Skateboarding X Cannabis: A Glimpse of History and Changes to Come
The relationship between weed and skateboarding culture
The relationship between weed and skateboarding culture is a long-standing one. While the sport and plant have always had a connection - the pop-culture cliche of the "stoner skateboarder" has been around since at least the 80s - it isn't until fairly recently that things have become more overt. Skateboarding decks with cannabis buds, psychedelic t-shirts and gear featuring the plant and cartoon skateboarders striking rad poses have become hallmarks of online stores and branded content.
With skateboarding making its Olympic debut in 2020, bringing an even greater exposure to the sport, you may be asking yourself: How deep is the connection between cannabis and skateboarding? How will it fare in the future as skateboarding enters a greater stage?
Achieving New Highs in Skating
It's no mystery that the right strains of cannabis can be a blessing for those afflicted with fatigue, chronic pain, anxiety, and conditions caused by inflammation. These benefits apply tenfold for those brave souls dedicating their lives to excellence in extreme pursuits like skateboarding.
In fact, you don't have to be a shredder to know that fear and pain are near-constants when getting on a board; one doesn't look for the sweet kiss of cement, but ends up finding it in the constant push against mental and physical boundaries. Whether it be your first time pushing or your 20th time attempting to kickflip 10 stairs, that feeling of trepidation remains. If the attempt ends in failure the result is often some form of "ow!"
Skateboarding is all about perseverance. There's a significant Zen-like aspect to skateboarding as well, a laser-like focus that's sometimes closer to meditation than physical activity. While skaters have always toked up to take the edge off and help with pain relief, weed can also significantly enhance that aspect of "pure presence". It can help unleash the mind from extraneous thoughts and deepen that Zen trance. With fear pushed aside, that "one more try" mentality kicks into overdrive.
Has it always been this way?
Substances have always been present in sports, even more so in those that started off as part of the counterculture. Alcohol, cannabis and psychedelics have always been deeply ingrained in activities like skateboarding. The well-known benefits of cannabis, to which we can add having a great time with friends, are universal across all sports and physical activities.
It helps to remember that, like any sport that was deemed "too extreme" at first, skateboarding helped bring together the misfits, the rascals and the radical contrarians. Weed, which remained illegal throughout most of skateboarding's history, was seen as evil by lobbyists and mainstream media. This demonization, incredibly, served to up skateboarding's appeal.
Thanks to the combined rebel spirit of cannabis and skateboarding, during the 80s and 90s the public started flocking towards the sport in droves. People wanted to jump onto the bandwagon and get a taste of the action. It became a lifestyle as much as an activity.
Slowly, rebel figures started emerging from the haze. But first, a small history primer about the evolution of cannabis within skateboarding!
Skateboarding and Hip Hop: The 80s cultural crossover
At some point in the 80s and 90s, two young subcultures started becoming entwined: skateboarding and hip hop.
Hip hop's link with weed needs no introduction. It's been touted and flaunted in videos, in the lifestyles of prominent figures such as Snoop Dogg, and given an all-around star treatment. Skateboarding often took cues from other scenes when it came to clothing styles and attitude. This included a much more open adoption of cannabis once the fusion with hip hop got underway.
While, of course, cannabis has always been present in skateboarding from day one, weed culture did not take as much prominence until this amalgamation of styles became the norm. Where marijuana had previously taken a backseat and was seen as a sort of "hippie" fad, the 80s crossover with hip hop culture brought a much more in-your-face, defiant attitude to cannabis in the skateboarding scene.
This also coincided with a decreased focus on competition, and a bigger emphasis on street culture. Skateboarding started moving away from ramps, and out onto the sidewalks; the invention of tricks that allowed greater freedom on the board also helped this move.
Weed was shown to be a symbol of personal freedom of expression in hip hop: an extension of one's individuality and right to connect with their authentic self. This idea really took off with skaters, who started embracing the plant in a more open manner. While substances were always present in the skateboarding scene, weed could now be proudly shown as an integral part of skate culture.
Slowly, both skateboarding and weed started coming out into the mainstream, right in time for a joint cultural revolution!
The Xtreme Xplosion of the 90s
Figures like Tony Hawk and Chad Muska reached new heights of popularity throughout the 90s, and the resurgence of skateboarding as a professional activity, things were about to change big time for both weed and the sport!
A new generation of skate figures started showing off riskier skate tricks being performed on the streets, and the advent of televised extreme sports also helped fire off careers into the stratosphere. Suddenly, big ramps, big jumps and big risks became part of mainstream culture. VHS tapes with unbelievable parts, magazines and TV ads, video games (Tony Hawk Pro Skater, anyone?), and a whole new wave of interest swept the scene.
Young men and women slowly started realizing that skateboarding was entering the limelight again. It wasn't going to be reserved solely for the skatepark or impromptu spot anymore. There was now a real chance of becoming a star, of going pro and competing on the X Games. This renewed peak of interests, where boarders were starting to become household names, brought with it a new visibility to weed.
The pros and weed visibility
Virtually overnight, names like Tony Hawk, Chad Muska, and Steve Berra started making the rounds in media. With this higher scrutiny, there also seemed to be a greater opportunity for pros to talk about, well, being high. While most pro skaters declined the opportunity, attempting to maintain a low profile, some took off with the opportunity. Slowly, the public was waking up to the idea of weed being more than this all-encompassing corrupter of youth.
Figures like Chad Muska saw pioneering opportunities in this visibility. In what is now a watershed event in the history of weed visibility and skateboarding, he came up with the famous "Muska Shoes" in 1997.
