Many thanks to Tony and Alex at Enclave Skate Shop in New Haven, who saw my skateboarding questions and decided they would step in and try to answer them all. Their first installment is here, where they've done an amazing job with the first set of questions!
This should be required reading for all parents of new skateboarders...and maybe even not-so-new skateboarders. With about four years of skateboarding behind us, I don't think of us as beginner parents, but we still have a lot to learn about the sport.
Safety is a big issue for me - as I hope it would be for any parent - and I was particularly glad that the Enclave guys tackled the helmet issue. They write:
One of the biggest differences between a standard bicycle helmet and a skateboard helmet is durability. A bicycle helmet is designed to be replaced after an impact as the styrofoam and plastic is designed to crush to absorb heavy impacts. A skateboard helmet absorbs the impact in the plastic dome and soft fabric/foam inserts inside and can withstand hundreds of impacts without failing.
We have always had a skateboard helmet for Sk8terdude (and OlderBrother, when he was still skating), but it always amazes me when I go to the skatepark and I see parents strapping bike helmets on their kids...and 9 times out of 10 those bike helmets aren't fitted properly, either. And it boggles my mind that the skateboarding industry and the insurance companies aren't pushing for more stringent safety measures, particularly when it comes to helmets. (Although I suppose I shouldn't be surprised here in Connecticut, where helmets are also optional for motorcycle riders, which is even more mind-boggling to me.)
A study of the national trauma database confirms that "Skateboard-related injuries are associated with a high incidence of traumatic brain injury..." Why would anyone want to risk permanent brain damage just so they could skate without a helmet? For more information about skateboard helmet safety and standards, click here.
Even WITH a helmet, there are no guarantees.
In June, 2008, Sk8terdude went to the now-defunct Vertigo Skatepark for what was supposed to be a fun Saturday afternoon of skating. Sk8terdad settled down in the parent lounge with a good book, but about ten minutes after they arrived, Sk8terdude returned to the parent lounge, crying and asking to go home. He was hysterical, and asking for me, so Sk8terdad packed him into the car and phoned to let me know they were on their way back, saying that he wasn't sure what had happened. I spoke to Sk8terdude briefly, but he was hard to understand through his tears, and he wasn't giving me much information, just repeating over and over that "it hurt."
I ran out to meet them in the driveway. When the door opened, I saw that Sk8terdude had a rapidly developing black and blue mark on his face. It looked like the edge of the skateboard might have hit him. I took him inside, handed him an ice pack, and tried to figure out what happened. As the conversation progressed, my concern increased. Sk8terdude asked repeatedly where OlderBrother was (outside, playing football with a friend in the front yard). Then he asked me what happened. When I said that I wasn't sure, but that I thought that either he had fallen at the skatepark or the skateboard had hit him in the head, he asked me which skatepark. It took a moment for me to register that he was serious. He had no idea where he had been skating, and, as it turned out, what I thought was unwillingness to tell me what had happened was actually an inability to tell me - because he didn't remember how he had gotten hurt.
As it turned out, that wasn't all he didn't remember.
We took him to the emergency room. The doctor started her assessment by asking Sk8terdude some simple questions, including the standard, "How old are you?"
Sk8terdude gave the wrong answer.
I was surprised (and now REALLY upset). "Don't you remember that you just had a birthday?" I asked him.
It turned out he didn't remember his birthday, or the fact that to celebrate we had taken him to his very first Yankees game, or a whole host of other things. In the end, it seemed that he had lost about six weeks worth of memories.
One CAT scan later and we were out of the ER with a confirmed diagnosis of a concussion, instructions to follow up with our pediatrician, a very black and blue face, and two very upset parents.
Over time, Sk8terdude has regained his memory of the baseball game, although he still doesn't know what really happened at Vertigo that day. We know he was skating the big half-pipe at the time. (There were no cameras at Vertigo, so there's no videotape to review. We phoned the park when we were on the way to the hospital, since we knew any information about how the injury occurred would be helpful, but none of the kids skating that day saw him get hurt - or were willing to say that they saw it.) To this day we don't know if the skateboard hit him or if he slipped and hit his head on the edge of the half-pipe, and I suppose we'll never know.
It was many weeks before he was allowed to skate again (doctor's orders...my orders might have kept him out longer). And many months before I let Sk8terdad take him to the skatepark instead of me. Yes, I know that was completely irrational. The injury had absolutely nothing to do with which one of us was sitting in the parent lounge that day. But for months I would watch him skate, instead of reading a book, etc., because somehow I felt like if I was actually watching, he couldn't, or wouldn't, get hurt...or at least if something did happen, I would be able to tell the doctors what had transpired.
Sk8terdude has long since recovered from that concussion. Me...not so much.
I know that most parks don't require helmets for skaters over the age of 18 but I hope Sk8terdude NEVER skates without one. I can't even let myself think about what would have happened that day if he hadn't been wearing his.
May this never happen to any of you.