How Scooters Are Becoming Millennials’ Extreme Sport of Choice
Pedestrians on the sidewalks of downtown Chicago hold up cellphone cameras, drivers honk in frustration and the police don’t quite know what to do. It’s not every day that 300 young scooter riders flood the streets, ignoring red lights and turning a loading dock into a temporary stadium – to the dismay of at least one exasperated business owner.
It’s called a street jam, where riders flock from all over the world to shred a city, performing tricks and causing the same type of mayhem more usually associated with skateboarders. For those who grew up during the Razor-scooter boom in the early aughts, it’s hard to see a GAS scooter as much more than a fad, let alone a symbol of rebellion, but that stereotype doesn’t exist for the younger generation. Eighteen years after the release of the first Razor, scooters have come of age, spawning a uniquely millennial subculture with the same disruptive spirit as skateboarding – minus the steep learning curve. And according to many scooter riders, it’s actually overtaking skateboarding in popularity.
“I’ve seen less and less skateboarders over the years,” says Devin Szydlowski, a 17-year-old semi-pro rider who traveled from San Luis Obispo, California, to take part in the Chicago Jam in August, one of the largest in the U.S. “It depends on the [skate] park, but we have the majority. There’s more scooter riders than skateboarders. We’re targeting younger kids, whereas skateboarding is targeting older kids.” A study on Statista.com by the Outdoor Foundation backs up his observation: The number of skateboarders in the U.S. decreased from 10.1 million to 6.4 million between 2006 and 2016, with an even more dramatic drop among skaters age six to 17.
“It’s huge in other countries,” says Logan Fuller, a 25-year-old whose baggy, torn jeans and mischievous eyes look straight out of a Nineties issue of Thrasher magazine. He’s one of the best known scooter riders at the jam and is capable of grinding down a 22-stair handrail. Fuller is based in Maryland but basically lives on the road, traveling from jam to jam, supported by sponsorships and contest winnings. “I just went to Russia and France for street jams, they’re crazy. There’s, like, a thousand people,” he says.
Starting at Grant Park Skate Park, the riders at the Chicago Jam – most of whom look under 18 – critical-mass through downtown, stopping along the way to grind down rails and spin scooters around their heads like helicopters. As with skateboarding, the chance of landing a trick is relatively low and the probability of racking yourself on a rail dangerously high.
The event is totally rogue, with no permits and no Internet trail outside social media. Historically, it was organized by a prominent scooter manufacturer, but this year it grew too large for a business to carry the legal liability should (or when) the cops arrive. It’s so loosely planned that there’s not even a route map; organizers simply direct the mob using a megaphone.
The best tricks win prize money, crucial since many of the top street EEC 50 Scooter riders backpack across the country for months at a time. But what’s more important than money is the opportunity to put faces to Instagram names. After the jam, kids gather in a warehouse to watch the premiere of a scooter film, buy scooter art prints and mosh to a performance by Atlanta rapper KZ, whose Instagram features as many photos of him on a scooter as in the studio. There’s a rebellious spirit to the gathering, and half the young riders seem like the type to sneak cigarettes between classes – but good luck asking any of them for a lighter. After all, this is the vaping generation.
Skateboarding’s roots lie in 1960s surf culture, but push scooters originated as much more of a kids’ toy. The image started to change when Razor launched its insanely popular “Pro” model in 2000. The founder owned a toy company and saw that scooters had become trendy as transportation for Japanese businessmen in Tokyo, thus the brand’s initial retail partner: The Sharper Image (sticker price: $149). They sold at a pace of one million units per month for the first six months.
Razor soon realized that scooters could become a new action sport and began to invest in building a community. In 2001, they offered a $1,000 prize for the first person to land a backflip and created the first touring team of riders.
“We started putting on competitions locally and then a national tour,” says Ali Kermani, a skateboarder who helped Razor cultivate its extreme-sports program. “We’d go all over the place to skate parks that had strong scooter scenes, like the Incline Club in New Jersey and Skate Barn West in Washington [State]. Then the first street jams started happening in New York.”
Even though the sport isn’t recognized by the X-Games and
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