If you stop by Jordan Skate Park in Salt Lake City’s Glendale neighborhood, don’t go expecting much in the way of conversation. On most warm nights, you’ll find Titus Fox, Luis Ceron and Nash Saxton there on their boards, rounding the concrete curves of the old Jordan Park swimming pool. For all three boys, talking is an afterthought.
They’ll start with a sentence or two, take off for a few seconds to skate across the bowl and back, and then end up where they left off. Sometimes one will speak and skate off, and another will pick up the conversation without missing a beat. They are polite but fully absorbed in the moment. No one is about to lose the rhythm of the skating. Even as the boys talk, each keeps an eye out for his next move.
They met while skating at different parks in the city, and even when they’re not shooting through the bowl, they eat together at Rancherito’s. Or, Ceron says, “We watch movies if it’s raining and we can’t skate.” They have their own reasons for skating:
“It’s a way for everybody to have their own fun,” Ceron says.
“We’re not trying to be like people from mainstream sports at our school,” Fox says.
“All the antics. All the hijinks,” Saxton says.
While there is good-natured trash talking when somebody attempts a trick and misses, there is just as much encouragement when somebody nails one. “In skateboarding, your friends are your coach,” Fox says.
Teenagers together sharing a sport they love wouldn’t normally register a blip on the social radar, but there’s something unique about the Fox-Ceron-Saxton triad. It consists of, 1. A black 14-year-old who goes to East High School (Fox), 2. A 17-year-old Hispanic who also attends East (Ceron) and, 3. A 17-year-old Caucasian who graduated last spring from Highland High School (Saxton). If it weren’t for skating, they might never have crossed paths in their crowded, urban high schools—much less become close friends who hang out together even on days when it’s too wet outside for boarding.
Athletics—especially the unorganized variety—have always been a great equalizer among kids from different backgrounds, social classes, neighborhoods and races. Hovering parents have done their part to change that dynamic in the past couple of decades. They organize and take charge of things, and when the game ends, the kids head back to their own friends and neighborhoods.
Skateboarders, on the other hand, cross the barriers of race, age, socio-economic status, neighborhood affiliation and any other social construct you’d care to come up with. They do so in very organic ways without any help or interference from adults, and with a surprising ease that creates a level of diversity seldom seen in general society.
“Racism and skating just don’t go together,” Ceron says.
Salt Lake City’s skate parks are active laboratories for such relationships. It’s not unusual to find a wide range of people learning the sport from one another and forming friendships. In this way, skating and hip-hop are two forms of street culture cut from the same cloth. Both regularly borrow clothing styles from each other, creating a loosely constructed look dubbed “skurban.” Rap has become the soundtrack for much of the skating world and in the past two years, a hip-hop subgenre called “skate-rap” has emerged. It turns out the sport that markets itself as a world for outsider white kids—rebels and misfits who disrupt city sidewalks and annoy small-business owners—has an underlying culture that welcomes diversity. Differences melt away in the presence of the kids’ drive to become better skaters.
The skating bowl is a surprisingly effective melting pot.
“That’s how skateboarding is,” says Willa “Panda” Pauley, a Salt Lake City skater of Vietnamese descent. “Wherever you go, you can find someone to hang out with. It’s crazy how skateboarders are on the same wavelength. There’s a skate vibe wherever you go.”