Fly Boys

Like a gang of punk Peter Pans, suburbia's not-so-lost boys flock to Eisenbergs Skate Park to test their wings

The numbers, which come originally from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, are not broken out specifically for ramp skating. Gil Clark of IISA says it may be a mistake to assume that injury rates are higher for aggressive skating than for recreational sidewalk skating.

"There is some indication that rates may be lower in skate parks, where skating is supervised and skaters are required to wear protective gear specifically designed for the activity."

He says injury rates in skate parks are low enough that the parks generally have little trouble acquiring liability insurance. "There has never been a death that we know of or the sort of crippling injury that would attract a plaintiff's lawyer. The vast majority of the injuries are scrapes and breaks that are very treatable, and insurance companies, for that reason, have become comfortable with skate parks as a risk."

Arthur Eisenberg thinks there is another reason that liability is not a huge problem for skate parks. "I think there is an obvious element of high risk in this activity, and it may be that people who are attracted to it and who are OK with it are not the kind of people who are inclined to turn around and sue when they get hurt.

"Arlo has always told me," he says, "that part of the sport is getting hurt, picking yourself up, and going back to it."

Indeed, injuries are spoken of in tones of hushed pride by the skaters. Ben Adrasha, 12, of Dallas, is speaking to a reporter, but, as soon as he starts talking, half a dozen more boys press in to listen to his tale. Ben's speech grows more Shakespearean with each syllable:

"Two weeks ago one of my best friends broke his left wrist," he says. "This guy also fractured his arm and chipped a bone in his right wrist."

"Wow," someone says reverently.
"Cool," another voice whispers.
He turns to address the group: "He was wearing wrist guards and knee pads, and he had a helmet on. He was on the beginner's course, doing 360s. He had been doing them all day long, and he never missed a one.

"Then right at the end of the day (Ben now has a stubby finger raised high in the air, preaching...his audience is rapt...pregnant pause)

"He landed one wrong! And bam! He seriously messed up."
How cool.
These are almost all middle-class kids. They're mainly white. The few black kids are from affluent neighborhoods. It costs $11.50 to skate for one six-and-a-half-hour session. Skaters who buy a $75 annual membership can skate for $5.50 a session.

But here in the 'burbs, cost is a relative thing. Jon Hux, 17, from Dallas, says, "I've played hockey, baseball, soccer. This is a much harder sport, more technical, and it doesn't cost as much as those other sports."

He points out that a season of select soccer can cost a family a few thousand dollars. For a grand's worth of equipment and admission fees, the same kid can skate for a year.

Vicki Eisenberg says some girls skate at the park. They tend to skate very well.

"And I hate how the boys talk about them. These girls look so great out there, and the boys act like they're just in the way. But then again..."

A pause. A major truth is coming.
"Boys are idiots."

The question is whether it's a great idea to encourage them to be idiots. Aren't they big enough idiots at birth? Do they need help becoming even bigger idiots?

That question and others about boys are at the center of a relatively recent movement toward boy studies among child development experts. The tendency in the last 10 to 20 years has been to focus on girls, on the assumption that a bigoted male-dominated society was screwing them up. But some experts now are saying there is no real comfort to be taken from the fact that boys may be screwing themselves up.

Michael Gurian, a psychotherapist in Spokane, Washington, is author of The Wonder of Boys and an upcoming book, A Fine Young Man. He argues that adolescent and pre-adolescent males are going to find their way to some kind of high-risk competitive group activity no matter what anybody says about it.

"Fifty to 100 years ago," Gurian says, "this same age group of young males would have been starting getting trained for war. Even today, in pre-adolescence they are already discovering their warrior nature. It's instinctual. Testosterone is an aggression hormone."

Gurian doesn't really know anything about aggressive skating, but says nevertheless it doesn't sound like a bad venue for instinctual warriorism, especially given the less attractive alternatives (street gangs, law school, etc.).

"It isn't necessarily the case that this activity is going to make them brutal. They're probably using their wounds as badges of honor, which is very warrior-like, but in the process they may be developing empathy for each other, acting as each other's doctors and nurses out there."

Something on this order, for these boys, is not only natural, he says, it's inevitable.

"If you could check the boys medically who are doing this aggressive skating, I could almost guarantee you that you would find normal to elevated testosterone levels."

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