People like Sie and Scar and Dani and Frances are the future of skateboarding; they are part of a major sea change that will not only shift the demographics of skateboarding, it will also fundamentally alter its ethos. These are the new stewards of skateboarding.

By Jonathan Russell Clark

“Uhh, I need some help.”

The dude—a teenager, I would guess—stands at the front counter of Skate Naked, an indoor skatepark in Columbus, Ohio, bewilderment and a tinge of panic on his face. I’m sitting with Sie Logsdon, 25, who is working tonight. They are literally the only employee present. Sie asks what’s up, and the dude explains that his car (somehow) ran over a concrete parking block and is now stuck. Skate Naked is a repurposed warehouse situated in an industrial area. Few of its neighbors’ parking lots are meant for public use, and it’s clear that Skate Naked’s wasn’t originally intended as anything more than a pick-up/drop-off space for semis. Mostly covered in gravel and completely unmarked, the few spots that are paved are filled with cracks. “It gets way worse in the winter,” Sie tells me. “Every day someone gets stuck in the snow, and we gotta shovel them out.”

Right now, though, it’s the end of summer, a cool evening rife with autumnal foreshadowing, but even still this kid has teeter-tottered his car onto a slab of concrete—a slab, it turns out, that was put there to specifically stop people from running over the edge of the lot, which inclines into what used to be a loading zone. Sie walks outside and surveys the dude’s blunder. He’s got his jack out, but it only lifts one side of the car, and in order to slide the block out from underneath (which is apparently the plan), he needs another jack. Sie runs to a musky closet and brings back a larger, much more serviceable jack. Meanwhile, a handful of skaters have noticed the commotion and have come outside to spectate. One of these skaters is Frances Weger, 21, who is getting quite a kick out of the dude’s shitty parking job. She occasionally launches into what I can only describe as a cackle, and it is one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. “How the fuck did he do that?” she asks, shaking her head.

Over the next twenty minutes, a cadre of young guys take turns trying to solve the puzzle. Even once they get the parking block out from under the car, they struggle over getting both jacks out, since without the block the car is pretty much touching the ground, so when the jacks are lowered, you still can’t pull them out because the weight of the vehicle presses down on it. Sie and Frances don’t even consider joining, as they know all too well how men get in situations like this. They contend themselves with standing and watching, amused like parents observing their playing children.

Working at Skate Naked (so named because they don’t require pads) entails taking people’s money ($12 per day/$10 after 8pm) and keeping watch over the premises, but it also involves incidents like this—in effect, babysitting a bunch of teenagers and twentysomethings, mostly boys. Sie is the first nonbinary employee at Skate Naked, having been hired a little over a year ago, but they’d hung out here long before they came onto the team. Scar May, 20, the first female employee, began her tenure in 2019, though she, like Sie, skated the park regularly and adopted it as a kind of community center point. Dani Ballard, 19, hangs out at Skate Naked so often, and posts so many clips from there on her Instagram (and hangs out so casually in the employee area) that I thought she worked there too, but it turns out she’s just close friends with Sie and Scar.

People like Sie and Scar and Dani and Frances are the future of skateboarding; they are part of a major sea change that will not only shift the demographics of skateboarding, it will also fundamentally alter its ethos. These are the new stewards of skateboarding.

Skateparks are special places for skateboarders, so special, in fact, that it’s more useful to itemize the ways they are unlike other comparable spots. A skatepark is much more social than a gym (though it doesn’t have to be), and its need is much greater. A person can own, at home, the exact same equipment found at a gym, or at least a rough equivalent, as gyms feature many duplicates to accommodate the crowds. Skateparks are enormous and have no repetition; the point is actually to contain as many different types of ramps and obstacle as possible, to make the park versatile. So unless a skater owns 20,000 square feet of space, they couldn’t replicate Skate Naked.

A skatepark is not like a soccer field or a baseball diamond—skaters are not “practicing” in the same way as ballplayers. Sure, skateboarding has contests, but each competition occurs at a different venue, meaning a uniquely designed course that has no equivalent anywhere. So in order for a skater to “practice” for a particular event, they could only do it at that particular park, which, yes, would make that skaters an excellent competitor at that contest, but would also make them much less effective everywhere else. The truest form of skateboarding is done in the streets, terrains not meant for skating—the skill of a good skater, then, comes from one’s ability to successfully improvise, rather than robotically repeat, tricks in unaccommodating environments.

A skatepark is not quite a hangout spot, either, although it is definitely used that way. The key difference is that it can’t only be a hangout spot; too many people lounging around and not skating is unacceptable and is generally frowned upon. It never becomes too much of an issue, however, because most people will get up and move when a person on a skateboard comes barreling toward them.

A more apt comparison comes not from sports but performance – a skatepark sort of resembles a comedy club on open mic night. The comics perform mostly for each other, and they’re not practicing so much as honing their craft, preparing themselves for the unpredictability of audiences.

Skateparks take components from each of the above contrasted places—it’s for training, practicing, and hanging out—but above all it is a sanctuary, a place where individuality, self-betterment, physical fitness, creativity, and community exist in discrete yet interconnected ways.

Or, at least, this is what skateparks should be; and for some people, they are. For first-time skaters, though, just riding through a busy skatepark can be intimidating. “You just kind of feel in the way,” is how Dani describes it. Every skater goes through this initiation-like rite. But for women and nonbinary folks, skateparks can be more than merely intimidating – they can be uninviting, frustrating, creepy, even dangerous. “A lot of the things that keep some girls from coming to the park,” Scar explains, “a lot of dudes just don’t see. Like, they don’t see the weird things that can happen or just how intimidating it can be.” These “weird things” include men doing one or more of the following things: staring at them, hitting on them, saying creepy stuff, following them around, offering unsolicited advice, applauding them for basic tricks (as if a non-man performing any tricks is a novelty and an accomplishment), showing off, being presumptuously protective, et al. All four interviewees mentioned these things independently.

