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Lifestyle Sports: Skateboarders Face Rough Road

May 16, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Doctors and skateboarders are rolling toward each other head-on over skateboarders’ rights to head onto the roads to roll.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says skateboards should be banned from streets, to keep skaters from being killed or injured in traffic.

Skateboard-lovers respond that their wheeled vehicles have as much right to the road as a car or a bicycle, and contend they’re being victimized by anti- skater hysteria.

The 36,000-member pediatricians’ professional organization is putting its position in a policy statement to be published in the June issue of its professional journal, Pediatrics.

″Skateboards should never be ridden near traffic. Their use should be prohibited on streets and highways,″ says the article, prepared by the AAP committee on accident and poison prevention.

The researchers cite federal Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics on skateboard injury cases taken to hospital emergency rooms. The AAP study says the CPSC figures show injuries have increased from 16,000 in 1983 to 81,000 in the last year reported, 1986.

Skateboarders often ride in unsafe styles, using insufficient protective gear, says Dr. Mark D. Widome, chairman of the AAP panel.

″Kids are indulging in fairly risky behavior,″ says Widome, an associate professor of pediatrics at Pennsylania State University’s College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa. He says they careeen into traffic, and may even hold onto vehicles for high-speed thrill rides.

Widome says they take chances by skipping safety equipment - primarily helmets, but also knee and elbow pads.

However, he also says equipment can be improved. Widome says there are no federal or industry standards for impact resistance of skateboarders’ helmets, similar to the industry standards for bicycle helmets. Until standards are developed, he says, ″I’ve recommended to my patients that they choose a bicyle helmet.″

Skateboarders and industry officials dispute the AAP’s contentions, saying the proposed solution is worse than the problem. They think the doctors are skating on thin ice.

The president of the National Skateboard Association, Tom Cozins, says his organization of manufacturers and users shares the AAP’s concern. But, in a statement from the NSA’s headquarters in Vista, Calif., Cousins says the risks can be managed. And, he says, it’s better for a teen to spend his time skateboarding than to lose himself in drug or gang activity.

The NSA’s national amateur programs director, Sonja Catalano of San Bernardino, Calif., says skateboarders are victimized by their public image of being strange-dressing oddballs.

″They are the trend-setters - the first to dress in what John Q. Public would consider a weird way,″ Catalano says. She says the majority are intelligent, and even artistic, teens - they just don’t look like Mom and Dad’s dream teen.

″Skating is a very individual activitiy, so you’re talking about individualists - kids who didn’t want to take part in team sports,″ she says.

However, says Catalano, ″any place it’s legal to ride a bicycle, it should be legal to ride a skateboard.″

Those communities that ban skateboarding in the streets should set up supervised skateboard parks, she says.

One such park is in Ocean City, Md., an oceanfront resort that bans skateboarding on the streets during the summer. The park has a fulltime manager and an assistant, requires full protective gear, and has a very low accident rate, says Carol Everhart, an recreation and parks administrative aide.

Copy editor Kurt Carlson of Thrasher magazine, which covers skateboarding, concedes he has seen ″kids whipping down the street sitting on their skateboards″ in hilly San Francisco, where the magazine is based. But, he says, most skaters are safe - and stick to the less-trafficked side streets.

Carlson and Thrasher art associate John R. Dettman think the AAP is caught in skaterphobia - an irrational fear based on skateboarders’ images.

″It’s jealousy,″ says Dettman. ″I think it’s people who see it and wish they could have done it when they were a kid.″

He says safety has improved as the sport has matured and more teens became better skateboarders.

Dettman, 24, skateboards part of his way to work. And he thinks skateboarding is better than driving.

″We might do a little damage to walls here and there - but, all in all, that’s not any worse than tearing the guardrail down with your car,″ says Dettman.

Besides, he says, skateboards don’t pollute.

END ADV for Release Week of May 15-21

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