While shredding and grinding the steps and ledges in front of him, a teenage skateboarder yelled to his friends after landing a trick, “I’m never up this early to skate, but today, I wanted to be here to support Black Lives Matter with other skaters, so I rallied.” A chorus of “me too!” immediately followed. Early morning is not most skateboarder’s favorite time to be up and skating, but this past Sunday was the exception to the unspoken rule.
More than 100 skaters gathered at 9 a.m. in front of Venice High School to take part in the first skateboarder-led protest in support of Black Lives Matter that Los Angeles has seen since George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25. In recent days, similar protests took place in Philadelphia, Portland and San Francisco. But Southern California, where skateboarding was born, had yet to see such a demonstration, and skaters felt this was an important way to support Black Lives Matter.
From children as young as 3 to full-fledged adults, skateboarders came from as far away as the San Fernando Valley and Orange County to participate in a protest and 2.4-mile skate from the high school to Venice Skate Park. All with the intention of lending support and awareness to an issue that is not traditionally discussed among skaters, who live by the credo: “If you skate, you are family.”
As the sun rose in the sky, the morning kicked off with skaters hanging out while they waited for friends to arrive and the protest to start. Police occasionally drove by and kept going when they saw that the growing crowd was peaceful. A nod and a drive-by from police is not something most skaters are accustomed to. Being stopped for skateboarding in places that police may deem “off-limits” is a common occurrence, and the interaction skaters receive is not usually pleasant. Sometimes it even gets physical.
It was made clear in social media posts and during an announcement at the beginning of the event that for once this was to be a skate gathering that had no connection to a skating brand, movement or organization. There were no organizers’ names or Instagram accounts to follow listed on the flier that was widely circulated throughout the skateboard community. Once people arrived on the lawn adjacent to the high school, they were informed via a loudspeaker that “no one person or group in skateboarding put on this event. Every single one of you who told a friend, shared info on social media, stepped up to speak and are here today helped put this on — it is all of us!”
The protest kicked off with four Black speakers who were also skateboarders and varied in age and backgrounds. Venice skateboarder and emergency room doctor David Hobley shared stories that brought him to tears at one point, and he had to compose himself before going on. Freddie De Sota, a ’70s skateboarding legend, told the crowd that his 85-year-old dad would be amazed to see the fight for change that will hopefully benefit the next generation. Divinity, the only female speaker, gave a passionate speech detailing her struggles with police brutality and how she feels that being Black, a woman and a skateboarder all contribute to her unease when being approached by the police. She ended her talk telling the crowd: “I’m going to say the names of Black people who should have never died.” As she read the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Ahmad Arbery, Freddie Gray, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Brown and more, she asked the crowd to say, “I love you!” after each name.
The last speaker in the group was well-known Venice skateboarder and coach Eric “Tuma” Britton who finished off the morning by reminding parents and everyone in the crowd that “kids are important, they are the next generation and everything we are doing should be to help them.”
As soon as the speeches were over, the skaters grabbed their boards, belongings and signs and hit the street for the long trek down Venice Boulevard — some stopped traffic briefly as they rode west down Venice Boulevard in the eastbound lanes toward oncoming traffic, before switching over to the westbound lanes. Cars stopped for the group and honked and cheered in a show of support. Some protesters came on bikes to join the skaters, and a few were on rollerskates. As long as you were protesting and yelling “Black Lives Matter” or carrying a protest sign, it didn’t seem to matter what wheels you were riding. The goal was all the same.
Venice Skate Park, with its amazing location right on the beach, had a cool breeze blowing through, which was a welcome relief from the warmer inland temperatures. Once they arrived, some protesters chose to skate — with signs still in their hands — for the crowd that is always there to watch them do their tricks and flips. Others placed their handmade signs in the railings that surround the entrance to the skate park, creating a makeshift memorial to remember the day and keep Black Lives Matter as the focus for skaters and spectators alike.