Skaters grind away stigma

On a campus with skateboarding bans, new group Skate-U-Mah aims to change negative images associated with skaters.

Sarah Connor

A small crowd of students formed outside Nicholson Hall on Saturday to gawk as Jack Lunt and Ben Vaske nailed trick after trick on their skateboards. Soon after, they said, a University of Minnesota Police Department officer broke up the show and told the two to pack up.

“It’s always just a warning, though,” said Vaske, a strategic communications sophomore.

Stigmatized by a campus ban on their favorite pastime, University skateboarding enthusiasts pulled together a new student group, Skate-U-Mah, which in part aims to change how campus authority figures view skaters, said group president Dan Rusin.

“We want to make a more positive image of skateboarding with a group of dedicated college students that are doing things with their lives,” the geography junior said.

Each of Skate-U-Mah’s five members said police have given them warnings for skating on University property and asked them to leave campus on dozens of occasions.

According to the University rules, skateboarding on campus is strictly prohibited and rule-breakers could get slapped with a $100 fine and have their board confiscated for up to a day.

Members of the group said their community’s image problem over the years has stemmed mostly from police officers, security monitors and some professors.

“Students don’t care if you’re skating. They get it. We’re just trying to have fun,” Rusin said.

The group’s original intent was to advocate for a University policy that would give students a safe place to practice on campus, Rusin said, but Skate-U-Mah dashed those plans after members became concerned they would be confined to the designated space.

Lunt, a marketing junior who serves as Skate-U-Mah’s co-chair, said rules against skating have plagued campus boarders for decades.

“Skateboarding has been going on at the University of Minnesota since before we were all born,” he said, adding that he’s watched videos dating back to the 1980s of students tearing it up on campus. “Some of the ledges they use in the videos are the same ledges we use
now.”

Skate-U-Mah also provides the opportunity to meet like-minded students, Rusin said.

“There are a lot of skaters from out of town — I guess you could say they’re closet skaters — where you don’t know that they skate, they don’t look like skaters, but then you get them on a board and they kill it,” he said.

By riding their boards across a sprawling urban campus, members hope to foster a close-knit community, said Travis Wood, the group’s vice president.

The group plans to use University spaces to premiere local skate videos, Rusin said, and even hopes to attract young skateboarders to the school.

“[Showing the videos] kind of gets the local skate scene hyped on what we’re doing and what the University is doing,” he said. “It’s showing that the ‘U’ doesn’t just kick you out.”

Skate-U-Mah members hope its formation will connect them with other students who share their passion.

“Every time you land a trick you’ve been working for, it’s like an adrenaline rush,” Rusin said. “You just get addicted to that feeling, and you want to experience it more and more.”