Shit happens. And this is certainly a decently sized steamy pile of it. Lets poke it with a stick to see what we can learn.
SO THIS VIDEO CAME OUT WHERE A POLICE OFFICER PULLS HIS CRUISER INTO THE ONCOMING LANE TO STOP LONGBOARDERS FROM SKATING DOWN THE HILL (WHICH IS ILLEGAL). THERE WAS A LOT OF HULLABALOO AROUND THE VIDEO, AND MOST OF IT IS JUST NOISE. I’D LIKE TO TAKE A SECOND TO ADD SOMETHING TO THE CONVERSATION, AND HOPEFULLY IT DOESN’T FALL ON DEAF EARS.
There have been a lot of reactions to the video of a cop pulling into the oncoming lane to stop a group of longboarders going down a hill in West Vancouver. I spoke with the media and to many people in the longboarding community about this, and feel as though the general response to the video will leave the fundamental issues of the conflict unresolved. The media spins it as a highly polarized conflict, and it spurs knee jerk reactions that further the binary view of the subject – cops vs longboarders. Many longboarders are feeding into this and are selfishly interested in blaming the police officer. So I hate to be such a dick, but I think everyone is missing the friggin point.
The situation that occurred was the result of a public space disagreement that escalated because the sanctions put in place to control the use of longboards on roads in West Vancouver were ineffective and insufficient. Said more simply – longboarders are ignoring the law because it’s cheaper than a lift ticket, if they do get caught. If there were a place they could buy a lift ticket, they probably wouldn’t stop skating open roads though. Which is a selfish personal choice and one that comes with risk, legal and otherwise.
The question of what to do about the longboarders in West Vancouver is one asked around the world, but it’s not a new one and can be tracked back for more then 5 years now. In recent history, a fine of 35$ was put in place to dissuade longboarding and it is said to be rising to 135$ with the possibility confiscation. This is very much a “not-in-my-back-yard” approach which only passes on the issue. Pragmatically it is difficult to enforce a ban, and it segregates and criminalizes children and young adults who are literally playing in the street. Prohibition never works and it clearly has not helped West Vancouver get anywhere with the problem and frustrated civil servants beyond acting rationally.
I would like to take a second to sympathize with the police officer. Imagine you signed up to uphold justice, but what you ended up doing was chasing adolescents and kids on skateboards. Moreover, they show no sign of stopping the act you’re forced to prevent. They return, every summer in growing numbers. It’s clear you are accomplishing little more for the community than swatting at flies with chopsticks. The odds are not in your favor. Ineffective prohibitions have turned a civil servant into glorified, weaponized babysitter who only manages to muster contempt and disrespect from the very people they’re trying to “protect”. He was given an impossible task and I can understand why this man is beyond frustrated and pulling into oncoming lanes.
While I can empathize, I cannot condone the behavior. I understand that there is a broader reason as to why the police officer may have acted in the way he did – training, circumstance, frustration – but now more than ever there must be a change to prevent tragedy.
Longboarding falls between the cracks. Crack number one – no facilities. Skateboarding has skate parks, snowboarding and mountain biking have mountains, longboarding needs a safe and publicly condoned way to practice their sport on a regular basis that is both accessible locally and financially. Currently West Vancouver is accessible locally and financially even if you account for a 35$ ticket – this is a measure of risk/reward – to skate or not to skate, there are no alternatives here. Open roads will continue to be used as multi-purpose longboard/transit areas until alternatives are available, or unless the fines become astronomically high or excessively punitive – but you still have to catch them in the act of a crime and this is a minor one compared to the evils of this world.
Crack number two – longboarding is a viable, economical, eco-friendly mode of transportation with higher and higher participation rates. It’s inexpensive, fun, holds less risk of theft and is more compatible for dense urban commuting in particular over a bike. Banning the recreational use of public roads for freeriding is very different then banning longboarding for commuting. The law needs to recognize longboarding as both transportation, set the limits of abuse and enforce them. There’s no need to point fingers and distract you, but lets not pretend cyclists don’t blow stop signs and walkers don’t jaywalk. Living in a modern world requires complex solutions to public spaces and outliers will abuse the limits regardless of the law in question.
There are more cracks and this involves more groups than simply cops and longboarders, but something needs to be done. I cannot simply believe we are a society that believes in financially penalizing the youth of our community to prevent them from play without giving them an alternative they are clearly asking for. Fortunately, there are some signs of hope. Surrey and Kamloops are both committed to providing alternatives for longboarders. Who will follow their lead? When will our mountains see the revenue potential of the sport? West Vancouver needs look to the positive work being done both by longboarders, to come together and use their own resources to hold sanctioned closed road events, and cities that are creating action plans to fit their communities. Without a more proactive, partnered approach, this problem will likely continue to escalate.
Peace out homies!