Many Salem skateboarders may be surprised to hear that they are breaking the law when they take to the streets.
In the mid 1980s, city officials passed a law to ban skateboarding after a young man was killed in a skateboarding accident on the street.
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll is hoping to lift the Section 24-7 ordinance, which states that, “it shall be unlawful for any person to play at skateboarding in any street or sidewalk within the city limits.”
Despite the law, Driscoll said there has been an increase in people of all ages, not just teenagers or adolescents, who are using skateboards around town.
“They’re out on the roads now, even with the ban in place,” said Driscoll. “So it becomes a tough issue from the police department’s perspective. Frankly, we don’t have the resources or the desire to chase down every skateboarder.”
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The amended Salem ordinance, which is currently being reviewed by a City Council Committee, would make skateboarding legal in Salem except on sidewalks and the Essex Street Mall between New Liberty and Washington Streets and Highland Avenue. If passed, it would become effective this fall.
Driscoll believes that if skateboarding is regulated so that it can be done safely, like bicycling, then there is no need for it to be banned entirely.
Lt. Conrad Prosniewski of the Salem Police Department agrees.
“This skateboard ordinance was put there for a purpose and perhaps it has already served its purpose,” he said. “Hopefully people understand now that with a skateboard, bike, or anything other vehicle, you have to be careful.”
With safety in mind, Driscoll has suggested certain stipulations with the legalization of skateboarding such as skaters under 16 must be wearing a helmet when skating.
“When you’re just pushing around on the street not going that fast, having a helmet on your head is just hot and uncomfortable,” said Georgie Louis, 20, supervisor of Bamboozle Skate Shop on Bridge Street in Salem. “Honestly, kids are not going to wear helmets, regardless of what the law says.”
However, ignoring the regulations of this new ordinance could be costly. Young skaters seen riding a skateboard without a helmet, riding on prohibited areas, or riding recklessly will receive a written warning for their first offense, a $50 fine for their second, and $100 for further offenses under the new proposal.
Skateboarding is not just a street activity. Richard Watson, 43, of Peabody said that he is frustrated with the stigma attached to skateboarders. His son William, 7, is a competitive skateboarder, sponsored by Bamboozle, and a member of the Local Legend Skate Team.
“These kids practice the same moves for months,” said Watson. “It teaches them patience. It teaches them core skills. Aren’t we supposed to support that? As a dad I can’t think of a healthier activity for my son to participate in.”
Watson said the skateboarding community has been very supportive of William since he first picked up a skateboard at four years old. His Facebook page has over 150 likes, and one of his skating videos on YouTube has over 5,000 views.
But skateboarding has become more than just recreation. Driscoll said one reason for proposing the repeal is to make the streets friendly for those who skateboard as a mode of transportation.
“Boards that are used for recreational use are different than boards used for transportation,” said Louis. “Mmost of the people I see on the street, I can tell they’re just trying to get from point A to point B because they are riding boards more fit for transportation.”
Louis has seen this at the shop as well, with an increase in customers looking to buy longboards or softer wheels, which are more practical for travelling as they allow a smoother, faster ride.
Whether skating recreationally or for travel, there are still risks involved, particularly on the streets. Louis said he recently knew of a customer who’d been hit by a car, thrown 30 feet in the air, and got serious road rash. The driver drove away without stopping.
“There have been a lot of tragedies involved with skateboards,” said Lt. Prosniewski, “especially people who were skateboarding by the streets.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.