Mike Donelon has spent nearly 25 years advocating for the benefits of skateparks, selling them as an effective way to lower crime, build self-esteem in kids and help keep them in school. He’s helped usher in eight skateparks in Long Beach since 1996.
Last month, he pulled an unexpected 180.
“I spent 20 years keeping kids in school, off the street and getting them into skateparks,” the 67-year-old former Long Beach City Councilman said by phone. “Now, within a few days, I’m keeping them out of school, on the street and out of the skateparks.”
In Los Angeles County, beaches, bike paths, trails and parks – skateparks included – are closed until at least May 15 to support social distancing under the Safer at Home order. To further dissuade skaters from congregating, officials recently have dumped mulch and sand over the bowls and ramps.
But plenty of skaters have been adhering to the social distancing guidelines, they say, hoping that by sacrificing their time together now, they’ll help reduce the duration of the crisis – which is hitting the skateboarding community, too.
Skate shops also are closed to the public. Photographers and videographers are out of work. Some sponsorships feel tenuous. Skateboarding’s Olympic debut has been put on hold, as has the Dew Tour and every other live skateboarding contest and event.
“It feels terrible, absolutely terrible,” said 14-year-old skateboarder Apinya Imon, who said she’s come to rely on a skateboarding community that’s offered acceptance she hasn’t experienced elsewhere. “As a kid, I was always the odd one out, but when I started skating and going to the skatepark, I made friends and they really helped me with my mental health.
“Now, I just miss skating with my friends every day.”
But skateboarders will tell you, they’re a resilient bunch – “people told me this was a fad 20 years ago, now it’s a multi-billion dollar industry,” Donelon noted – and they’re coming up with creative ways to ride out the pandemic.
Just check the Instagram feed belonging to Heimana Reynolds, the world’s No. 1-ranked park skateboarder.
In addition to weekly virtual check-ins with the other Team USA skateboarding hopefuls, he’s been sharing videos of himself innovating on his board at his Carlsbad home – including posting a juicy sequence of tricks over stacks of Vitamin Water in his living room.
“I fully sessioned it,” Reynolds said by phone. “Of course it’s a bummer that we cannot go to the skatepark right now, but you can skate at home, in your garage, in your living room – that’s the beauty of skateboarding.”
Donelon appreciates the example being set by the sport’s other stars: “The pros in the industry are doing what they should be doing,” he said. “They’re encouraging social distancing, staying at home, skating the streets, promoting the best they can to be safe and don’t be stupid.”
The Action Sports Kids Foundation, Donelan’s nonprofit aimed at providing youth an alternative to gangs, is tapping into the pros’ example, holding regular contests inviting videos of kids’ best tricks – at home.
Winners get skateboarding products delivered to them – at home.
Tim Scanlan, owner of Long Beach Skate Co., lost business when he had to close his shop’s doors and lay off his four-member staff, but his pivot to online sales is proving popular: He’s offering free local curbside delivery and making 10 to 15 sales per day. That’s led him to rehire one of his employees already, he said.
“(Kids) are skating more than ever,” said Scanlan, who noted that a ramp-maker he knows has been especially busy as skaters set up at-home alternatives to their local skateparks. “They don’t have the confines of five or six hours of school a day, now it’s three or four hours. Now they’re skating in the confines of their own home, and it’s becoming an individual sport – they’re building obstacles with what materials they have in their house.
“I also see it as a family thing, I have all these dads hitting me up, ‘I want to skate with my son.’ It’s not kids taking away from the house and going to the skatepark, they’re skating at home.”
Scanlan said whenever he’s allowed to reopen, he expects to incorporate deliveries into a business that’s evolving to fit the time. Among other updates to his store, he’s replacing the carpet with floors that are easier to clean, reducing the number of surfaces customers might touch and adding wall fixtures that will allow for more space inside.
“We’re gonna have a whole new energy when that rubber band snaps back,” he said.
But not everyone is skating ramps in their driveway or recording tricks on their coffee table, especially not those who are living in tight quarters.
To them, Donelon’s message now is the opposite of what it’s been for a couple decades: #TheStreetsAreOpen.
“What’s so hard,” he said, “is that 85% of skateboarding deaths occur on the streets. Taking them out of the skateparks and putting them on the street is endangering their lives, but them in skateparks endangers the lives of others. But I’m not gonna tell the kids not to skate. I tell them, ‘Do what you’ve gotta do to stay out of trouble.’”
L.A.-based photographer Ben Colen said last week that so many vacant public spaces are appealing to skateboarders, or so one would assume.
“In a way, right now would be a really good time to shoot photos because so many things are closed and there’s no people around,” Colen said by phone. “But at the same time, it has that thing hanging over it – you don’t want to be doing something that’s totally irresponsible. That might sound funny, to even inject that into skateboarding seems weird, but honestly, a lot of the skaters I know have been taking everything really seriously.”
Those who do go out skateboarding on the streets don’t ride together to locations anymore, he said, and everyone’s wearing masks. The only shoot he’d done since the coronavirus shutdown began was with a long lens.
Reynolds, the 21-year-old star who’s had his Olympic dream deferred by at least a year, said he feels floored by the situation.
“It’s pretty crazy, and I genuinely don’t know what to think,” he said. “Skateboarding is definitely going to take a hit, but everything’s taking a hit. And I think when the world starts turning again, it’s going to be right back where it was and keep progressing.
“Nothing’s gonna stop skateboarding.”
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All of you did amazing on your quarantine edits! This weeks winners are @dynomitewilson and @cole_fullerton11! We enjoyed seeing how you’re all passing the time. Stay home, keep your distance, wash your hands, stay healthy and stay out of the skate parks. . . Thanks to our partners @skateonecorp @powellperalta @boneswheels @mini_logo @keenramps @tonyhawkfoundation and @etniesskateboarding
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Changed it up with your best flip trick! We were impressed by all of you, but the winners for this contest are @_jesseskates in 1st and runner up goes to @yxng._.ang3l! We hope everyone continues to enter our weekly quarantine challenges! Stay home, keep your distance, wash your hands and stay healthy! . . . Thanks to our partners @skateonecorp @powellperalta @boneswheels @mini_logo @keenramps @tonyhawkfoundation and @etniesskateboarding