SPORTS: “Ramp It Up!” rolls into New York

Posted on February 3rd, 2010 by americanindiannews in Past News

New York—“Ramp It Up!”, an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City until June 27, focuses on one of the most popular forms of recreation in Native communities—in addition to better-known Indian Country sports like basketball, lacrosse and rodeo.

By Walt Pourier, Nakota Designs, Inc. Images from the All Nations Skate Jam in 2008 and 2009, held in the Los Altos Skate Park in Albuquerque, N.M., on the same weekend as the Gathering of Nations Powwow.

By Walt Pourier, Nakota Designs, Inc. The All Nations Skate Jam is held in the Los Altos Skate Park in Albuquerque, N.M., on the same weekend as the Gathering of Nations Powwow.

Skateboarding is an indigenous American sport, said curator Betsy Gordon. Using historic and contemporary photos, the exhibition explores the Native skateboard movement.

Skateboards were born of Hawaiian surf culture, rooted in ancient traditions of the Polynesian islands. Surfers figure in the Hawaiian Islands’ ancient petroglyphs. The 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” narrated by Sean Penn, tells the story of the young skaters in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1970s who evolved modern skateboarding by borrowing the styles of renowned Native Hawaiian surfer Larry Bertlemann.

“Larry Bertlemann started surfing in a remarkable way,” Gordon said. “He had a low-slung way, aggressively darting in and out of the waves. There were a group of surfers who wanted to emulate what Larry was doing on his surfboard, and they did it on skateboards.”

American Indian kids followed the trends, skating on homemade ramps and paved parking lots. As the Native skaters of the 1970s and 1980s matured, they looked to skateboarding as a way to promote a healthy lifestyle and culture among Native young people.

In the past decade, several small Native-owned skateboard companies have emerged, such as Jim Murphy’s Wounded Knee Skateboards in the New York City borough of Queens.

“The reason I am doing this company is not to make money, except to keep it going so when I go to Wounded Knee, I can take boards,” said Murphy, who was a pro skateboarder in the 1980s and is of Lenni Lenape descent. “I know what it is to grow up poor, and what a difference it makes when I can give a board away to a kid who I know can’t afford it.”

Native skateboarders have been putting culturally significant designs on skateboard decks almost from the beginning. Many of the skateboards feature Native graphics like big eagle feathers and medicine wheels.

In recent years, new skate parks are being built at reservations across the country, including Cheyenne River Sioux in Eagle Butte, S.D.; Osage Nation in Pawhuska, Okla.; and Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Ariz. Some communities report a decline in crime after establishing the parks, which offer tribal youth something fun to do, Murphy said.

One central place the Native skate community gathers is the All Nations Skate Jam, held every year at the same time as the Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, N.M. It attracts hundreds of American Indian kids who glide and fly on their skateboards while friends and families watch. With pro skaters offering demonstrations in a festival atmosphere over two days, the jam drew nearly 1,000 registrants last April.

“Once they start skateboarding,” said Murphy, of Wounded Knee Skateboards, “they are part of a global community.”


By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

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