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Plenty of sun and concrete make this city in Arizona in the United States a haven for skaters of all ages. Writer Zak Reid takes us for a spin.
Text by: Zak Reid
Country: USA

s you fly into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, you can’t help but notice concrete everywhere. And with nearly 300 days of sun each year and skateparks around every corner, the city in the southwestern United States is a skateboarder’s heaven.

A skateboarder’s biggest enemy is rain—it ruins everything from the board to the bearings. So while skateboarders in the rest of the world longingly stare out of their windows at rain and snow, Phoenicians grab their boards and head out for a skate session.

While it’s an individual sport—you don’t need to be part of a “team” to start skateboarding—skating naturally lends itself to community. Skaters motivate and cheer each other on, celebrate successes and help one another up after a fall. There’s a mutual respect between skaters, and an understanding that outsiders can’t understand. It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a family.

In Phoenix the skateboard culture has been shaped by the city’s notorious urban sprawl: instead of building up, the city grew outward. In densely populated cities, it can be common to meet in the city center to skate, but in Arizona, you have to get in your car and drive somewhere. This has shaped the way skateboarding culture has developed in Arizona, and accounts for the sharp increase of skateparks throughout the Valley of the Sun, as the Phoenix metro area is known.

With more than eighteen parks situated throughout the Valley, skaters now have options. But even so, most skateboarders and crews have a “home park”: the skatepark they visit most frequently. This is their default meet-up spot, their home base, their gym.

On a typical day, you meet at the park with your buddies, and there’s an immediate sense of freedom. You roll around the park to look at the obstacles, plan your tricks, greet your friends and give nods of mutual respect to the skaters already there.

Skateboarding’s all about confidence and energy. You’ll normally start slow, with easy tricks to build your confidence for the session. A kickflip here, a boardslide there, and now your blood’s pumping. When a skater lands a trick nearby, you congratulate them. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never met him or her before. This is skate culture.

Now that you’ve loosened up, it’s time to move on to a more advanced trick. You summon your courage, jump, and if you fall, you grab your board and try again. Visualizing how the trick should look and feel is important because skateboarding requires split-second decisions.

Let’s say you want to land a kickflip: after you jump and flip the board, you fly through the air watching the board rotate. If it’s a bad flip, you kick the board away, but if it’s slowly rotating, and seems to be in position, you can go for it and put your feet back on the board. This can result in a landed trick and a celebration; or it can lead to a broken neck or a hard fall on the ground.

After a few hours you’re sweaty, dirty and tired. You can head home, go get something to eat with your crew or head to a new spot to keep skating. Either way, it’s time to drive.

Everybody hops in their cars, turns the music on and heads out to the new spot. There’s an air of excitement as the caravan heads to the next location. In skateboarding, you never know what’s coming next: you may find security guards, poor cement or the perfect spot.

You don’t know if you’ll land a great trick earning shouts and high-fives from your brethren, or if you’ll fall and get injured. Blood, sweat, frustration, unexpected situations, community, perseverance and triumph are all a part of skating.

I recently had the chance to interview longtime Arizona skateboarder Jonny Jacob to learn more about skateboarding in Phoenix.

What’s your name and where are you from?

Jonny Jacob: My full name is Jonny Angel Jacobia, born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.

How long have you been skateboarding?

JJ: I first started riding a skateboard when I was about 8 years old. I turn 33 this year, so technically over 20 years.

What’s unique about skating in Phoenix as compared to other cities/states/countries?

JJ: Well, by far, the year-round sunshine! It does not snow and it rarely rains in the Valley.

Do you normally skateboard in the streets, or in skateparks?

JJ: Now in my 30′s I lean towards the skateparks more, but I never turn down an opportunity to go hit the streets with the boys. The only thing that matters is that you have fun! No matter where you skate, you will learn something, and you will meet new people who might be totally different from you, but share the same passion for skateboarding.

The parks nowadays are being built a lot better. They are becoming more common near other existing parks, which brings the community together and keeps kids out of trouble.

How has skating in Phoenix changed over the past 15-20 years?

