My kid got his first bike when he was 3. A two wheeler with training wheels. We taught him what to do, helped him balance, encouraged him, and by the time he was four, the training wheels were off. When he was five, we got him a scooter, and there wasn’t much to teach him: you just scoot. As soon as he had mastered the scooter, he wanted to do tricks and he learned a few by watching kids at the park. But this year, my parents got him a skateboard.
And I didn’t even know where to start. I’ve never used a skateboard, never been snowboarding, and am frankly a bit scared of it. It seems dangerous. So, I decided to write this post to learn about resources that are available to teach my son how to skateboard, and the risk involved in this sport.
Skateboarding: The Risks
In 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that skateboards led to 50 thousand ER visits a year and 1500 hospitalizations. 90% of these injuries were in boys. These numbers are for kids and teenagers alone, though they may be declining due to a drop in the sports’ popularity. Other points of interest include:
- After taking into account the number of people participating in the sport, there are twice as many skateboarding accidents than rollerblading, but there are twice as many basketball accidents than skateboarding.
- Skateboarding accidents in kids and teens tend to be more severe than rollerskating or rollerblading.
- 38% of all skateboarding injuries occur in ankle, wrist, and face.
- Only 5% of injuries are severe (including concussions).
- A large fraction of injuries are moderate (including broken bones).
- Most fractures occur when trying to perform a stunt or trick.
- Hospitalization due to a skateboarding injury doesn’t happen often, but a quarter of these cases happen because the child is hit by a car.
- A review published in 2015 found that the most severe injuries to the head happen in children under the age of 5.
It was interesting to learn that many skateboarding accidents occur when protective equipment is being used. This might be because protective equipment gives the skateboarder a sense of invincibility, so they try tricks and movements which they may not be skilled enough to do.
Skateboarding: Minimizing Risks
At what age can kids skateboard?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than five should not skateboard, and those under the age of 10 be closely supervised when skateboarding. They explain that this recommendation is because young children think that they’re pretty powerful: they think of themselves as being stronger, faster, and more skilled than they actually are, so they don’t make very good decisions when it comes to judging distances and speeds (if your child is anything like mine, he believes that he’s faster than Flash so this resonated a lot with me). Young children also have a high center of gravity and their muscles are not well developed, so they can’t balance well or protect themselves from injuries.
What protective equipment should be used?
Protective equipment is the best way of minimizing injury. However, as discussed in a previous piece on risk, zero risk is impossible. So even the proper use of protective equipment will not eliminate serious injuries from skateboarding.
Due to the high risk of falling, skateboarding requires more protective equipment than other sports. The recommended pieces are helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards. Recommendations also include close toed shoes that are slip resistant.
Note that wrist guards are not the same thing as gloves, and our family found that wrist guards really helped decrease scrapes on hands. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons stresses that wrist guards also reduce the chance of breaking your wrist when you fall.
The importance of proper helmet use
Helmets have to be properly certified, so be sure that your helmet has “stickers of approval from one or more organizations such as the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)”. The CDC recommends that the labels include the certification that the helmet meets the standards of National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).
Helmets should also be worn properly and the CDC has a detailed factsheet on relevant information to consider when selecting. These include:
- Take your child to pick the helmet to ensure that it’s a good fit. Your child may also be more likely to wear the equipment if they help pick it.
- Consider that the hairstyle when fitting the helmet be the same hairstyle worn when skateboarding.
- Helmet sizes, like clothes, vary from brand to brand. So be sure to check the sizing for the brand you’re considering.
To ensure that the helmet is a good fit:
- It should fit snugly around the head, meaning that there shouldn’t be space between the padding and the head.
- The helmet should sit in such a way that “the front rim of the helmet aligns with the skateboarder’s eyebrows and the back of the helmet does not touch the top of the skateboarder’s neck”. (NOTE: upon reading this requirement, I realize that the bike helmet that my son has been using is unsuitable for skateboarding).
- Make sure that your child’s visibility is not blocked, particularly from side-to-side
- “The side straps should make a “V” shape under, and slightly in front of, the skateboarder’s ears”.
- For the fitting of the chin straps, tell your child to open their mouth as wide as they can, and the helmet should pull down on their head. If this doesn’t happen, the strap needs to be tightened.
- Once the chin strap is tightened, the helmet shouldn’t move.
Replace the helmet if it is damaged, cracked, if the padding is falling apart, or if the helmet has been involved in a serious crash.
How to encourage your child to use proper equipment
Studies have shown that the use of protective equipment is highest in skateboarders who are part of clubs that require proper equipment use. Ironically, equipment use is also higher among people who have already had an injury.
However, compliance with recommendations on equipment use is pretty low. One study found that only 5% of children wear proper limb protection. Low helmet and equipment use is often attributed to skateboarding “tradition”, and just a stroll through a skateboarding park will attest to the fact that few skateboarders wear protective equipment. Studies have shown that skateboarders are more compliant with protective equipment use if there are laws that impose their use. Parents can encourage their parks and recreations department, city council, or proper authorities to make this happen.
How to get started
Where to skateboard?
Skateboarding should be done on a smooth surface, without any jagged structures. Before starting, check the surface to make sure that there aren’t any cracks or rocks that might cause a tumble. Any conditions where visibility is impaired or there’s an increased risk for sliding should be avoided (including rain).
Skateboard parks have the benefit of not being near car or pedestrian traffic. However, a lot of the surfaces designed for tricks (ramps, rails, etc), can increase the risk of injuries for young skateboarders. Consider learning on a flat surface until you have the skills and strength needed to tackle the challenges at the skatepark. Using homemade ramps are also highly discouraged.
Despite how awesome it seemed when Marty McFly did in “Back to the Future”, children should never “hitch a ride” from a moving vehicle when on their skateboard.
Learning how to fall
I had never thought about this aspect of skateboarding, but it makes sense: if you learn how to fall so that you minimize the impact, you also decrease your risk of injury. Recommendations from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons state:
- Skateboarders should crouch when they feel like they’re losing balance. It decreases the distance from the board to the ground, so the skateboarder won’t hit the ground as hard.
- Learn to fall on the fleshy parts of your body, rather than your arms.
- Learn to “relax and roll”.
With most activities, whether it’s PokemonGo or bunny hops on the scooter, we’ve been able to learn the basics from YouTube videos. However, we really struggled with skateboarding. We couldn’t find a resource that was age appropriate for a kindergartener, and my son ended up getting more confused than anything else. We finally struck gold discovering a YouTube channel called SkateXS. It bears noting that they have little content and what’s there is pretty basic, but the explanations go at a good pace so there’s no confusion.
Skateboarding is a great sport. Not only is there the physical component, but there’s a strong social component as kids build friendships at parks and clubs. And learning that it’s actually less risky than basketball in terms of injuries was a great perspective for me. I hope it is for you too!