A pro since 1995, his style was imitated by a legion of up-and-comers. As a style icon and an ardent proponent of weed, he saw a dual opportunity for business and some tongue-in-cheek hijinks.
He came out with his first model of eS shoes, which were inspired on Air Jordans. They were designed to be able to withstand his particular brand of hard skating, but they had a very particular defining feature: they had a small hidden compartment where skateboarders could stash small items like car keys and, say, weed.
While at first a controversial move, this design was quickly aped by many of its closest competitors. It led to a glut of shoes that featured the now iconic "stash spot". It also helps that the move made Muska himself a ton of money.
Legality and a whole new ball skate game
With the advent of the 2000s, skateboarding was no longer a niche activity. While there are peaks and valleys in interest, you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn't know the sport. YouTube, Instagram and other social media have also done their part to feature the heights and insanities of new radness being achieved.
Don't think so? Just look up for the #skateboarding hashtag on Instagram. There's now a worldwide community of skaters and skate enthusiasts ready to bring not just skate, but weed to the global conversation.
With this flood of social media and a softening stance of weed, there was a host of new figures candidly talking on social media about the importance of weed to their skate practice. Yet another generation of skaters emerged, this one lucky enough to have grown up with the image of weed not as an evil practice, but as something for responsible adults to enjoy.
Many from this new generation also credited their increased focus and perseverance to toking up. Proponents within the skate community have become ever more vocal about the benefits of cannabis consumption. Skateboarding pioneer Tony Alva said: "A lot of people consider marijuana a drug and I disagree with that. There is a huge segment of the skateboarding population that use marijuana as an herb to better their lives and get in tune with their environment both physically and mentally. Once we erase the stigma that weed is a drug, skaters will no longer be labeled as druggies."
He also added "I just hope that people educate themselves and learn more about it. Legalization of marijuana has been a long overdue thing in the world."
With legal weed now a reality in many states, many skateboarding companies have taken note. Specialized gear, fashion apparel, and weed products now reach consumers with an endless offer of quality goodies. Business is good!
But what about skateboarding's future on the world stage with the 2020 Olympics?
Weed and the Olympics
Now that skateboarding is finally an Olympic sport, what do pros have to say about it? Well, pro skateboarder TAS Pappas told ABC the following:
"I'm wondering how it's going to work as far as the drug testing is concerned, because some guys skate really well on weed and if they have to stop smoking for one competition it might really affect their performance."
The IOC (the International Olympic Committee) put marijuana in their list of banned substances after Ross Rebagliati won Olympic Gold in snowboarding while high in 1998. They have labeled it a performance-enhancing substance, even though its effects are not the same on everyone. Some may find it easier to skate, some may want to sit on their boards and reflect on the secrets of the universe.
However, some concessions have been made. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has increased the tolerance of maximum THC levels in the blood. This allows for greater leniency in testing, as athletes will be able to continue their off-season THC use at unsanctioned events. Also, CBD products are a non-issue for the WADA, so their known pain-relief capabilities will continue to be a very important factor for skateboarders, and athletes in general. It seems that, even with limitations, some cannabis products will still be acceptable for active Olympic athletes.
Former professional snowboarder, now cannabis entrepreneur, Allister Schultz, had this to say about CBD:
"Most guys have been using the CBD and cannabis products their entire careers or lives. They have first-hand knowledge of the benefits-experts really-and can articulate the benefits perfectly and believably because they are, or were, professional athletes at the highest level. I'd believe the testimony of Tony Hawk or Matt Miller on the benefits of CBD so much more than say, Martha Stewart or Montel Williams."
The uncertain future
Regardless of what stance the pros take on weed, it'll be exciting to watch if these developments will spark a cultural divide between those who want to keep skateboarding culture in the streets, and those who want to abide by current Olympic standards.
Similar to what happened with other extreme sports, like snowboarding, a certain amount of pushback is expected. As the increasing emphasis on abstaining from weed becomes an issue, cultures in the sport may clash. Olympic skateboarders will put a premium on things like fitness and diet, fostering an image that views weed as something they have to become "clean" from. The streetwise punk/hip hop skateboarders, of course, may rebel against this.
There could be some athletes that refrain from competing; some may even boycott their appearances in the Olympics to avoid appeasing what they see as "corporate" culture.
What complicates things further is that pro skateboarders don't even need to compete at an Olympic level, so many could opt out of Olympic-level competition while maintaining their pro careers and public weed usage.
Of course, this possible rift could open up avenues for reconciliation, and even an increased weed acceptance. With the increased WADA tolerance for THC in the system, there is now a possibility for some CBD products with a small amount of THC present to be tolerable.
This could mean that skaters can stay "on" weed during their off-competition time. That could prevent an escalation into an all-or-nothing affair, with the culture becoming divided. Right now, there's not even consensus on whether it could be seen as performance-enhancing in skateboarding.
When asked if higher THC levels could pave the way towards marijuana being removed from the list of banned substances, CEO of Skateboarding (the national US skateboarding governing body) USA Josh Friedberg said: "I hope that's the path, but I can't speak for WADA. It was a good sign that they at least raised the THC levels."
It'll undoubtedly be a thrill to see if these incremental steps lead to skateboarding culture and weed continuing their long-lasting relationship as a united public front. There's one thing that's absolutely true, though: both weed and skateboarding are here to stay, and will continue their prosperous relationship as long as there are people of any level of ability willing to jump on a board!