JJ: One major thing is the number of skateparks; they have doubled or tripled since then. Cities are trying to keep skateboarding out of the streets. We also have one of the biggest contests yearly: The Phoenix Am. It brings out all the teams from across the country and globe.

Why did you decide to work in the skateboard industry?

JJ: It consumed my life. It was all I wanted to do during and after high school. I’ve met the best lifelong friends through skateboarding; I feel we are a different breed of human. Skateboarders are all unique, all artists, expressing themselves through an extreme sport, as they call it.

I graduated with a film degree but only did a few jobs in the actual film and media industry before I realized I wanted to be in the skateboard world. Now I help a best friend of mine manage Industrial Rideshop Warehouse . We have 15 stores mostly on the West Coast of the U.S.

I couldn’t be happier, we still skate every day at lunch, and that’s all I wanted. To me skateboarding is a fountain of youth—it keeps me feeling good, and most pro skateboarders are in their 30′s nowadays.

What are some trends that you’ve noticed in your time working in skateboarding?

JJ: I see the style everywhere now. There are so many brands and labels in the industry and they can appeal to anyone. I see it all from baby clothes to accessories; Skateboarding is more of a lifestyle now than a sport. Everyone knows someone who skateboards religiously, and it’s on TV every day, whether it be a commercial, show or movie. Big brands are crossing over into skateboarding, for example, Reebok, Nike SB and most recently New Balance. The brands that seem to last now are the ones owned by pro skate boarders who have witnessed it all and make the best leaders.

Is the skateboarding culture as tight-knit as it appears to the general public?

JJ: I would say so. It’s like one big family. We all just want to see others do well at what they try. If you reach out to a skateboarder and ask something, you might just get the raw truth, whether it’s what you want to hear or not. I said I’ve met the best people on the planet through skateboarding and I would never want to go back and do anything different.

Fact Box:

● Most historians agree that skateboarding began in the late 1940s – early 1950s in California, USA.

● The first skateboards were commercially produced in the late 1950s with an initial popularity boom in the early 1960s.

● Skateboarding experienced a downturn in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a resurgence in the late 1980s and 1990s that initiated the boom that continues today.

● The first skatepark was built in Arizona in 1965. Today there are approximately 4,000 skateparks in the United States with at least 18 in the Phoenix area.

● In 2011, more than 100 new skateparks were finished in the United States.

● Skateboarding is a $4.8 billion industry.

● The sport continues to be popular in the United States, with at least 6.58 million skateboarders in 2014.

● The number of skateboarders worldwide increased from approximately 7.8 million in 1999 to 12.5 million in 2002 (60% growth) according to American Sports Data, a market research firm.

● Skateparks are “more likely to promote good behavior” according to researchers at The University of Western Australia, and are healthy elements in communities all over the world.


Skateboarders flip for Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona is a skateboarder's paradise. It is a city of concrete with nearly 300 days of sun each year and skateparks around every corner. A skateboarder's biggest enemy is rain, so Phoenix's great weather makes it the perfect city for this extreme sport!

Skateboarding is a sport you can do by yourself, without a team, but you also become part of a community. Skateboarders cheer for each other and help others when they fall. There is a mutual respect between skaters. It’s like a big family. When a skateboarder lands a trick near you, you congratulate them, even if you do not know them. That is the skater culture.

Longtime skater Jonny Jacob was born and raised in Phoenix. He is now 33, but started skateboarding when he was just 8 years old. He says the number of skateparks in the city have doubled or tripled since he was young and Phoenix now hosts one of the biggest yearly skateboard contests: The Phoenix AM. Teams travel from all over the country and globe to compete.

Jonny studied film in university, but always wanted to do something with skateboards; so now he works for a skater shop. It's his dream job and he can skateboard every day at lunch time. For him, skateboarding is like a fountain of youth, it makes him feel good. Also, most pro skateboarders nowadays are around his age.

Jonny loves the skateboarding community and the life he has built around it and he would not change anything about it.



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Skateboarders flip for Phoenix



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Arizona Skaters

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