Safety Dance

Pad and helmet makers are gearing up for a generation weaned on safety equipment.

Safety gear is one of the fastest-growing areas in skateboard-equipment sales. Shop owners and safety-equipment makers report selling record amounts of pads and helmets, and the new equipment is not only more attractive, but more protective than it’s ever been.

Skaters didn’t always have safety equipment that was designed specifically for them,choices for early skateboarders were limited to gear designed for mainstream sports such as basketball, volleyball, and ice hockey. By the late 70s, once the skateboarding boom had ushered in a couple waves of skateparks, the market began to see skateboard-specific safety equipment.

Today the skateboard industry is seeing a similar situation as the popularity of the sport has once again taken off, and the construction of skateparks is on a similar crest. With this resurgence, companies producing and selling helmets and pads are busy trying to meet this new demand for protective equipment, while just a few years ago helmets would sit in shops collecting dust and suffering the stares of skaters who had no idea what they were looking at.

The Past

For Mike Rector, the inventor of the Rector pad, a lot has transpired since his revolutionary skateboard-specific pads hit the market in 1977. Back then, the majority of skateparks were private enterprises, and safety equipment was both mandatory and enforced due to liability issues. However, it was not just park owners demanding safety gear,it was also the skateboarders themselves.

Parks at the time were big, had lots of vert terrain, and were mostly constructed of concrete. Skaters needed to protect themselves, so wearing safety equipment quickly became the norm. It was during this period that Rector developed and patented his pad design with the riveted hard-plastic cap, an innovation that established him as a leader in the protective-equipment market.

In the 80s, when vert riding was king, the technique of knee-sliding out of bails made the plastic-cap pads mandatory. “Knee-sliding had a huge impact on the industry and was the reason skaters wore pads,” says Rector. “Instead of wearing pads in case you fell, skaters were wearing pads so they were able to fall to their knees and slide out unhurt.”

By the late 70s, private skateparks started to disappear, and vert skating was pushed underground. Skateboarding had nowhere to go and moved to the streets. In the infancy of street skating, there was little need for helmets and pads. Knee-sliding was useless, and most skaters quit wearing helmets and pads.

By the end of the 80s in-line skating was becoming popular, and the protective equipment designed for skateboarding found a new market. “I really thought it would be just a fad and was more than willing to let companies such as Rollerblade and Bauer pay royalties so they could produce and market pads to this new market,” says Rector, who continued marketing his pads to the skateboarders during this slow time, but also looked to other markets that could benefit from his pad designs. Rector introduced the strap-on Proformer line of pads, which were a lightweight alternative to the beefy Fatboy line. The Proformer line of pads quickly found a place in industrial applications and is still widely used today by construction workers and SWAT teams.

Safety-gear makers like Pro Designed, which began offering beefy vert-style pads in the ramp-happy 80s, and Harbinger, which arrived with the in-line wave of the 90s, have since developed lines offering several models with varying amounts of padding.

The Present

Street skating today is being taken to a new level, and skaters are attempting tricks with dangerous consequences,just as the generations before them did in the old skateparks. Many skaters today have never worn protective gear. Contempory magazines and videos are dominated by skateboarders wearing no helmets or pads. With the exception of the X-Games and a few other competitions in the media, skateboarders are seldom depicted wearing protective equipment.

Nevertheless, helmet and pad sales are increasing dramatically. “Sales are definitely up,” says Jeff Kendall, director of marketing for TSG helmets and pads. He attributes this to a combination of more skateparks and a general growth in entry-level skateboarders. Laws requiring kids to wear helmets when riding bicycles has also allowed skateboarding helmets to become a “cool” alternative to traditional bike helmets.

These laws have made kids more willing to wear helmets. “We now live in a helmet-aware society,” says Jake Brandman, national sales manager at MOSA Sports, marketers of Pro-Tec helmets and pads. Brandman says kids’ willingness to wear helmets is by no means a phenomenon exclusive to skateboarding, as snowboarding now boasts one of the fastest-growing segments of users wearing helmets.

Safety-equipment makers and skate-shop managers say the combination of concerned parents and the current skatepark boom are the forces driving this resurgence in helmet and pad sales. Several months after the nearby Robb Field Skatepark in San Diego, California opened, Skateboard Heaven is still selling five to six helmets and three to four full sets of pads per week. “Young kids do like wearing helmets, and their moms are buying full sets of safety gear for them,” says Skateboard Heaven Manager Mike Whaley. “But we do see a lot of older customers buying pads because the skatepark has gotten them back into skating, and they can’t afford to get hurt and miss work.”

