateboard On The Sidewalk?
Most of the time, yes. However, this will again depend on exactly where you live.
Very busy places may not allow this. Or in places where lots of damage has been done by previous skaters.
However, in most places, you are simply treated like a pedestrian. Of course, be sure to still be very careful, and do not annoy anyone - as that's a fast ticket to getting some unwanted police attention.
We can't emphasize enough that you will want to check with your specific rules and regulations for the town you live in - they may have specific laws that could apply here.
However, there's no argument that it would be a lot more fun if you could skate on any street. Just make sure that you are following all the local rules and laws, and you should be fine.
Can I Ride A Skateboard On A Private Road Or Private Land?
Unless you have explicit permission to do so, the answer is no. You can't skate on land that is not yours, and if you do so anyway, you're committing a number of infractions.
However, in practice, are you likely to get in trouble? Most of the time, no, but that doesn't mean always.
You never know if someone is actually watching you, or if they look back at their recordings later. Back in the 1990s, many skaters would skate somewhere, then run away - and there would be no way to catch them.
These days, that's not really the case. Don't do anything you don't want to get in trouble for - period.
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The Rebellious Nature Of Skateboarding
Even though skateboarding has come a long way since the 1960s - there is still that underlying aspect of counterculture, anti-authority, burnout type of vibe associated with the sport.
Take, for example, the song Police Truck by the Dead Kennedys. This song is a classic, but it's no accident that it is a common skateboarding anthem.
There has just always been something rebellious about skateboarding, no doubt originating from the natural trespassing that was once a necessity. Nowadays, you can just head to a public skatepark, but this was not the case for the majority of skateboarding's existence.
Another major song that is popular in the skate community, is Judas Priest's song called Breaking The Law. This rebellious anthem has fueled millions of skaters, over the decades since its release.
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What About Officer Dick?
First seen in the very first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game, the policeman character Officer Dick has gained his own legend. He is a hidden character, and is even played by Jack Black, in the revival of the game.
Of course, it is not an accident that a belligerent (and possibly clumsy) personality is playing the police officer here. There has long been animosity between skateboarders and police officers, due to the trespassing nature of the sport.
Of course, these days, it's not as big a deal. There are so many public skateparks, and you no longer need to hop into your neighbors empty pool, or grind on a public bank handrail - in order to master your street skating.
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10 Coolest Pieces Of Skateboarding Merch
This great t-shirt really says it all. Not only will it help you make friends, it shows just how simple it really is - absolutely perfectly designed.
This old school t-shirt will show you really know your stuff. With a bones reference, and the awesome graphic work - you'll come off like an old pro - even if you're a total newbie.
This classic t-shirt has the old school Thrasher design, but it still speaks volumes in this day and age. We loved this magazine during it's heyday, and it still has some of our favorite skateboarding photos of all time.
This complete package is a great choice for beginners. You won't need to buy much more, and this will arrive to your door ready to go - meaning you can hit the mountain even sooner than usual.
Vans has been around forever - and for good reason. Grab this classic tee, and you'll always be in style.
This funny t-shirt is simple, but effective. If you want to keep a low profile as a skater, this is one way to do it - while still advertising your favorite sport.
This awesome beanie hat from Neff is backed by tons of great reviews. Men and women can both wear this one, and the price couldn't be better.
These cargo shorts look awesome, plus they're great to skate in. We love the multiple colors available, as well as the low price tag.
Dickies always delivers quality, and we've personally skated in these shorts many times. You'll fit right in, no matter where you go, and you'll also love how casual these shorts feel.
You can grab 150 stickers for barely the cost of a cup of coffee. These bad boys look great on the bottom of your board, on your helmet - or anywhere you can think to put them.
Other Factors To Consider
Since skateboarding is now an Olympic sport, it’s hard for law enforcement to argue that there should be areas with no skateboarding. However, public spaces and private property can suffer from property damage - and they can also have security guards, so don’t push your luck.
Some towns will also have curfews, and property owners (and public property officials) may not want teenagers grinding on their ledges and rails. This is when you’ll see skate stoppers - so you may be better off street skateboarding in a skateboard park, which will usually be full of young people already familiar with the skate subculture.
Try your local skatepark, if you want to avoid issues, and in big cities like New York, don’t expect much leeway. And remember - if you want to do tricks, a popsicle board is a better choice than a longboard - so choose wisely.
[After this article, check out some of the best skateboarding accessories.]
The Bottom Line - Is Skateboarding A Crime?
No, skateboarding (on its own) is not a crime. However, there are parts of skating that can become a crime - i.e. trespassing or vandalism.
In the 1960s to the 1990s, skaters were all-but-forced to trespass or vandalize, as there were very few actual skateparks to skate in. Nowadays, this is completely unnecessary, as there are tons of amazing skateparks around.
However, there are still many police officers who will (unfortunately) overstep their boundaries and hassle skateboarders for no reason. There are also lots of skateboarders who will still trespass or vandalize, as well.
So the antagonistic relationship unfortunately lives on. However, skaters seem to revel in the slightly rebellious and outlaw vibe this gives them - so don't look for it to change - at least not any time soon.