The (not so great) helmet debate

Forgive the pun, but this is a no-brainer. It all started with a comment from my ex-stepfather, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to since 1997.

Marc never let the wounds and pains of falls ever stop him from getting back up and skating more. However, now that he and his bones are older I hope he can get a set of pads to wear for protection. Speaking from expierence (sic) having had a head injury from 9 months ago leaving me somewhat disabled I would also suggest a helmet.

Of course I wrote those words off as soon as I read them. My thoughts were something like, I don’t ride vert or jump down stairs, so I don’t need a helmet. Besides, they’re for wussies. And that was – kind of – that.

Until I started paying attention to Josh Katz, who has a semi-popular skateboarding YouTube channel. He’s probably young enough to be my son, but he’s almost the only person on my skadar (skate radar!) who wears a helmet. When I began reading the comments to his videos, I noticed that there were a lot of comments about his helmet:

 (like this one)

Blah blah blah.  Nice helmet pussy.
Probably more attention was being paid to his helmet than to his skating, which is a shame because Josh can backside triple flip over a hip. Sure, he was a minority of essentially one, but what was the big deal? I mean it was obvious that he probably cared enough about himself to err on the side of caution. Which, in a subculture that has always had a strong component of delinquency (Baker, et al.), was kind of like Jonathan Richman singing “I’m Straight” at the height of Haight-Ashbury. It’s a bold move to go nerd. Anyway, the more I read of these comments the more my estimation of Josh and his refusal to be bullied grew. He even made a video responding to his trolls in which he lays out the four most common arguments against helmets: 1) they’re uncomfortable. 2) I don’t care. 3) they’re not cool. 4) you’ll never get sponsored. To which Josh responds:

I’d rather look a little bit goofy wearing a helmet than be a vegetable for the rest of my life.
It’s hard to argue with a line like that. So when Mike Vallely, the biggest street skater who came up when I was a young skater around 1988, dropped his recent part sporting a powder blue helmet, I took notice. Say what you will about the retro skating (looks fun to me), the helmet was a bold move. In his defense – because apparently a helmet must be defended by its wearer – he said something like “I have a family, I have responsibilities to them.” And bang, that was when it hit me. I have a young daughter. Do I really want her to grow up with a brain-damaged parent because of something so stupid as “helmets aren’t cool?” I have a wife and a sister and, hell, I have a brain, without which – or the proper functioning of which – I’m not, well, me. Am I ready to give all that up for a backside ollie?

Of course not. And since I really enjoy skateboarding and have no plans to stop any time soon, I might as well get with the program. I just turned 41, I have a family and run a small business. I’m interested in lots of things, not the least of which is science (difficult to appreciate with a damaged brain). There are so many reasons I can think of to protect my cranium and literally only one against it: it’s not cool, which isn’t even a reason in my book.

Long story short, I got a helmet. And, as if this were all part of some cosmic jest, the first day I wore it I fell backwards and hit my head on the pavement. I wasn’t even trying some gnarly trick, either. I just hit a pebble and went flying. But I was glad I had a helmet at that moment. And it didn’t even feel uncomfortable. It felt, well, kind of cool. Like being smart.