Crusin’ in the Cape
Surfboarding and skateboarding are inherent activities to a beach town like Cape May. Surfing may have spawned skating, originally referred to as “sidewalk surfing” in the 1950s. Designed to emulate riding waves on the west coast, skateboarding eventually became a cultural phenomenon and serious sport. The progression of skateboarding was gradual at first but significantly boomed in the 1990s and has undergone a powerful resurgence over the past decade.
The impression of skate culture appears vastly different from the laid-back air around surfing, and part of this comes down to environmental factors. Skateboarding became popular in urban areas where folks are surrounded by concrete rather than ocean currents. Skate culture developed into an ethos of edginess and grit, both intimidating and intriguing.
Historically associated with punk rock music and general rebellion, skate culture most importantly is tied to the attitude to “just go for it.” Skateboarders push themselves in more ways than physical momentum. The risk factor in skating requires a level of gumption and courageousness that earns respect for skaters and has resulted in the sport achieving astounding advancement in a short amount of time.
Only three years ago the first-ever United States Skateboarding Olympic team made its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. This illustrates that increase in popularity and exposure, as well as the improvement of the sport. It also means that a previously somewhat exclusive activity perceived valuable strictly for recreation has infiltrated the mainstream.
It is natural to want to gatekeep what is sacred and worth cherishing, but once enough people are exposed to the same enjoyment the lid is bound to be blown off. This happened with skateboarding. But that’s got to be good for business, right? Cape May has a few surf shops that also carry skateboarding products, including Summer Sun on The Washington Street Mall and Southend Surf Shop on Beach Avenue.
Daniel DeCamillo, Cape May County native and owner of Summer Sun, began his retail pursuits in Cape May in 1982. He sold surfing and skating products and has witnessed the progression of both activities in town for over 40 years. About 30% of Summer Sun is skate oriented. His shop carries all the supplies necessary to build a skateboard from scratch. From decks to trucks to wheels, as well as pre-assembled boards, Dan is there to provide for skaters at any stage of their journey.
“Building a skateboard is about personal choices,” says Dan. When he is guiding a customer through what product would suit them best, he understands that approaching skating is an individual experience based on prior knowledge and general style, so he gathers information from them.
Because Dan grew up in Cape May County both skating and surfing, he has plenty of first-hand experience of cultural elements to consider. “Once skateboarders realize you are talking straight across to them and not down to them, they have a lot to say,” said Dan. Many of the stigmas around skateboarders have changed, like the assumptions of delinquency and ignorance. But stigmas are stubborn and breaking them down takes time and communication—sometimes even extending an olive branch.
Once you secure your gear, where do you go to actually skate? Cape May surprisingly does not have a designated skatepark. This has certainly generated some hostility among the locals who have a real talent and passion for these rolling wooden planks. It is shocking that this activity rooted in riding ocean waves has not merited its own space here. Perhaps with a designated area for skateboarders to practice and cavort, we could chip away at some of those outdated and unreasonable stigmas.
There are not many true skateparks near Cape May, either. The closest is the North Wildwood Skatepark located by the back bay. It includes a large bowl with a few ramps, great for transition skating. Then there’s the Sea Isle Skatepark, which has a more dynamic spread, including a half pipe, some mini ramps, ledges, and rails. The versatility of this park affirms its appeal to both beginners and more advanced skaters. There is a skatepark in Ocean City with similar features to Sea Isle’s and is also for all levels, with a street skating set up as well as ramps. The rules and restrictions vary for each park, such as whether they allow riding anything but skateboards on the premises.
A byproduct of Cape May’s skatepark scarcity is the creativity it fosters in local skaters. Imagination is key in skateboarding, and a lack of resources makes for some inventive tricks and rule bending ideas, though being reprimanded is practically inevitable. That said, the local skateboarding restrictions are not nearly as harsh as they used to be.
Dave Matagiese, owner of Southend Surf Shop, has witnessed the shifts in attitude about local skateboarding. “The biggest change we’ve seen is acceptance of the sport. When we first started, skateboarding was illegal in Cape May. Literally. We used to have our skateboards confiscated by law enforcement back in the 90s when it was prohibited to skate in town,” remembers Dave.
Founder Doug Caffrey bought Farias Surf and Sport in 2002 and opened Southend Surf Shop. Their inventory is reflective of surf skating and longboard styles of skating popular in coastal areas like ours. “Today, we are more heavily weighted on longboard inventory than street decks. Skateboarding in general is a very visual sport, where people see skaters cruising down the street on their longboards, looking smooth and effortless as they weave along the rows of parked cars,” says Dave. It sounds like local skaters are terrific natural advertisements.
This style of skate is great for cruising but also for speed. As street skating blew up, the distinction between surf skating and street skating became more prominent. Surfing and skating are inextricably linked, especially in a beach town, and as each continues to grow, the hybrid seems to transcend passing trends. Neil Carver, the owner of surf skate brand Carver, said in an article with Juice Magazine, “The influences between surf and skate reverberate back and forth, each one perpetually influencing the other at key developmental stages along their evolutionary paths.”
A popular and personal favorite surf skate brand is Carver, carried at Southend Surf Shop. In adolescence my friends and I took to surf skating for not only recreation but as a means of transportation. Now that we have crossed into adulthood and are licensed drivers, getting on a board and gliding through town is for the purpose of pure joy and liberation.
Cruising through scenic Cape May, drawing fresh salty air into your lungs, weaving between cars, and getting lost in a gaze when we cruise down our favorite streets like Perry, Hughes, and Gurney, then refueling at a pizza shop with best friends feels like my version of Cape May. Riding down a smooth open road on a board with big wheels and loose trucks can pull you into a trance.
“Riding down a smooth open road on a board with big wheels and loose trucks can pull you into a trance.”
“We’re seeing a big renaissance of skating talent in our area. The fact that the culture has become widely accepted creates a much more friendly space for these skaters to flourish and grow the sport. We welcome it with open arms and love seeing our local crews getting recognition on a larger stage,” said Dave Matagiese. You can spot the newer generation of skaters riding around town and it prompts optimism for the future of local skating.
Skateboarding isn’t going away. It is a sport where land and sea meet, perfect for a landscape like Cape May. In order for the new generation and seasoned skaters alike to thrive in our community, skaters hope to see efforts to create a space in town for them. There are plenty of skilled skateboarders here who deserve to be celebrated, and for the spirit of the sport to be embraced.