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Skate Safety: A Crash Course
By Sky Siljeg

Mike Lavallee of with Sky
Mike Lavallee of with Sky
(Photo: Carlos Ojeda)
"No, I never thought that would happen to me, and I had only been skating without a helmet on street for a few months," said 16-year-old Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins. "It sure taught me a lesson!"

These are not the words of a beginning skateboarder. Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins, winner of the top positions in both women's street and vert the past three years at the Gravity and X-Games, has been skating since she was a year old. She showed me pictures of the 11 staples that had held her head together as she told me about one of the toughest lessons she had to learn about skating safely.

"I was always the one to wear my helmet . . . and then a few months before I got hurt I went without a helmet," said Hawkins. "I felt good on my board so I just kept skating street without it."

As for me—I skate safely, and I am grateful to the sponsors who encourage me to stay protected. Bob Hendrich of Khiro Skateboard Products always ends his e-mails to me by writing, "Skate safe." He will not put pictures of skaters in his ads or flyers, if they aren't wearing safety gear. It's an important message, and one he takes very seriously (Hendrich lost a close friend and a fellow pro to a head injury he got while skating without a helmet).

"If it were not for a family rule that I have to wear a helmet when hitting sliders, I think I would have been severely injured during my [wakeboarding] crash in 2004," said Phillip Soven, a 16-year-old team rider for Liquid Force and Pro-Tec. Phillip has been riding professionally for 6 years and was 14 at the time of his accident. "The whole episode was filmed, and it was apparent that my helmet took the brunt of the force," he said. "It was clear that my skull was securely protected despite the degree of the impact, and I avoided suffering anything greater than cosmetic injuries."

My friend Phil Kammer is a pro skater for Manik Skateboards. The first time he hit his head skating, he spent five days in intensive care. "In just one small fall I cracked my head in two places, bruised the front of my brain, and went partially deaf in my left ear," he said. "I was told I could never skate again. I just believed I would and now I am . . . I don't want this to happen again."

Head injury is accumulative. This means that every time you hit your head, the risks are greater. "Second Impact Syndrome" occurs when the combined effect of repeated head trauma becomes fatal. Two injuries that might be considered mild separately can have serious results when combined. In fact, it takes less of a blow to cause injury the second time, and longer to recover. A person who suffers a concussion is up to four times more likely to have another.

Phillip Soven, Professional Wakeboarder
Phillip Soven, Professional Wakeboarder
(Photo: Courtesy of Phillip Soven)
Lyn Z, who rides for TSG safety gear, can give people plenty of reasons to skate with a helmet. "It's uncool when you have huge metal staples in your head like I did," she said. "It's uncool to see a friend not wear a helmet and get so badly hurt that they don't know who you are . . . It's uncool to look into someone's eyes and they look empty because they have had so many concussions."

Some of my favorite parks require safety gear. I skate for Pro-Tec safety gear, and my helmet is pretty cool. It's got a job from Mike Lavallee (seen on Monster Garage and Overhaulin'), and it helps me to "skate safe" every time I wear it.

Safety Tips

Pads: When skating vert ramps, it is important to wear quality knee pads to slide out of missed tricks without injuring your knees. I would recommend getting properly fitting gear from a company that makes protective gear for skating. Pro-Tec is my sponsor for pads and their pads help me to skate as hard as I like. They come in different thicknesses for different types of skating. They even have knee pads to go under your jeans.

Rules of the road: When I first started skating, my mom made me watch the "flow" of the skate park before I just jumped out there. It is kind of like learning to drive. You would not put yourself out on the wrong side of a freeway or drive across traffic. "Snaking" is cutting in on someone's line—do not snake another skater. When skating on the street, be aware of where you are. Watch for cars, people, and objects in the area. Do not skate where you are not allowed.

Equipment: Make sure you have good gear. Helmets that don't fit well or straps that are not buckled will not protect you sufficiently. Get good equipment (board, trucks, bearings, and wheels). Check out the nuts and bolts to make sure your ride is in good shape. We trust our boards to take us to greater heights, so we need to be responsible to take care of them. Wear shoes that are meant for skating. Companies like Ipath make shoes that not only protect your feet with added padding but also have gummy soles for gripping the board better.

Action sports are about going big, having fun and hanging out with your friends. If you take care of yourself, they are something you can enjoy doing for many years.

Remember to skate safe!