By the time Scar got her job there, she had already been skating there long enough to recognize that something needed to be done. She met Dani, in fact, because “Some dude was, like, following her around the park giving her tips—but they weren’t really tips. They were just like telling her how to do tricks she was already doing. So I walked up to her and I was like, ‘Hey, you want to skate the bowl with me real quick? Like, we’ll just go over there.’ And then as we were walking away, I was like, ‘Was that dude weirding you out?’ and she’s like, ‘Yeah.’ So that, like started our friendship.”

By the time Sie joined the crew, “Scar was like super amped to start hosting events together, because she was like the first girl that worked here, and then I was the first non-binary person that worked here. So then we both talked about wanting to, like, I don’t know, make the park available for people to like, Come skate without dudes being here. You’re not gonna get snaked or have a bunch of people staring at you. It’s just more comfortable.”

Scar and Sie’s first efforts were skate days reserved for girls, non-binary, and LGBTQ. These took place on Saturday mornings, during hours the park would ordinarily be closed, and only cost $5 instead of $12. “We would get between 20 and 50 people,” Scar says, “and that definitely brought a lot more people here.” Next, they put on contests for non-cis-men, part of the motivation for which, Scar says, was “so that all the people that had just started or just started getting into the scene were able to know what it felt like to be in a competition.”

The idea was to cultivate environments that not only provided these skaters with much needed space to grow and thrive together, but also to allow them to experience the kinds of events they might feel uncomfortable participating in otherwise. A skater who entered one of Scar and Sie’s contests might feel encouraged to enter an all-gender one later in life. Skate Naked, then, doesn’t just want to help women and the LGBTQ community find each other; they also seek to prepare them for the world outside these curated bubbles.

You have probably noticed how clunky the phrases become when trying to define the people Scar and Sie are aiming to serve. Figuring out how to promote the events proved tricky. “Every single way we’ve ever tried to word that has gotten backlash,” Sie says. After numerous attempts at Instagram posts with verbiage like “for non binary, trans, and lady skaters,” they decided that it’s much easier to just say ‘non-cis-men,’ which is exactly what the Skate Naked Insta did when promoting a recent skate jam. The flyer read “Non Cis Men Skate Sesh,” and small (but loud, of course) cadre of dudes lost their shit. In lieu of quoting any comments verbatim (lest I inadvertently elevate any of their “points” by publishing them), let’s just say that these guys felt excluded from a time when the park wouldn’t even be open and exhibited the very self-centered behavior these skate jams seek to avoid.

And what’s worse is that the assholes who commented on the post, Sie says, “are people who are not regulars here or haven’t been here for a year plus. They aren’t loyal, repeat customers.” But unfortunately, squeaky, un-skated wheels get the grease, and now Sie worries that “it’s almost more harmful than helpful for us” to keep advertising events.

Skateboarding has long been associated with misfits and outcasts, a community that will accept you when others won’t, but skaters have gatekeepers too, and if it weren’t for advocates like the crew at Skate Naked, those gates would remain locked. Scar and Sie never put their work in these dramatic terms; in fact, they seem quite nonchalant about how important their initiatives are. When I asked Scar what prompted her to start putting on skate jams, she said, simply, “Because people asked us to.” They never, despite my prompting, couched any of this in grandiloquence. To them, the complex cultural effort of creating new spaces for disenfranchised folks is obvious it barely merits mention.

That is a lot of cultural and communal sophistication for people in their teens and early twenties, but Scar, Sie, Dani, and Frances all struck me as level-headed and wise. I asked Scar about her plans for the future, and this is what she said: “I kind of just do whatever makes me happy. Like, I don’t feel the need to stress myself out about things that haven’t happened yet. And right now, I’m happy doing what I’m doing, skating and making art. If that changes, though, I’ll change what I’m doing. I think that a lot of people my age focus too much on what they’re going to be doing. That just makes everyone miserable. I’ve noticed that the people who figure those things out as they go and are always just doing what makes them happy for the most part are living great lives.”

The inverse is also true – those intent on controlling everything, on keeping everything just how they want it, are for the most part living dissatisfying lives. And if the soul of skateboarding is defined more by the disapproving gatekeepers and less by people like Scar and Sie and Dani and Frances, then it, too, will languish in the locked space it’s creating for itself, pure and stagnant and uninteresting. Skateboarding is a life force, providing its devotees more than skills on a piece of wood, and places like Skate Naked function as a hub into that world and those lessons. As Dani put it, “It brings you confidence whether you’re here or whether you’re not here.”

These are the people progressing skateboarding in ways beyond the “pissing contest” of NBDs. Cis men are not, despite some vocal protestations to the contrary, excluded from this future; they were just never going to create that future themselves. Men need to let women and non-binary and queer and trans folk take the reins for a while. They need to hand over the keys and admit that they, uhhh, need some help.

Photo – From left to right:  Sie Logsdon, Scar May, Danielle Ballard, and Frances Weger. Courtesy of @TieraDPhoto.

Jonathan Russell Clark is the author of Skateboard and An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, L.A. Times, the Boston Globe, Esquire, Literary Hub, and Tasteful Rude, where he writes a column on used books called Jonathan Come Lately.