Skate culture has long fetishized abandoned urban landscapes, from empty pools to vacant parking garages. Since Seattleites, like people around the nation and world, have been exploring less due to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been moments when entire cities feel abandoned. This is any skater’s all-time fantasy. It has also been a forbidden fruit, since all but a handful of states have issued stay-home orders to enforce social distancing.
Admittedly, the cityscape, suddenly brutalist without the flow of people, is an enticing background to any skate video. Take, for instance, this video shot on the mega highways of Los Angeles, typically choked full of cars, now trafficked only by a lone tumbleweed and a single skater.
Despite this golden carrot, many skaters are taking the stay-home orders seriously, with videos of indoor skate challenges proliferating on social media as skaters adjust to social distancing. Kickflips using sneakers, ollies off the tops of fridges and over pyramids of toilet paper, grinding on kitchen countertops — these are a few of the clips that appear under #skateinside on Instagram. In garages, driveways and kitchens around the world, skaters have fashioned makeshift ramps and rails, true to the sport’s DIY roots, in an effort to steer clear of parks and public spaces.
But as stay-home orders are scheduled to either expire or renew, many states, including Washington, will at least ease restrictions. On April 27, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that some state parks and public lands will reopen for day use as early as May 5. Though the rules of social distancing still apply, this is welcome news to skaters and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
“People are fiending to skate,” said Marshall Reid, manager of All Together Skatepark, Seattle’s only indoor skatepark. Reid, who has been involved in Seattle’s skate scene since 1993, is unsurprised by skaters’ persistence and the viral challenges he has seen circulate on Instagram. “People are putting little boxes in their garages, and flat bars. One of my employees came by for a quarter pipe jump ramp and another employee came by for a flat bar.”
The latter employee is Lexi Briggs, who used to skate around the house at the age of 12 “because I couldn’t go to the skatepark by myself.” Now an 18-year-old senior at Roosevelt High School, Briggs is back in her driveway in Greenwood, where she set up a flat bar for practice and, occasionally, for participating in skate challenges on social media.
“Skating outside my house, I can just practice the basics and improve on stuff I already know,” said Briggs. Without the abundance of obstacles a park offers, her skating has been limited to “flat ground” tricks, like ollies (a hop into the air), heel flips (the board flips 360 degrees on its long axis), and pop shove-its (an ollie + the board rotates 180 degrees in the air). This, she concedes, is not as fun as skating with friends at a park or in the streets.
But these same limitations have driven some to be more creative when choreographing tricks, or to flex their videography and editing skills. These videos sometimes diverge so far from actual skating that the skateboard is reduced to a mere prop. Instead, what we witness are video montages of life in quarantine — thumb-twiddling boredom, quickened ramp installments, everyday chores, like watering plants and washing dishes, performed on a skateboard — several of which are set to the song “Coronavirus” by Gmac Cash and are adorned with artifacts of the quarantine era such as toilet paper, Clorox wipes and disinfectant spray.
The message to skate at home has been amplified by pro skaters like Mikey Whitehouse, Nyjah Huston and Nora Vasconcellos. Whitehouse set up a rail leading to his backyard out a set of French doors while Huston effortlessly seesaws back and forth over tiled floor doing no-look tricks with an affable smile.
For Vasconcellos, a pro skater sponsored by Welcome Skateboards, creativity and staying home is the ultimate goal of these challenges. “This is a really difficult time for everyone,” Vasconcellos wrote on Instagram, “it’s forcing many inside and away from the people they care about.” In response, she hosted a contest for her followers to create a 45-60 second video to the song, “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior, and the winner would receive a complete skateboard. “I want to see videos of your pets, pastimes, dance moves, teeth brushing … seriously whatever.” The only requirement was that all videos must be filmed at home.
Pro skaters are not only hosting indoor challenges, but participating in them as well. Long before the NBA scrimped together the idea for a remote tournament of HORSE, a game wherein you must mimic your opponent’s made shot, skaters were playing the same game by a different name: SKATE. What turned out to be a logistical nightmare for Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA — the HORSE tournament was marred by lags and poor audio — was fairly straightforward for pro skaters who participated in “Battle at the Quarantine,” a bracket tournament hosted by The Berrics, a California skatepark and skateboarding site.
“Each skater must maintain social distancing and record the game from home or a secluded area,” recited a referee before officiating the championship battle between Sierra Fellers and TJ Rogers. “May COVID-19 have mercy on our souls.” Using a split screen, these one-on-one contests were streamed live and later edited into shorter clips for Instagram and YouTube. Most recently, The Berrics announced a “Murder Your House” video contest in partnership with beverage brand Liquid Death that asked skaters to film clips at their house — with a grand prize of six months rent paid by Liquid Death.
The widespread, enthusiastic response throughout the skate community has been mirrored by local skaters, too.
“Generally Seattle is pretty good at banding together,” said local skating legend Reid, who suffered a nasty fall on his 46th birthday last year, prompting the Seattle skating community to raise nearly $10,000 for his medical bills. Whether that’s to “watch out for the little kid at the skatepark,” or, in this case, “to social distance.” Reid had enough foresight to close All Together Skatepark on March 15, a day before Inslee ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down across the state. Though he has not been skating much recently, he is using this time to get an early start on remodeling projects he had initially scheduled for late May.
Nevertheless, springtime weather and lax security enforcement has proved too tempting for some skaters. “Once this pandemic started, the weather changed for the better,” Reid told me. “So our skateparks are surprisingly kind of crowded even though they’re not legal to skate.”
Inslee’s order to lift restrictions on select state parks and public lands might introduce even more crowding despite instructions to continue abiding by social distancing guidelines. “With or without permission, we’re not going to open just because [Gov. Inslee] said you can open,” Reid told me. “When roller rinks, bowling alleys and indoor soccer open, that would be a fair time to open.”
When skating at home now means skating outside later, the choice seems obvious.
“There’s always going to be those people who disregard laws, who are still hanging out with their friends,” said Briggs, “which is kind of a bummer because that’s just going to make us be in quarantine longer.”