Cover Thy Noggin

It used to be like the choosing between plain spaghetti and those little pasta shells–picking a helmet was one of the most boring purchases in skateboarding, the only one a kid couldn’t get excited about. Back in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, you basically had a choice between a Flyaway or a Pro-Tec, both in colors that had been around for years. Pickings were slim, and the fiberglass Flyaways didn’t always work too well. One pro skater recalls smashing himself in the face as a kid and knocking himself out. His dad’s solution was to switch from Flyaways to Pro-Tecs because he thought they protected the face better.

But as in most sports, safety and responsibility in skateboarding eventually became an issue. Since the 1990s, thanks to parental awareness (good), and the hard work of sue-happy lawyers trying to buy another luxury car (bad), California, the skate capital of the world, passed a law mandating that kids under eighteen must wear a helmet when skating. Many other states have similar laws. After decades of skaters slipping under the safety-equipment radar, it first seemed unthinkable that the majority of California skaters would have to strap on a lid when they rolled outside. But the more you see it, the less weird it seems (look at what happened with the tough anti-smoking laws in California–it’s becoming rare to see a lit cigarette in the Golden State). The kneecap biters on boards will probably look back at old mags and think about how weird it was that skaters didn?t wear helmets 24/7.

This isn’t a bad thing. The American Academy Of Pediatrics recently released a report that recommended kids wear helmets while skating because it greatly reduces the severity of a head impact. All this adds up to a monster increase in sales of helmets, as well as safety equipment. While there used to be two major brands, now there’s a handful of choices, and they market to the kiddies just like a board company would.

Moving Helmets

The most powerful selling tools are graphics and pro names, and most safety-equipment companies offer pro-model helmets. Companies like Pro-Tec allow their team to pick their color combinations of straps and helmet, and include a sticker packet with the helmet.

S-One is another brand that relies on pros to help with design, but it sponsors ‘core street skaters who rarely ride ramps. “We make helmets cool to wear by coming out with pro-designed graphics from actual street skaters who kids can identify with and look up to,” says S-One’s Dan McCashin.

TSG has two of the heaviest hitters in the marketability department with Tony Hawk and Mike Vallely. They each have a huge under-eighteen following and realize that if they wear a helmet at public appearances, little kids who look up to them will do likewise. They don’t do it all the time, but you can tell they make more of an effort than a few years ago.

But a helmet needn’t have a pro’s name on it to be successful. If there’s one thing World Industries excels at, it’s giving the kids what they want. For years what the kids have wanted is Flameboy and Wet Willy graphics, and that’s exactly what’s on World’s line of helmets. “They are an extension of our brand,” says World Industries Product Manager Eban Woodall. “And, we wanted to give Pro-Tec a run for their money.”

World sells their helmets with a one-size-fits-all shell and a package of small, medium, and large pads. This makes it easier for shops to order and erases the chance of being stuck with a size that isn’t popular.

One thing that all the major skateboard helmet companies do is make sure their helmets pass CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) guidelines. It seems that most skateboard companies make their helmets so that they comply with the standards for both biking and skateboarding–smart idea because the helmet laws concerning bikes are stronger than the skateboard legislation. What parent wants to buy two helmets? Most of the kids I see biking around mmy Southern California town wear skateboard helmets. I haven’t seen the reverse.

Once the CPSC gives a helmet model approval, the organization can test helmets from each shipment. This has led to a few cases of recalls, but it’s reassuring in the sense that they are strict about the specifics, and the requirements are enforced. In one case, a toy company that has a third party make its skateboard helmets was forced to recall almost a quarter-million of them when a sample failed the CPSC test. Ouch.

If the rumors floating around are true, word on the street is that the major TV networks will soon make a policy that demands skateboarders in commercials wear full safety equipment. The laws, marketing power of skate companies, and televised events with helmeted pros all team up to make kids more comfortable wearing helmets. Skaters may not think they look cool?at least not right now–but with the new colors and designs available, maybe picking out a helmet is a little more enjoyable than it once was.