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Skaters, public weigh in on safety as Los Angeles downhill skateboarding ban looms

by Jefferson Yen | Off-Ramp®

A young boy performs a slide while skateboarding down 14th Street on May 27. Jefferson Yen

Earlier this year, two teenagers died in separate incidents while riding their skateboards downhill in San Pedro. In May, Los Angeles City Council begun exploring a measure to ban downhill skating in response. The proposed ordinance, which could be approved by the city council before the end of August, would prohibit skateboarders traveling over 25 miles an hour.

Off-Ramp contributor Jefferson Yen went to San Pedro to find out how people are reacting to proposed ordinance.

It’s a sunny afternoon in San Pedro and Lafayette Martin is skating with a friend in Averill Park.

Martin, 19, and his friend Niguel Dottin, also 19, perform tricks on the sidewalk.

San Pedro has skateboarders like any other city but because of the city’s hilly terrain, there are many who practice skating downhill, known colloquially as “bombing.”

Two teenage skateboarders died earlier this year, in separate incidents, both from falling while skating downhill in San Pedro. In light of their deaths, Los Angeles City Council began exploring a measure to ban downhill skateboarding.

When asked about the proposed ordinance, Martin concedes the council’s idea has its merits.

“But when people are skating down the hills, we can’t really test how fast we’re going,” said Martin.

Martin added a caveat saying that he only skated downhill to get from one place to another and not as a recreational activity. He pointed out that his board – the kind of skateboard most people imagine – was built for performing tricks. Skaters who like to skate downhill or “bomb” use larger boards that can go faster.

What’s the draw of downhill skating? Martin pointed to a prominent feature of San Pedro: the terrain.

“We have a lot of hills, nice hills that you can pick up a lot of speed. It’s the thrill of it, kids love it,” he said.

Chris Gregg, 42, echoed Martin’s sentiments.

“I think it’s kind of naive,” said Gregg with a laugh. “The helmet part’s great. But the part of the skateboard going under 25 miles per hour? No, some kids are downhill skaters that’s what they get their kicks on. Twenty-five miles per hour... that’s a little unreasonable.”

Others aren’t as thrilled about skaters using the city’s roads for recreation. Natalie Suric, 20, and Reana Burich, 20, support the council’s push to ban downhill skating.

“I think the whole downhill skating should be illegal, period. Because so many times coming down the hill, right here, I’ve almost hit them,” said Suric.

Burich agreed, adding that she has also had close calls with skateboarders

Some, like Heather Hovard, thought it would be best if the city built another skatepark so accidental deaths wouldn’t happen on the streets.

“The physical activity of skateboarding--I’m not against. But I think there needs to be a place for these kids to go,” Hovard said.

She voiced support for the city council’s ordinance. Adding that she was frustrated that police officers did not cite skateboarders for violating traffic regulations.

While reactions are mixed, the true test lies in the poposed law's ability to deter skateboarders - a group known to push the envelope - from skating downhill.

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