Skateboard safety should be of paramount importance to every skater but even more so to the beginner.
According to RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) approximately one-third of all skateboarders reporting injuries have less than one week’s skating experience.
Much of it is common sense but I know it’s tempting to just jump on the board and skate.
Don’t do it! When you first start skating you will fall off. But, while a serious injury is always a possibility, if you are well prepared and well protected you can easily minimize the risks.
So, how do you stay safe and still have fun?
First, make sure your skateboard maintenance is up to scratch. Worn wheels, bushes, or bearings can cause the board to be unpredictable. If your board will not cruise in a straight line it will need an overhaul.
Choose a safe area to skate
Skateboarding safety is not just about a well maintained board and a few pads. The place you choose to skate could mean the difference between a great day’s riding and a trip to your local hospital.
First of all make sure you skate as far away from traffic as you can get. My golden rule regarding anything on wheels is this: If it’s bigger than you or faster than you, it has the right of way.
Avoid pedestrians. You hit them, it hurts. Colliding with passers-by is never a good idea. Even if neither of you are injured by the impact the subsequent altercation could prove painful.
It’s not only your own safety you need to consider. If you do skate in an area where there are other people, be polite. We already have a bad reputation, mainly due to the ‘devil may care’ attitude of some skaters. Skateboarding is illegal in many areas because of this. Don’t make the situation worse.
Check the surface you’re going to skate on. Pebbles, twigs and even a crack in the pavement can lock your wheels and pitch you face first onto concrete. Not good.
Choose an area that’s suitable for your level of skating. If it’s your first time on a board you might want to avoid anything more than a slight incline. Never underestimate the speed a skateboard can reach on a hill!
If there’s a skate park in your area, use it. It’s specially designed for skating and should be well maintained. Some parks are supervised by people who are more than willing to give help and advice to beginners. Hopefully you won’t ever need it but there’s usually first aid help on site too.
Skate parks are also great places to meet other skaters. Be friendly and you will find most of them will be happy to give you a few pointers.
Finally, you should check your local laws and by-laws before you skate in public places. A run in with the police is not a great way to end a skating session.
Wear Skateboard Pads
Believe it or not, the easiest thing to do when you first start skating is fall off. Knee and elbow pads will save you a lot of pain. And when you start skating ramps you’ll want hip pads too.
They might feel cumbersome at first but after one or two falls you’ll appreciate them.
So, what do you look for? Pads need to fit well so try them on before you buy. A good skate shop will allow you to do this and will also give you advice about the right ones for you. If you want to buy on line, find out if you can return them if they don’t fit well. Badly fitting pads can rub your skin raw and they’re not going to do you much good if you wear them once then throw them in the back of the cupboard never to see the light of day again.
For street skating and freestyle thinner pads will do but if you eventually go for vert skating you’ll need the more heavily cushioned pads.
Elbow pads: Taking a knock to the elbow really hurts and can do some serious damage. The soft spongy part of the pad will cushion the joint from the impact and the hard plastic outer shell will allow you to slide along the ground without leaving a layer of skin behind.
Knee Pads: Your knees take some major impact if you land on them. Knee pads are also designed to cushion the fall as well as slide along the surface you fall on. Some skaters wear knee gaskets or underpads. These are made of very absorbent material and help to keep the knee pad in place even if the skater sweats a lot. They also offer additional support and give extra cushioning.
Hip pads: These are usually built into a pair of shorts that you wear under your trousers.
Skateboard pads make a huge difference in preventing injuries. Wear them.
Wear a Helmet
A skateboard helmet consists of a hard shell lined with foam which is designed to crush on impact.
The crushing of the foam absorbs the pressure of the blow, protecting your head from serious damage.
Skateboarding helmets must always fit well. Choose the size that fits best and, if necessary, use the fitting pads that should be supplied with it to make the final adjustments.
If possible, buy your first helmet from a shop so that you can try it on. Once you know the size you can buy further helmets from online sources.
The helmet should sit level on your head and be snug enough not to move if you shake your head or move it suddenly.
The chin strap should be adjusted for a comfortable fit. Not tight enough to choke you and not loose enough to come off. Ideally you should be able to get two fingers between your chin and the strap.
A well fitting helmet will not impair your vision, hearing or range of movement.
