Skateboarding's popularity has soared in the last few decades, and offshoots like longboarding and mountain-boarding are becoming more common.
But skateboarding also can be an easy way for kids to get hurt, particularly if they skate in the wrong place or don't wear protective gear. Scrapes and bruises are almost a fact of skateboarding life, and broken bones and sprains are also common.
To keep it safe while skateboarding, kids should follow these rules and safety tips.
Why Safety Is Important
More than 25,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for skateboard-related injuries every year. Some of those injuries are severe, and skateboarders have been killed by head injuries and collisions with cars.
Kids and beginners are the most likely to get hurt. More than half of skateboard injuries happen to people under the age of 15. One-third happen to those who have been skateboarding less than a week.
Experienced skaters get hurt, too. As the difficulty of tricks increases, so does the risk of injury, and things like rocks and poor riding surfaces are always a threat.
It may seem like all that's needed to start skateboarding is a board and an attitude — until the first wipeout. Asphalt, concrete, wood, and other common riding surfaces have one thing in common: none are soft. Helmets are a must for all skateboarders, and all beginners should use pads until they gain more experience.
Here are some of the things a kid will need to get started:
Skateboard. Different boards do different things, and kids should have the right board for their activity. For mountain-boarding, a big board with knobby tires is best. In the park, the board should be considerably smaller. Make sure all the parts are in working order and check the board for cracks, sharp edges, damaged wheels, and loose parts before use.
Helmet. Get a helmet that is specifically meant for skateboarding, not some other activity. Look for a sticker inside the helmet saying it meets the ASTM F1492 skateboard helmet standard. All helmets should have a strong strap and buckle, and the strap should be securely fastened and snug any time your child rides.
Shoes. Skateboarding is tough on shoes, not to mention feet and ankles. Spend a little extra money and get a good pair of shoes made with leather or suede. Make sure the soles are made of grippy gum rubber, not regular shoe rubber, and make sure the shoes fit properly.
Pads. All beginners should start off with at least knee and elbow pads, which are recommended for riders of all levels. These should have a hard plastic shield and should not hinder your child's movements. All pads should be snug without constricting circulation.
Other Gear. Wrist guards, hip pads, skateboard gloves, and padded jackets and shorts are all available and are a good idea for beginners. Mouthguards are good protection against concussions and broken teeth.
Where to Ride
Where to ride may be the single most important decision skateboarders make, as far as safety is concerned. Rough riding surfaces are responsible for more than half of skateboarding injuries.
Initial skating will probably be in the driveway or a skate park. Wherever your child rides, make sure the area is free of rocks, sticks, and other objects. Teach your child to look out for potentially dangerous cracks in the surface before riding, and make sure there is no chance of an encounter with a car.
Skate parks. Kids should obey all rules governing use of the park and learn proper park etiquette before venturing into the park's more advanced features. Many skate parks have areas set aside for beginners. Kids should stick to this area or somewhere similarly easy when getting started.
Empty pools. Kids who have permission to use an empty pool should get familiar with the pool's surface before riding. If the pool has fallen into disrepair, it might be more hazard than fun.
Trails. When mountain-boarding, riders should inspect the trail before riding, looking for hazards like fallen trees.
The greatest threat to skateboarders is cars. Falls hurt, but they are rarely fatal. Collisions with large objects, however, can kill. Kids should never ride in the street.
The better shape kids are in, the better they'll be at all athletic activities, not just skateboarding. Encourage your kids to eat right and exercise frequently. They also should warm up and stretch before skating, especially their backs, legs and ankles.
Any place kids skate should be dry and cleared of anything that might interfere with the board's wheels.
Before they start skating, teach kids to be sure it's their turn and that no one is in the way. Collisions can happen if skaters don't communicate. And they should never ride with someone else on their skateboard. One rider per board, period.
Kids will fall while skateboarding. That much is a given. To minimize injury, they should follow these tips:
- Learning how to fall properly can help reduce the chances of injury. Kids should know that when they start to lose their balance, crouching down will mean they won't have as far to fall. They also should learn to try to land on the fleshy parts of their body and roll rather than breaking a fall with their arms and hands.
- Bigger tricks and bigger features equal bigger injuries. Once kids have learned a couple of tricks, they should practice them a lot before moving on to more complicated maneuvers. They should leave the gnarly stuff to the experts until they're experienced enough to pull it off safely.
- All riders should know and practice skateboarder etiquette. At a crowded skate park, this means waiting their turn instead of jumping blindly into the bowl. This will not only keep fights from breaking out, it will also help them avoid colliding with other skaters.
Other Rules to Discuss
Tell your young skateboarder:
- Never hitch a ride from a bicycle, car, truck, bus, or other vehicle.
- Don't take chances. That rail you want to slide may look cool, but is it worth knocking your teeth out? Be aware of all the consequences that could happen if things go wrong.
- Be honest about your abilities. Don't attempt tricks that are too advanced for you. This may well save you some embarrassment as well as an injury or two. Practice what you know until you can do it in your sleep, and then move on to something new.
- Talk to the people at the local skateboard shop when you buy your gear. Not only can they tell you how to get the most out of your gear, they usually also know good, safe places to ride.
Skateboarding is great way for kids to have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment. There's nothing like mastering a new trick to feel a surge of self-confidence and pride. With lots of practice and common safety sense, someday they might be the ones doing the kick-flips and spins and owning the skate park!
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O'Brien, MD
Date reviewed: March 2010