The War on Skateboarding at UC Irvine

Every weekday, when I walk the arranged brick and cracked asphalt of Ring Road, I see typical rule-abiding pedestrians making their way to class. Some run. Most walk. But many drag much faster modes of transportation uselessly at their sides. These poor souls have street boards, Boosted boards, longboards, shortboards and Pennys to boot. All of them made pointless, thanks to UCI’s restrictive policies against skaters.

Section 904-13-C of the UCI Administrative Policies and Procedures states, “Use of the following pedestrian conveyance devices is prohibited on the UCI Campus Core: skateboards, roller skates, in-line skates, and similar skate devices.” Additionally, the code states that “equipment (such as ramps, tools, waxes, etc.) used to facilitate stunts or tricks while skating, skateboarding, bike riding or scootering are prohibited.” Mike Davis, the interim manager of sustainable transportation under UCI’s Parking and Transportation Services, told the New U in 2011 as the restrictive skateboard ordinances were established, “the problem with skateboards is that they don’t have brakes or handles. That is the distinction between them and a bike. We have had unfortunate accidents with skateboarders falling off and skateboards rolling ‘out of control’ into crowds.” This is a completely valid viewpoint. Davis must and does hold campus safety as his highest priority. However, the ordinance has consequences.

Right as the ordinance was implemented, several students spoke their minds about the change, and few were supportive of it. Ryan Johnson, 2011 UCI alumnus and Bike Religion manager, is initially sympathetic to the regulation but ultimately disagrees with it, saying, “It’s a way for kids to get around and a lot of kids don’t have a bike and skate instead. Instead of saying ‘No Skateboarding,’ maybe say ‘Mandatory Helmet.” But he doesn’t account for the fact that pedestrians are generally the ones at risk in skateboarding accidents.

Former student Maximillian Chih, a second-year biology major and longboarder at the time of his interview with the New U, said, “Someone involved in the accident could have been on their iPod. Why not ban iPods? If people weren’t paying attention, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten hit. There are a lot of different factors, and I don’t think it’s fair that skateboards be completely banned.” He indicates there are a number of confounding variables in this dynamic, and banning skateboards completely is both reactionary and unjustified. Frankly, I agree with him.

As it stands, these campus restrictions have created an “underground” where the prohibited behavior flourishes. Hidden from or unnoticed by UCI employees, I see a brave few propelling themselves within the campus core, speeding past the “No Skateboarding” signs that attempt to deny them that joy. I understand their mentality. Skateboarding has its roots in the freewheeling surfer culture of 1970s, as well as the anti-establishment punk scene of the 1980s and 90s. And hell, skating is really damn fun. Essentially, it is in a skater’s nature to break rules. But it doesn’t have to be on campus.

UCI should support the skateboarding scene on campus in order to make the campus safer but more accepting of skater culture all at once.

Firstly, the administration should decriminalize skating the same way other institutions have decriminalized drugs with positive results. Skateboarding is a creative and healthy outlet for young people if you dismiss the societal stigma.
Instead of barring the use of skateboards completely, why not implement a comprehensive solution to educate their users about the potential dangers and verify their abilities on wheels?
Let’s say our goal is harm reduction, both for skaters and for pedestrians. I suggest a three-pronged plan for a comprehensive solution.

First, have students register their boards in a service similar to the one already provided by UCI Transportation for bicycles. This will bring skaters into the fold of participation for this new plan, and prevent skateboard theft as an added bonus.

Second, include a mandatory training/safety video with board registration, coupled with a skate park on campus. Of course, the video will help keep the administration and student skaters on the same page in regard to safe skateboarding, but the reasoning behind the skate park is less obvious. I think it is necessary to have a place where any and all expression on a board is allowed, especially if we are considering allowing casual skaters on campus at the same time as cyclists. I suggest keeping all tricks and stunts confined to this designated area, and I also suggest using this designated area as place to practice casual riding for campus core travel. I believe this will develop a safer band of skaters on campus.

Finally, deregulate. Remove the ban on skateboards and equate it with bicycle riding restrictions. As a concession to the school, I think helmets should be made mandatory, but if we want an environment where we can skate at all, I’m fine with it being a safer one.
It is my firm belief that this plan will eliminate the unruly underground of skaters on campus and allow casual riders to travel from point A to point B just as easily as their cyclist counterparts. I for one would be happy that all those boards won’t be hanging uselessly at our sides anymore.

Alex Forghani is a second-year English major. He can be reached at aaforgh@uci.edu.