Always replace your helmet after a fall if you hit your head. If you’re still growing, check the fit regularly and get a new one as you grow.
Skateboard gloves are quite specialized and are designed to allow your hand to slide along the ground when you use your hands for balance, usually in high-speed downhill skating. As a beginner, you won’t be doing this for quite some time.
Usually made of leather, they have pucks on the palm and finger areas to facilitate the slide.
Most leisure skaters these days don’t use gloves, particularly since the use of wrist guards became more popular. However, because of the tendency to want to break your fall with your hands, you may want to use gloves of some sort at first. Though, I highly recommend learning how to fall without extending your arms.
If you have a particular reason to want to skate in gloves, do it. For instance if you plan to be a concert pianist you won’t want to take any risks and should wear gloves as well as wrist guards.
Skateboard Wrist Guards
A skateboard wrist guard is designed help to protect the hands, wrists and forearms during a fall. Wrist injuries are some ofthe most common injuries seen in skateboarders.
The best way to avoid them is to learn to fall properly. Roll into a fall rather than extending your arms to catch yourself.
Wrist guards are usually made of neoprene and have a rigid plastic insert, or puck. This helps to absorb impact during a fall and also helps to slide across the ground. Imagine sliding on a rough surface without the guards and you’ll see why they’re worth the investment. Losing skin is not pleasant.
As with all skateboarding safety gear, a wrist guard should fit well. It should offer firm support without overly impeding your movement.
Learn how to Fall
Skateboarding falls are a part of skating. As a beginner you will fall off your board and it will pay you to learn to minimise possible injuries right from the start.
Wearing the proper safety gear is a step in the right direction but you shouldn’t rely on that alone.
Running off the Board
The first thing to practice is to run out of a fall. If you catch a wheel on something and your board suddenly stops you may avoid a fall by running off your board.
If you can keep your momentum up you may stumble but you’re less likely to fall.
Running off the board is easier said than done and should be practised until you get a feel for it.
While riding at slow speeds try jumping off the board and into a run. You never know when this technique may come in handy.
Rolling into the Fall
Another thing to practice is tucking your arms in when you fall. Instinct tells you to extend your arms to break your fall but all you’re going to break is your wrist if you come off your board onto hard cement.
A skateboarding wrist guard will help but it doesn’t guarantee protection against a fracture if you land on your outstretched hands.
Practice on soft grass and learn to roll out of a fall. Tuck in your arms and elbows and try to roll over your shoulder and onto your back.
The act of rolling will absorb some of the impact and lower the risk of serious damage.
Don’t dwell too much on falling as your aim is to stay on the board. But do occasionally practice good techniques to prevent injuries.
Choose a safe area to skate: Don’t skateboard near traffic or pedestrians. Please consider the safety of others as well as yourself. In some areas, skateboarders already have a reputation for being inconsiderate. Don’t add to this by putting yourself and others at risk.
It is illegal to skateboard in some areas. Make sure you check local laws and bye-laws if you are unsure.
Pad up: Protective pads not only help to absorb the impact of a fall, they also help you to slide across the ground preventing friction injuries.
Some people refuse to wear pads because they think it’s uncool. Don’t be one of them. Uncool is better than losing large amounts of skin, or worse!
Wear a Helmet: Use your head – keep it safe. A helmet is a skateboard safety must. Head injuries are no joke.
Although serious injuries occur rarely it is easy to take a whack on the head if you come off the board. Heads and hard surfaces are not a good combination.
Skateboarding Shoes: These protect your feet and help you to balance. They’ll also last longer than your running shoes will.
Skateboard Gloves: Wearing gloves will help protect your hands from injury.
Wrist Guards: Wrist injuries are among the most common in skateboarding. Wrist guards can be effective protection.
Learn How to Fall: This may seem like a dumb thing to say when the aim is to stay on the board and not go base over apex. But learning how to break your fall safely can prevent serious injury.
That said, try to focus on staying on the board and having a good time. Falls will happen but the more you focus on success the faster you’ll progress.
Avoid alcohol and drugs: Never skate under the influence of mind altering substances, legal or otherwise. It could lead you to believe you’re better than you are. You may wake up in A&E; or worse, you may not wake up at all!
Be responsible, skateboard sensibly. Your skateboard safety depends on it.
And finally, if you are at all unsure regarding your health or fitness, check with your doctor before you take up skateboarding.