Written by Tim Mogridge
Today I met a self-harmer. In fact, I met her over a year ago but it wasn’t until today that I found out she cut herself. At first, I was shocked to see the scars on her arms, but morbid fascination meant I couldn’t stop looking.
Then my shock turned to realisation as from the forcing-myself-to-look-at-something-else stare I became aware that I too have repeated cuts and scars on my arms and legs, all from my way of coping with the world. Skateboarding.
The more I thought about it, the more similarities between self-harm and skating there were. The pain, the scars, the so-called ‘buzz’. It just seemed weird that the two could be connected. Then it dawned on me. Perhaps I wasn’t just a skateboarder. Maybe I might be a self-harmer. The age groups that commonly practise both activities are quite similar. Studies of self-harmers produced a profile of those that cut themselves regularly.
Mid twenties to early thirties, who first started when they were 14. The average age of a skateboarder is around 19, and nearly all of them started around the age of 14. It’s not surprising though that these age groups are similar. It’s widely recognized that the age group of 15 to 24 year olds is a stage of increased vulnerability and high suicide rates. TransWorld estimated that in 1995 there were about 6.5million skateboarders in the US, whilst Favazaa, author of Body’s Under Siege, conducted the largest study of self-mutilation which concluded that about 2million Americans regularly cut themselves. However, self-harm figures are based on those cases that make it to hospital, and since the majority of cases don’t, those figures can seem obsolete.
Similarly, skateboarding is such a wide-spread activity that it seems useless trying to count how many of use there are. So these two cult groups, with their millions of participants, both have the same agenda: to go out and harm themselves. I know that I go and skate until I hurt myself, forcing my body to take more pain so I can skate longer.
Self inflicted violence (SIV) still carries the same stigma that drug addiction does; many people never “come out”. I remember when I first started skating, about the time that skateboarding was coming out its 90’s depression but it still wasn’t ‘cool’ again, and for ages I felt embarrassed to stay that I skated in case I got the piss taken out of me. God knows what I’d have done if I was cutting myself. There’s no standing up and saying “I’m a self-harmer and proud of it”. Repeated self-inflicted slashes of arms, legs, faces, and even broken bones. Skateboarding or self-harm?
Both actually. Self-harmers often cut themselves haphazardly with broken glass or blades, whilst skateboarder’s preferred method is using the harsh concrete of the urban landscape.
Skaters even analyse the surface they’re riding on in terms of how much it hurts to fall on it. And the infliction of these injuries can sometimes go too far to the point that the person ends up hospitalised. A cut too deep, or a trick too hard. A friend of mine once completely tore the cartilage out of his knee, purely from skateboarding.
However, the distinction between these cuts is whether they are intentional or not. Self-harm is a focused attempt to cause pain, whilst skaters never injure themselves with intent, it just happens. Another comparison drawn from both skating and self-harm is the “buzz” that is experienced. The feeling of being alive. Many self-mutilators see their cuts as cathartic, as they confront a fear and feel the sense of accomplishment. In Eurydice‘s book Satyricon, she talks to Kim, a self-mutilator who cuts herself to overcome that fear of doing it. “It’s like ‘Yeah! I did it!” she says. And in the same way, skateboarders skate to get the same buzz, but from the feeling of rolling away from a trick. The scars just prove you did it… eventually.
Kim also explains that her scars are meaningful. “I like to carry my history written on my flesh. It’s signs of a life lived“. And skateboarding is no different in this way. I have four circular scars on the lower left side of my back, right on my pelvis, and they’re meaningful to me because they show I skate. They are marks of my past and will show that I skated long after I put down my board away for good. Bloodletting has been around for centuries as a form of medicine. It was widely regarded the shedding blood relieved tension.
Once again, a common factor of both self-harm and skating is this feeling of releasing tension. I skate to get rid of tension or aggression; a self-harmer often feels that bleeding will relieve anxieties or worries. Ivan Hosoi, father of legendary skater Christian, commented on skating in the 70’s, “It was kids letting their aggression out. They just wanted to get a little cut and bleed.”
Most self-harm stems from a feeling of rejection from society, as if they feel they don’t fit into the ideologies placed before them. Because they are aware of the fact that other people feel the same, a closed community is created for these people, giving a feeling of security. The rejection of society for them is exactly the same rejection that Dr. Iain Borden observes in his book Skateboarding, Space and the City. He notes that Oxford skaters are seen to possess ‘a vicious disregard for family, society and British way of life’.
Being an Oxford skater myself, I know that we see ourselves as an elite group known the world over. We have our identity and resent anyone trying to become a part of it. So I can see that the closed community is important to both groups. It makes us feel different and apart from the rest.
Of course, self-harm and skateboarding, whilst similar in a variety of ways, are worlds apart. I can’t really compare them. Self-harmer’s abuse of their bodies is deliberate. The cuts and injuries I get from skating are just a by-product, and I usually don’t know they’re coming. Self-harmers cut themselves because it’s often the only way that they can deal with severe depression, or it stems from abuse as a child. Whilst both groups find an identity through their alienation from the rest of society, the simple fact is that self-harm is a negative attack on the body, and skating is a positive attempt to improve oneself.
I’m not a self-harmer, I’m a skateboarder. If self-harm comes from a feeling of isolation and depression, then I’ll leave you with this quote from Dan Cates: “Everywhere I’ve ever lived and everyone I’ve ever hung out with has always made me feel out of place. I’ve never fitted in everywhere…That’s why I skate“.
Teen-angst? Put down the knife and pick up a skateboard.
Big thanks to Austin Sneed, D-Wood and Matt Sefton for the images.