By Andrea Brown / Herald Writer
Take a board with wheels. Plunge into a deep concrete bowl. Spin sideways. Catapult high into the air.
Land on feet, not face. Hopefully.
That pretty much explains why skateboarding enamors kids and terrifies parents.
“It’s exciting,” Manolo Mercado, 15, said. “If you can’t land a trick, it makes you want to keep going and succeed.”
In his year of hitting the ramps and rails at the Mukilteo YMCA skate park, he’s had a few tumbles. He got minor abrasions. Piddly stuff.
Not everybody fares as well.
Every year, about 60,000 children ages 5 to 14 go to hospital emergency rooms for skateboard-related injuries. About a fourth of these are head injuries.
There are ways to decrease the risks of injuries and, oddly enough, one is to jump into concrete bowls.
“The safest place to skate is in a skate park,” said Kristin Ebeling, YMCA skate park director. “Skating in the street, you can get hit by cars or hit cracks. There are a lot more uneven surfaces not built for skating.”
Of the 43 reported deaths of skateboarders in the United States in 2011, only one was at a skate park. Forty were in streets, with 30 involving vehicles.
A skate park is a concrete playground that pits thrills against spills. Even with supervision and proper gear, there will be breaks, scrapes and tears. Parents of YMCA skaters must sign a waiver of liability and consent for emergency treatment.
Ebeling, 24, hasn’t survived her own 12 years of skating unscathed.
“I’ve broken my right wrist and left wrist, but not at the same time,” she said. “I’ve had quite a few sprains and stuff. Nothing too devastating.”
This might not be what parents want to hear, but, overall, most injuries are minor and don’t deter skaters from getting back on the board. There are worse sports.
Skateboarding ranks fifth in the top 10 sports-related activities leading to head injuries for children ages 14 years old and younger, ranking behind cycling, football, baseball and softball, and basketball, if that’s any consolation.
Even the smallest pebble can trip up a skater, and those are harder to detect than obvious hazards, such as water and ice at the YMCA’s 19,000-square-foot outdoor park.
“I walk it every day and check for hazards,” Ebeling said. “It’s a super-advanced terrain. It’s good stuff for beginners.”
The YMCA has 10 weeks of summer skateboarding camps.
Helmets are mandatory at the YMCA park, where skaters must be at least 6. Knee and elbow pads are required for those 17 and younger, but try telling that to teenage boys who don’t think they need them.
The place is heavy on the testosterone, but girls play, too. Gretchen Reynolds, 17, has been jumping into the concrete pool since fifth grade.
“I like going fast and being in control of it,” she said. “I like putting my music in and going ripping it up. My college essay was about skating. My whole life is about skating. In the summer I’m here every day for about five hours.”
She’s had minor twists but no breaks or deep cuts.
The sport has its perks.
“It burns calories,” she said.
Skate-park worker Rayan Carter, 23, started skating as a teen.
“It really bothered me that a lot of teachers and people had such a bad image of skateboarding,” Carter said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m an honor student.’ Right now I’m studying for my MCATs to get into medical school.”
You bet he still skates, and he plans to continue when he becomes a family doctor someday.
“Skateboarding is a fun, healthy outlet. You go fast, you go high, you fall, you get adrenaline rushes,” he said.
There’s competition as well as camaraderie.
“It can be an individual sport and at the same time it can be a team sport when you’re rooting on your buddy,” he said. “You are more proud of them at the end of the day when they get their trick than anything you’ve done.”
Skateboarding safety tips
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than age 5 should never ride a skateboard.
Children ages 6 to 10 need close supervision from an adult or trustworthy adolescent whenever they ride a skateboard.
Here are safety tips from Dr. Jenna Lisenby, a physical therapist/pediatric specialist at The Everett Clinic:
• Wear a helmet that meets regulations specified by ANSI or the Snell (the tag must specify this requirement). Studies have shown that helmets can reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent.
• Knee and elbow pads are also recommended. Wrist pads provide additional protection.
• Make sure pads and helmets are properly fastened.
• Skate in safe places. Never on the street.
• Use a quality skateboard and keep it in good working order.
• Be aware of your abilities. If you’ve never tried a trick before, take it easy the first few times you give it a shot. Be aware of how good you actually are, and progress at your own speed. Don’t worry about it.
Visit the skate park
The YMCA skate park, for skateboards, scooters and rollerblades, is at 10601 47th Place W., Mukilteo. For more information, see www.ymca-snoco.org/mukilteo.