At More Skate Parks, an ‘Aggressive’ Takeover

On a May afternoon at a Venice Beach skate park, the drooping sun cast an amber glow on Kayla Dizon as she shot her way across the pavement on a pair of in-line skates.

Ms. Dizon, 25, had not come to cruise leisurely along the Pacific Coast like many spandex- and swimsuit-clad skaters do. Wearing a T-shirt and cutoff shorts that revealed a massive purple-yellow bruise on her leg, Ms. Dizon instead was scraping her skates’ wheels on the edges of the park’s sinuous curves and sharp dips as her dyed-red hair thrashed in the air.

Like many people, Ms. Dizon took up in-line skating — often called Rollerblading, thanks to a popular brand of skates — during the pandemic, after a friend gave her a pair of skates. It was that same friend, she said, who coaxed her into trying what’s known as aggressive or in-line street skating, a style heavy on tricks and stunts like grinding curbs, skidding on railings and spinning along half-pipes.

“I fell in love right away,” Ms. Dizon said, even though, as she put it, “I wasn’t good right away.”

Aggressive skating, which is also called freestyle skating, emerged in the 1990s as a sort of high-adrenaline alternative to leisure skating. In its heyday, the sport was written about in magazines and newspapers and became a main event at competitions like the X Games, before interest started to wane in the 2000s. According to some longtime participants in the sport, aggressive skating is having another moment, much like other elements of 1990s fashion and culture that have been revisited in recent years.

“Ever since I’ve been involved in this industry, there’s been that feeling: It’s going to come back,” said Jon Julio, 46, an aggressive-skating star in the ’90s who won the National In-line Skate Series championship in 1996. He pointed to an October article about freestyle skating in Vogue Italia as evidence of the renewed interest in the sport.

Mr. Julio, who started skating as a high school student in San Jose, Calif., said the 1993 movie “Airborne,” about a teenage skater, solidified his interest in the sport. When the X Games dropped aggressive skating as a competition category in 2005, he said, many people considered it a death knell: “When I talk to people, they feel like it died — which it pretty much did, in pop culture.”

But, he added, some people have never stopped aggressive skating, himself included. “I love it too much,” said Mr. Julio, who in 2018 started Them Skates, a skating brand in Santa Ana, Calif., that sells gear and sponsors aggressive skaters. (He also ran a similar brand, Valo, for 15 years.)

Soon after he started Them Skates, the company collaborated with the streetwear brand Brain Dead (where Ms. Dizon is a studio manager) and the footwear label Clarks on in-line skates and other merchandise. In 2021, Ms. Dizon became a member of the Them Skates team, which appears in videos for the brand and competes at events.

After watching some of the team’s videos, she recalled thinking, “This is the crowd I want to be involved with.”

Ms. Dizon was introduced to Mr. Julio and Them Skates by Alexander Broskow, 37, another member of its team and a skater since childhood. “He was a mentor to me,” Ms. Dizon said of Mr. Broskow, who runs his own brand of skating gear and apparel called Dead Wheels.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Broskow and some friends were skating at Huntington Drive Elementary School in Lincoln Heights, a neighborhood on the east side of Los Angeles. The schoolyard has certain elements that make it a seductive spot for skaters, including a long concrete incline seemingly designed for stunts.

The group spent hours gliding through the schoolyard’s pathways and paved playground as the skaters performed tricks. The atmosphere was mellow and supportive: When one skater who had failed repeatedly to land a stunt finally executed the maneuver, his friends clapped and hooted.

Mr. Broskow, who had dyed-blue hair parted neatly down the middle and wore silver-and-turquoise rings, sailed across the schoolyard’s metal handrails and up its steep inclines with a grace that belied the difficulty of his moves. He has been excited to see new interest in aggressive skating, he said, noting the sport has always been niche.

“It’s pretty tight-knit,” Mr. Broskow said.

Jonathan Crowfield II, 15, had been roller skating traditionally for years when he picked up aggressive skating during the pandemic. He knew little about the sport at the time, he said, and was introduced to it by a friend at Houghton Skate Park in Long Beach, Calif., where he learned how to drop into a bowl and skate around the park’s concave course. “Ever since then, I’ve just wanted to progress further,” he said.

Aggressive skaters at the Blading Cup included Jonathan Crowfield II, top left, Ben Olmos, Sebastian Castro, Colin Kelso, Austin Samsonite and Peter Ward.

He will be a sophomore in high school this fall and regularly goes to the skate park on Monday nights, where he shares the pavement with aggressive skaters of various ages and skill levels. Lately, he has been bringing his younger sisters. “We skate until they turn the lights off,” he said, adding that his fellow skaters push him to try new moves.

At Houghton and other skate parks, skaters also practice alongside BMX riders and skateboarders. “You have to be patient and wait your turn,” he said. “There’s competition and you never know what’s going to happen.”

According to Mr. Julio, interest in aggressive skating declined as skateboarding became more popular in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The sports have an intertwined history, he said, that has not been without tension between skaters and skateboarders.

“I used to get spit on,” Mr. Julio said. “There were fights, for sure.” But lately, he said, skate parks have become more of a “melting pot.” “Through inclusivity, not exclusivity, over the last few years, I think skating has evolved,” Mr. Julio said.

Mr. Crowfield, who met Mr. Julio last year, now skates on a team for Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop, a store in Long Beach. In April, Mr. Crowfield won second place in a mini-ramp competition for skaters under 18 at the Blading Cup, an event sponsored by Them Skates.

Sometimes when Mr. Crowfield tells friends that he is going skating, he said, they think he means skateboarding. “When I tell them, ‘No, it’s Rollerblading,’” he added, “They’ll be like, Oh!”

Source: Read Full Article