Robb Field Skatepark is a supervised, city-run park that requires protective equipment. But this condition is unique to Southern California, as most parks in Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, and across the country only go so far as to recommend that skaters wear helmets and pads, and generally don’t enforce pad rules where they exist. Even in areas with relaxed restrictions, retail shops are still experiencing a growth in protective-equipment sales. “While the parks in our area don’t force skaters to wear safety gear, they have given skateboarding extra exposure and a place to enjoy the sport all the time without being hassled,” says Trent Martin, manager at Cowtown Skateboards in Phoenix, Arizona. At his shop, Trent says 75 percent of safety-equipment purchases are made by kids new to the sport whose concerned parents want them to wear protective gear. Older customers replacing worn equipment make up the remaining 25 percent.

Skatepark regulations concerning safety equipment and how strictly they are enforced will ultimately determine how readily skaters will strap on their pads. “Rules at parks are a main factor in getting skateboarders to wear pads,” says Pro Designed Owner “Wild” Bill Walker. “Parks with superior and advanced terrain such as the Vans parks will have a positive influence on safety-equipment use because if you want to skate a park that good, you’ll have to wear your equipment.”

The Future

As skateparks continue to pop up all over America, skateboarders new and old are once again turning to protective equipment to keep themselves safe. Will we ever see Jamie Thomas or Chad Muska hitting a twelve-stair rail with a helmet on? Probably not, but we will see a new generation of skateboarders who’ve worn helmets most of their lives for a variety of activities, and who don’t think twice about it. Manufacturers of skateboarding safety gear acknowledge this trend and are marketing their products accordingly.

Pro-Tec has added street-skater-endorsed helmets to its line of signature helmets, and Brandman instructs his sales reps to prepare retailers in areas where new skateparks are being built so they’re ready to meet the new demand. “There’s nothing worse for a retailer than being sold out when he could have sold twice as much if he was properly stocked,” he says. Despite the spike in demand, though, Brandman feels it could still be five to seven years before helmets will truly be in style again.

Two years ago Harbinger introduced a line of easily identifiable colored pads designed for skatepark rental programs, and the skatepark boom has TSG developing a similar color-coded rental-gear line. “Skateboarding with this equipment outside of a park will be like playing a round of golf with range balls,” says Kendall. TSG will continue its efforts to make wearing equipment a cool thing through key endorsements with skaters such as Mike Vallely and Tony Hawk, and by continuing to develop the wide spectrum of styles and colors in its graphic-helmet program.

In addition to traditional pad and helmet designs, Rector sees a future in more supportive pads that include knee braces. Rector also offers a junior series for smaller skaters or those who want to comply with park rules by wearing as little protection as possible. For the fashion-conscious skater, Rector Recaps are now available in a choice of colors to match the helmet line.

Regardless of your personal preference when it comes to wearing safety equipment,or not wearing it,as skaters grow up in and eventually outgrow the parks, they may have established habits there that they’ll carry into the streets. Not many would disagree that helmets and pads allow skaters to ride longer and stay healthy, and as Pro Designed’s “Wild” Bill puts it, “There are many reasons to wear them, and no good reason not to.”

than being sold out when he could have sold twice as much if he was properly stocked,” he says. Despite the spike in demand, though, Brandman feels it could still be five to seven years before helmets will truly be in style again.

Two years ago Harbinger introduced a line of easily identifiable colored pads designed for skatepark rental programs, and the skatepark boom has TSG developing a similar color-coded rental-gear line. “Skateboarding with this equipment outside of a park will be like playing a round of golf with range balls,” says Kendall. TSG will continue its efforts to make wearing equipment a cool thing through key endorsements with skaters such as Mike Vallely and Tony Hawk, and by continuing to develop the wide spectrum of styles and colors in its graphic-helmet program.

In addition to traditional pad and helmet designs, Rector sees a future in more supportive pads that include knee braces. Rector also offers a junior series for smaller skaters or those who want to comply with park rules by wearing as little protection as possible. For the fashion-conscious skater, Rector Recaps are now available in a choice of colors to match the helmet line.

Regardless of your personal preference when it comes to wearing safety equipment,or not wearing it,as skaters grow up in and eventually outgrow the parks, they may have established habits there that they’ll carry into the streets. Not many would disagree that helmets and pads allow skaters to ride longer and stay healthy, and as Pro Designed’s “Wild” Bill puts it, “There are many reasons to wear them, and no good reason not to.”

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