In the world of competition skateboarding, Bowman Hansen is one of the most promising up and comers. He's the dude who won the VPS Australasian skateboarding world championships in Manly this year and with any luck, he'll be competing in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. But in a recent interview with VICE Sports, the Kiwi casually mentioned something that most skaters actively try to ignore. When asked about his home-skatepark back in Taupo, he said: "These days, it's just full of scooters. It's sad."
It seemed like a throwaway comment, but it was quite a telling insight into something that seems to be on the tip of every skater's tongue: at most skateparks, kids on scooters now outnumber skateboarders.
It's no secret that scooters fill skateboarders with rage and disgust. We think scooters are toys, that their tricks are aesthetic monstrosities and that the kids who ride them lack proper skatepark etiquette. As far as skateboarders are concerned, scooter riding is an ugly and unfortunate fad that, with any luck, will die out very soon. The assumption is that those kids on scooters will either grow out of it and start skating or just get bored of it.
But there are lots of indications that scooters are more than just a fad. Last year when I interviewed Jesse Noonan, a Gold Coast pro skateboarder and skate coach, for Slam Magazine, he described scooter riding as an "epidemic". He went on to say that this was one of his motivations for promoting and teaching skateboarding: "I want too see less scooters at the parks."
More recently, I was invited to join a team of skateboarders on a tour around regional NSW with Totem Skateboarding. We were there to put on demos, competitions and skate lessons as part of Youth Week. But at almost every skatepark, there were kids who would ask us, "Do any of youse ride scooters?"
Nigel Cameron, who founded Totem in 2010, says scooter riding is more popular outside of the cities, where there isn't such a strong representation of skateboarders. Nige talks about scooter riding in the way that a cop would talk about drugs. "There's not a strong skate representation beyond the city, which means more kids [in regional areas] feel like they can dabble in it," he says.
Scooter riding is basically the One Direction of sports: ridiculed by most people over the age of 17, yet venerated by children and tweens. The stigma surrounding scooters is so extreme it's actually comical. Nige explains: "I even talk to parents at the skatepark and they don't want their kids to be the scooter riders. They're like, 'I'm giving my son these lessons to get him off a scooter and onto a skateboard.' …they know that it's a bit of a joke."
A blog called Inside Scooters reckons 40% of scooter riders are embarrassed about it. But despite the view from outsiders that scooter riding is tragically, incurably uncool, there are kings within the subculture. Tanner Fox is a Youtube celebrity with 4.7 million subscribers who's basically made a career out of being a misunderstood scooter kid. A video depicting him getting yelled at by some skateboarders has garnered more than 3.5 million views. Judging by the comments, other scooter kids can relate.
There are pro scooter riders too: Dakota Schuetz is the current world champion and has won all the major competitions. Ryan Williams is the top Aussie within the sport and was the first person to land a double front flip on a scooter. Even though skateboarders will probably always hate scooter riders, that doesn't mean the mainstream won't accept them—especially if there's profit to be made out of it.
Ironically, there was a time when skateboarding was hated just as much as scooter riding is hated now. Skateboarding was once a subculture for punk kids and misfits; in a lot of ways, it still is. But with support from huge companies who once had nothing to do with skateboarding—Nike, Red Bull, Adidas and Levis are just a few obvious examples—it's become a "sport" that non-skateboarders can appreciate and brands can profit from. Nowhere is this more obvious than skateboarding's inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics.
This could easily happen with scooter riding eventually. As Nige explains, "If skateboarding [can be] accepted as a hobby or a passion or a sport, then obviously there's a potential for scooter riding to do the same thing."
And while skaters generally dismiss or ridicule scooter riding and the surrounding industry, councils are already starting to recognise it as a legitimate activity. Nige says that councils are very much interested in having Totem accommodate for the scooter kids. And while he'll run a scooter competition along with a skate and a bmx comp, he makes it clear that he doesn't really condone scooter riding. "Realistically, I could make a million bucks if I changed my business model right now," he says, "but we're keeping the business core skate."