The difference between skating the city and skating within a park designed and designated for skateboards, reflects at least two different kinds of social production of the space. When they cruise the streets, skaters are seeking out resistance of surfaces and objects and the joy stretches between discovery and attunement. Repurposing rails, benches, walkways, or stairs or crisscrossing corporate plazas, they are intruding on the territories and breaking rules of the public or property-guarded space. While this may not always be a sign of witting opposition to public order, the public opinion condemns it as »antisocial behavior« and »reckless operation« (in the words of the Republican New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) that must be prohibited. From the skaters’ perspective, by contrast, street skating is about the sensuous pleasure of using their body to experience the city through sliding, jumping and kicking, while the traces of damage and the noise are only collateral effects.
Turning the city into a giant playground is a kind of nomadism and deterritorialization, flânerie intensified by speed, for the skater scans the city through the details others might not see. Their movements say, »I can skate that, if I hit it like this, I can get all the buzz out«. Wandering so swiftly through yields mindless moments of thrilling disorientation. »It’s kind of like getting lost in your own song. To me, riding around with my skateboard, I don’t even need any music; I can stroll down the street having a cheeseburger smile on my face. You just keep cruising; I don’t need to do any tricks. I am roaming back and forth on the street, and it is a great time.«
Skateparks were originally provided in order to marginalize skaters as »a force to reckon on the streets«, and to tame their power to subvert the rules governing the use of public space. At the same time, they helped to convert skateboarding as a subversive, rule-breaking lifestyle into a more rule-bound activity, i.e., sport. Confined in an area like a skatepark, skaters focus more on tricks and controlled stunts. Since the 1990s and even more today when technology is so accessible, filming and sharing videos is part of the game. While they come and leave as individuals preoccupied with honing their own skills and their performance, emulation binds them into a community. Practicing means being together alone and watching others for inspiration, moving the level of one’s mastery to an always slightly higher edge of virtuosity. Like in a punk concert where moshing might appear as aggressive and dangerous anarchy to an outsider, in the skatepark, too, skaters are taking risks while also coordinating with, and protecting each other from injury.