As any skateboarder will tell you, negative stereotypes about their sport are widespread – just ask Osei Ugwu.
The Nigerian-born Londoner has been skating for as long as he can remember. Yet his ethnicity, despite skating being perceived as a white-dominated sport, has never been brought into disrepute.
“No, not really [if he has received any abuse]. The coolest thing about skating nowadays is that a lot of black people are doing it. You just have to look at [American hip hop collective] Odd Future to understand,” said Ugwu.
“Skateboarding has helped me understand and view the world in a different light. Without my board, I wouldn’t travel. With it, I feel like spending time in every single country and experiencing different cultures,” he said.
Ugwu speaks eloquently about his passion for boarding and the “exhilaration of feeling the breeze travel past your skin”, but those good vibes are undermined by the hostility he has encountered.
“I’ve been called an emo, punk, druggie and alcoholic almost every weekend at my local skate park in Brixton. Sometimes it’s as a passing joke, others with actual meaning.
“It hurts because I am none of the above. I have never touched an alcoholic drink, nor consumed any drugs. I’m just a guy with a board,” proclaimed Ugwu.
“This is what sport does, it can open up new lanes in your life beyond simply doing the activity”
The 21-year-old, who is currently on a gap year, moved to Perth in Australia at the start of the year to pursue his dreams of travelling. He currently works at a bike and board shop.
It is far from his dream career – social media management – but he, again, praises skating for allowing him to break out of a boring, mundane lifestyle:
“I never thought I would leave England, especially to work, but I just wanted to know more about the world and experience skating in other continents.
“This is what sport does, it can open up new lanes in your life beyond simply doing the activity.”
We return to the subject of those negative stereotypes, and Ugwu, a generous spirit, says he understands where some of them originate.
“I can understand the terms ‘punk’ and ‘emo’. This is a sport that was, and still is, practiced by many gothic and punk rock music addicts. It’s part of our culture and I welcome it.
“It is there where people’s imagination drifts: gothic and punk equals drugs, sex and alcohol. They’re wrong. This isn’t the 1970s and it’s a shame that very few people are combating this stigma,” said Ugwu.
He’s right – skateboarding is widely viewed and accepted as part of the punk scene.
In fact, there is a sub-genre of rock music known as Skate Punk.
It originated during the 80s on America’s West Coast and is made up of punk, melodic hardcore and surf rock.
The fact that this is a whole subculture of skating in itself makes it somewhat understandable, as Ugwu says, to see why people use terms like ‘emo’in a derogatory manner.
His eloquence and maturity makes me wonder: why exactly do people abuse another person for their hobby when, in fact, they are the opposite of any stereotype attributed to said hobby?
Ugwu further debunks those myths. “As I said, I don’t drink nor consume drugs. As for the punk and emo stuff, I actually don’t like those genres of music. I’m more of a folk and country guy. I suppose that makes me a cowboy, right…?” he laughs.
The stereotypes are not mutually exclusive to outsiders, surprisingly.
“Even from inside the skating community, there are three primary groups ‘skater boys’, ‘hipsters’ and ‘backpackers’. It’s all a bit silly, really. There shouldn’t be terms for personalities and interests,” said Ugwu.
‘Skater boys’ are known to look down on the others, according to Ugwu, as though they are letting down the punk-rock culture and intruding on the recreational activity.
Hipsters are now known throughout the world as a new-wave culture. In skateboarding terms, they are the exact same thing; they view it as a new, shiny toy. “After a few months, they’ll move on to something else,” claims my insider guide.
The final group is ‘backpackers’ – these are the ones who use boards to travel and as a means of keeping fit.
I asked whether the ‘backpacker’ group is where he saw himself.
“Well, yeah, I’d say so. I don’t like to limit or segregate myself though. I accept all the groups because they all add something more unique to skateboarding.
“How boring would it be if we all had the same interests and personalities? As much as people from the outside like to put us in boxes, most of us are far from the stereotypes used to abuse us.”
With a clear burning passion for skateboarding, it surprised me that he didn’t want to make a living out of it. There was never a mention of professionalism or taking it too seriously.
“I’ve never given it much thought”, he said, “I hate to sound spoilt, but there isn’t enough money in it to actively pursue a career. I see it as a form of exercise, identity and travel.
“Skateboarding’s beauty stems from diversity and cultural mix”
“Sure, tournaments sound cool and exciting, I have entered a few, but entry fees are high and winnings don’t reflect the pain and hard work you put into it.”
“As of now, my dream career is in social media management. I think I’ll be at my happiest when I’ve achieved that career and am still skateboarding on the side. It’s a passion I can’t see myself ever dropping.”
Skateboarding is frowned upon and stereotyped by sectors of society but, ironically, its beauty stems from diversity and cultural mix.
The fact that you can travel through the sport, like Ugwu, operate professionally within it or just see it as a form of socialising and keeping fit shows just how universal and accessible it is.
The fact that some people have preconceived and ignorant notions about skating is perplexing because this is a movement rich in diverse culture.