Helmet debate: bare-headed Olympic skateboarders stoke the fire

Picture by Fletcher Ellwood.
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Protective equipment is a touchy subject for a lot of skaters. Fletcher Ellwood looks at the cultural pressures.

Archie Calder arrived at St Kilda skate park on a cold Saturday morning to warm up before heading into the city to try film some new tricks.

The prolific Melbourne street skater is training for a video he’s been working on with a group of friends.

A skateboarder for most of his teenage years, he’s had multiple injuries that have resulted in weeks of rehabilitation.

Most of those injuries could have been avoided, had he worn some form of protective equipment, Archie says.

“I don’t wear it because none of my friends do, and it looks more impressive to land tricks without a helmet on,” he says.

Helmet debate: bare-headed Olympic skateboarders stoke the fire
Archie Calder. Picture by Fletcher Ellwood

This debate on whether skateboarders should wear helmets re-entered the public sphere with the Tokyo Olympics.

The Olympic committee decided that in the street section of the skateboarding, those 18 or older had the option of wearing a helmet. No competitor in the male or female street finals did.

This cultural reluctance can be chalked up to a few reasons.

“Historically…the majority of skateboarders used to wear protective gear in the ’80s but with the rise of street skating in the ’90s it was seen as sucking up to your parents or authority if wore a helmet because you are on the streets, so the way you looked became much more important,” Archie says.

Skateboarding has peaked in popularity with the Tokyo Olympic games, the first time it has been included. With an estimated 15.3 million views, it was one of the most watched sports.

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So, is it important to wear a protective gear? Or should skateboarders continue to stick it against the man?

Evidence suggests it is important.

Monash University found that in Melbourne, skating-related injuries doubled from 2006 to 2012.  From a study of 10 skateparks around Melbourne, only 13 per cent of the skaters were wearing any form of protective equipment.

Although the professionals may know how to fall, it sets a cultural standard that most can’t live up to and they end up in hospital.

It’s frowned upon in the skating community as it is seen that you’re not tough enough to take the hit

The degree of this cultural reluctance runs deep across the whole world.

Keegan Palmer, Australian gold winner at the games, predominantly chooses not to wear protective equipment, which can be seen in the pictures and videos he displays on his Instagram page.

Vancouver-based skateboarder Andy Anderson, who competed in the bowl section of the Tokyo Olympic games, is one of the very few professional skaters to always wear a helmet.

“I always wear a helmet when I skate, no matter what I’m skating … skateboarders don’t like helmets and they don’t like people who wear helmets,” Andy told KING 5 News.

Although it may be cool to not wear protective equipment, it increases the odds of severe brain injury. Lawson Smith, a 27-year-old skater from Western Australia, suffered an extreme brain injury from not wearing a helmet while skating. Lawson is now a painter

Archie says he thinks the culture might now start changing. “I think the culture of skateboarding and helmets will become more intertwined in the future as it’s now becoming a much more mainstream sport,” Archie says.