Skateboarders on Cal Poly’s campus pride themselves on their ability to charm their way out of a citation.
“I got pulled over like once, and I kinda talked him out of it,” Cal Poly Longboarding Association of America founder and landscape architecture alumnus Cameron Turner said. “I kinda told the officer that I was a freshman and didn’t know the rules.”
Turner said he wasn’t the only one who managed to sweet talk an officer into not issuing a citation for skateboarding. One friend, a “charmer” who got stopped multiple times, has never received a citation, Turner said.
But skateboarding citations are something the University Police Department (UPD) takes seriously, according to Chief George Hughes.
“We have an official policy, and that’s that the use of skateboards, roller skates, roller blades, coasters or similar devices on the campus is prohibited, except for special events which have been authorized by Student Life and approved by the University Police,” Hughes said.
These restrictions, according to Hughes, are entirely based on safety.
“The reasoning behind that is purely for safety reasons,” Hughes said. “We have such a crowded area here on campus on the sidewalks, all the walkways, the Mustang Village area and the University Union Plaza area, where it’s just so crowded with people and bicycles that just don’t co-mingle well with skateboards.”
Even those who do choose to skateboard on campus can speak to its dangerous nature, though they tend to focus more on the landscape of Cal Poly. Chris Ray, a fellow landscape architecture alumnus and a friend of Turner’s, attributed the rules to the fact that Cal Poly’s campus has too many hills for safe skateboarding.
“One reason is that it’s just not that great a campus for skating,” Ray said. “Mostly just the fact that the whole school is sloped makes it more dangerous than flat campuses. But there’s lots of places where it’s not sloped and you actually can skate, and it would be nice to be able to skate there.”
Hughes mentioned this factor as part of the reason why UPD prohibits skateboarding on campus as well.
“It’s a hilly area, so you can pick up quite a bit of speed very quickly on skateboards especially, and there’s no brakes on there like there is on a bicycle,” Hughes said. “It’s just not a good place to be walking and skateboarding at the same time because there’s just too much potential for someone to get injured, both the person on the skateboard and off.”
Yet both the rules and the dangers themselves sometimes fail to deter students from skateboarding on campus. Ray said the motivation behind breaking these rules is simply to have more fun.
“It was just my favorite way to get to class,” Ray said. “That’s the most common reason why anybody skateboards, because it’s the most fun option.”
Turner credited his own motivation to a need for transportation that turned into a pastime.
“You can pretty much skate everywhere from campus,” Turner said. “It originally started off as a means to get around and once I learned more, I was able to do more downhill stuff and I just kept skating.”
Turner even went as far as to create a community of students who were interested in longboarding. Along with his roommate, he created a Facebook page and website under the name “Cal Poly Longboarding Association of America.”
“It was basically me and a longtime friend,” Turner said. “We were roommates freshman year and we had both gotten into longboarding senior year of high school, and we just started skating a lot. We just made that Facebook group and we met a few other guys from San Luis Obispo. It wasn’t much, it was really just shits and giggles.”
Despite the group’s seemingly official title, it was never affiliated with any larger organization, including Cal Poly itself.
“We were looking to make an actual club but it was too much work, so we didn’t bother,” Turner said.
Turner said he did look up the rules regarding skateboarding and longboarding in San Luis Obispo, but his perception was that the group was not so much a club as a loosely knit group of people interested in the same activity.
“We looked up rules like the city laws because campus is a little hard to skate in,” Turner said. “But there’s people that can do it and it’s fun.”
Turner said though the Cal Poly Longboarding Association of America was never the most organized group, it did make regular trips to longboard in Santa Barbara. When he was a freshman, Turner made a contact in Santa Barbara through an online forum called Silverfish Longboarding, and eventually started regularly bringing groups of people to meet up and longboard.
“He invited us down and we kind of started a friendship, and we would get guys from San Luis Obispo to go there,” Turner said. “There was one time where there were 30 guys that met in Santa Barbara and we skated on a bunch of different roads there.”
Turner said most of the action, however, occurred in San Luis Obispo. Because of the hills on campus, Turner and his friends went off campus frequently, but they did find ways to skirt the issue.
“We did sneak into the Poly Canyon parking structure when that was under construction,” Turner said. “We almost got caught once and that was exciting. But we more would go downtown in the parking structures.”
According to Hughes, however, this is still a violation of the law.
“Most of the CSUs do not allow skateboarding on campus for the same reason, and also downtown San Luis Obispo, just because there are so many people walking in that area that they have created a municipal ordinance to not allow any skateboarding in the downtown area,” Hughes said.
Turner said the reason they went off campus so often was actually to avoid the possibility of citations from UPD.
“We never really skated much on campus because campus police are quite the sticklers and they really take a no-nonsense approach,” Turner said.
Ray took a different approach — his experience was that skateboarders who were being responsible were generally able to get out of any citations.
“If you’re skating nice and not being a problem, and then you’re nice to the police officer, then they’re not going to give you a ticket,” Ray said. “If you’re causing a problem, then I guess you should get a ticket.”
Ray said he was pulled aside by UPD officers multiple times, but was never issued a citation. His attitude may stem from the emphasis he puts on responsible skating. Ray came into Cal Poly’s landscape architecture program with the intention of one day designing skate parks — a dream he is now living, working for SITE Design Group.
Ray also spent some of his time at Cal Poly looking for a solution for those who want to skateboard on and around Cal Poly’s campus. His senior project involved creating a cohesive plan for providing safe skate spots in San Luis Obispo.
“There’s a plan in the works for a new San Luis Obispo skate park, but it’s huge and it’s really expensive, and a lot of people aren’t really too excited about the design,” Ray said. “The city approved the design and it’s been five years now, but there’s still not the money for that.”
Ray said there is currently a skate park in San Luis Obispo, but it’s not enough to draw skateboarders off campus.
“For a city like this, they really should have something a lot better,” Ray said. “It’s really small and it’s wooden, and wooden skate parks just don’t hold up well.”
Until there is a solution, however, skateboarders will simply have to adhere to the rules UPD set in place.
“Basically, there’s always the irresponsible skaters that ruin it for everyone else,” Ray said.
He also said, however, that skateboarders aren’t going to just go away.
“Skateboarding is really a lifestyle,” Ray said. “You carry your skateboard wherever you go, you skateboard with your friends and it’s a community thing.”