Skating Detroit

Skating Detroit

Photos: Steve Thrasher
Words: Zach Weir

In 1978, Alan Gelfand invented the no-handed aerial, a move that took on his nickname “Ollie.” Then five years later Rodney Mullen took the concept of an Ollie from vert to flatground skateboarding, expanding skateboarding to all platforms. The creativity of skating was no longer limited to transition and freestyle. It was swarming the fucking streets.

Pre-1950’s, the streets of Detroit were once swarming too – but with the boom of the automobile and war industry. An unsettling turn of events though, from the replacement of factory workers with machines, race riots that left 2,000 buildings destroyed and thousands of homes abandoned, an energy crisis, and recessions later, Detroit has now gone from being the fourth largest city at one time to now the eighteenth. The decline of Detroit has been grim.

The reason I bring these two separate snippets of history to light is that they oddly enough make sense together. The expansion of skateboarding into all terrains has allowed it to stay alive and well in Detroit, and everywhere else for that matter. While the city has been in ruins economically speaking, it’s all but that in terms of skateboarding – all the city’s abandoned facilities are seen as hassle-free spots for skaters. They aren’t seen in the poor light of a declining city. And that’s the beauty of skateboarding – there are no requirements for it to be enjoyable outside of just having a board.

The Detroit Silverdome was once an 80,000 seat stadium, home to the Detroit Lions and Pistons; The Who and Elvis Presley performed there. The stadium closed in the 90s and has been vacant ever since. Now its value is held by those who skate it: it doesn’t need a team or a packed audience to be appreciated. Skateboarding can make something anywhere. So even in a city full of vacant buildings and lots, the creation that happens through skateboarding doesn’t stop, nor will it.

I’d say it’s more apparent now than ever that skateboarding has become “cool.” When I was in middle school, you’d never see kids wearing skateboard brand clothing that didn’t skate. It just didn’t happen. The skateboarding community has expanded and has been widely embraced by those who don’t skate. The fact of the matter is whether it’s cool or not or whether the city is in decline or not, kids will keep skating and couldn’t give a shit otherwise. Skateboarding isn’t about giving a fuck about what is cool or how things are going where you are. Skateboarding is an escape from everything that exists outside of a person and a skateboard. And that makes you free.