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Investigating Skateboarding's Popularity

They say that the popularity of skateboarding is cyclical. One day it’s up, the next day it’s down. No matter how confidently someone is speaking about it, nobody knows the exact current status of it. Context is always key when discussing this. Are we talking about skateboarding’s popularity in a particular city? Province? Country? And are we talking about the act of doing tricks on skateboards (at skateparks or in the streets) or casually using a skateboard as a form of transportation? Skate shops tend to have good insight on this topic. This is especially true for older shops that have been through these cycles. They can chart sales data, or estimations of attendance at events, to give their assessments more structure than just a hunch. These can be interesting wells of knowledge to draw lessons from. We called up our friend Noel Wendt, co-owner of Tiki Room skateboard shop in Regina, Saskatchewan to chat about this topic recently. We were curious to hear his thoughts.

Noel Wendt 1984

Noel Wendt - Catching air in 1984

What year did Tiki Room skate shop open up? What do you remember about those first few years?
Tiki Room officially opened up in ’96. I was making clothes and selling some skateboards out of a different store for a few years prior but by ’96 skateboarding was taking off and I felt as if it needed its own entity in Regina… so out came Tiki Room. Skateboarding was popping off in those days! These were pretty much pre-internet times, so people had a lot less distractions to deal with. Kids were spending a lot of time outside and looking for things to do.

Wow! 28 years in business, congrats! Now in 2024, with the benefit of hindsight, can you speak about the cyclical nature of skateboarding’s popularity? When were the golden years and when were the dark ones?
I started skating in 1984, so I can give insight on even before Tiki Room came to be. Those were the days of the Bones Brigade influence and ramp skating. It tapered off into a bit of a lull in skateboarding’s popularity until the early 90s. I think it all came down to accessibility. Having access to ramps or pools limited a lot of kids from getting into skateboarding. Street skating came into play in the early 90s and changed all of that. You were able to walk out your door and skate! Just like that. Tiki Room came to be during that time, when street skating was new and exciting. Over the last 28 years, there have surely been events that catapulted skateboarding to new heights such as the popularity of BAM, Tony Hawk’s video game series, or the X games. They may seem like blips but they are more like waves that create lasting impacts. Some of these events created lifelong skaters. Skateboarding’s exposure into the mainstream created those “golden years” and the ones in between could be seen as “darker” to some extent.

Do you think we’re currently in a slump?
It’s hard to have an unbiased opinion on this because skateboarding seems to be everywhere on social media. You might think that it is very popular but then you can also go visit a skatepark on a sunny day and find it empty. The reality of skateboarding’s popularity is tough to pinpoint.

Ok, so Regina is a city of about 225,000 people…just as a fun exercise, how many skaters do you think in your city use at least 3 decks in a year?
Ouf! That’s a tough one. Off the top of my head? Well under a thousand.

How many kids do you think (under the age of 17) in Regina can back tail?
Probably under a 100.

These are fun ways to estimate how many “core skaters” there are / will be in a given city, but there’s also the “casual skater” for whom skateboarding is not a major part of their identity. Do you have a lot of casual skaters in Regina? Ones who have no interest in the latest “Thrasher” part?
Definitely…yeah. The majority of which spurred from COVID. That is the latest “wave” to have an impact on skate culture as I mentioned earlier. Some of those who picked up skating out of boredom during COVID stuck with it.

Tiki Room Skateboard Shop 2004

Tiki Room skateshop - 2004

Would your answers to these last few questions have been different ten or more years ago?
Absolutely, especially if you would’ve asked me that question during the peak “Muska/ Zero Days” of the early 2000s. Our older indoor park from those days used to be packed in the winter months! Our new indoor park seems to be getting put to good use as well, but not like the old one.

As a skate shop owner, Is there anything that you do when you feel as though we are in a “skateboarding slump”? Or is it mostly out of your control and you hope to weather the storm?
I wouldn’t say that there is anything in particular that I do outside of what I've already been doing for years. I help to run Regina's indoor skatepark and with building most of the obstacles there. These are things that I’ve always done and always will do. These things can help out when or if there is an upcoming lull in skateboarding’s popularity. The winters are tough in Regina and it helps the skateboard community a lot to have an indoor space to continue skating over the winter. It's all about fostering skateboarding.

It's hard to understate how important indoor skateboard facilities are in areas that go through tough winters. It helps to grow the interest in skateboarding for kids who would’ve otherwise given up on it once the snow falls. It also helps shops out with sales during dead times…
True, but I don’t see this as too much of a business move. I would be helping out with the indoor park here even if I wasn’t an owner of a skateboard shop.

That’s what makes shops like yours so rad. Your mind is naturally full of thoughts and projects that benefit your skate community…with or without the business in mind. The more support your community gives to you, the more you are able to go forward with these concepts and give back. It’s an awesome cycle caused by the fact that you are a skateborder who cares.
From a cultural perspective, that’s why it’s important to keep skateboard shops alive. They do a lot. I know what it’s like to not have a shop in town. It sucks! When I’d visit Winnipeg as a kid, I’d see Sk8 Skates and see the positive impact of a “real” skateshop on the surrounding community. That was a big inspiration for me.

Speaking of culture and community - do you think that skateboarding is more or less approachable than it was 20 years ago?
Oh! Way more approachable for sure. Who you are and what kind of skating you’re into is more accepted, a lot more than it used to be. The internet and social media have played a huge role in this. As I mentioned earlier, the visibility has never been bigger with skateboarding because of these factors. Skateboarding seems to be everywhere so it’s never been easier to try it out, but then again the strength of the internet in general has understandably made people very distracted with low attention spans. In some cases they don’t seem to have the patience to stick with it. They quickly learn that skateboarding is hard and requires a lot of attention. I sound like an old man yelling at a cloud, but you get the picture.

Sounds like a recipe to create more casual skaters. This could explain why there aren’t as many skaters buying 3 decks/year as there used to be.
Yeah, but who knows really? I feel so fortunate to have been involved in skateboarding for so long now and to have witnessed all of these different eras. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Skateboarding will never die because of its endless possibilities. I’ve never gotten bored of it and I know that plenty of others feel the same way.

Well put dude. Thanks for your time!
Thank you! This has given me a lot to think about. I appreciate it.

Jamie Thomas Bs Smith 1998
Jamie Thomas - Bs smith in 1998 during a Tum Yeto Tour stop in Regina
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