ZACK HOOPES ¦ Staff Writer
Skateboarders glide along the Boardwalk — legally — for the first time Tuesday. The Ocean City Council gave its final approval Monday night for an ordinance that allows skateboards to be used, for transportation purposes only, during the same hours that bicycles are normally permitted. OCEAN CITY TODAY/ZACK HOOPES (Oct. 5, 2012) Boards rolled down the boards – legally – for the first time this week, after the City Council gave its final approval Monday to allowing skateboards on the Boardwalk concurrent with bicycle hours.
But despite the relative victory for skate enthusiasts, the tone this week remained one of restraint, given that lifting the Boardwalk ban is intended as a litmus test for a possible further opening-up of the skate prohibition on the city’s streets and sidewalks.
“I’m a mom, so I told them at the beginning, ‘Behave, don’t skate off the rails and the benches … be smart about it,’” said Nicole Hills of ocshoremaga-zine.com, who organized a kickoff skate down the Boardwalk on Tuesday evening. “But these kids deserve a chance. You might always have that one percent that takes it too far, but at least give it a shot.”
The journey towards skate liberalization began in July, when the council voted to widen the city’s antiquated definition of “boogie boards” to allow a number of new varieties of soft-top body boards to be used on the city’s beaches.
The same, it was said, could be done with skateboards, since skateboard technology and technique has changed greatly since the city’s code was written in the 1970s. Over the past decade or so in particular, “longboard” skateboards have surged in popularity. Longboards are thin, flat, and have a longer wheelbase, designed for better maneuverability and retention of momentum when cruising down streets and sidewalks. They are intended for transportation rather than stunts.
Councilman Doug Cymek had suggested two weeks ago that the council begin by allowing skateboarding on the Boardwalk during the times when bicycles are already permitted. Bikes may be ridden on the boards at any time during the offseason, and from 2-11 a.m. only, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“I think this is something we could do immediately to send a good message that we’re trying to work with the citizens,” Cymek had said.
However, “we’d have to make it very clear that this is for transportation only, not performing,” he added.
Councilman Brent Ashley has been the only one consistently opposed to the measure, citing the possibility that the move will only embolden the scofflaw skaters who already cause property damage on the boards. Ashley also objected to the move this week to pass the change as an emergency ordinance, meaning that it would not have to go through a second formal reading in another two weeks.
“I thought emergency passage was for something really pressing. What’s the hurry with this,” he asked.
But Mayor Rick Meehan contended that there was no reason to hold off on an experimental measure.
“If we find that it’s not compatible with the Boardwalk, or there’s some problem, we can have as much time as possible to change it before next season,” he said.
Several dozen skaters of all ages turned out of Hills’ event, beginning at the Boardwalk just below the pier and skating its entire length. A skate contest was also held inside Swirled World at Second Street.
“I just thought, as a parent, that you can’t punish a whole group because of a certain stigma,” Hills said. “Most of the crime in this city is caused by drinking, but we don’t close the bars.”
While she herself is not, Hills’ partner in the Website, Jeremy Brink, is an avid skateboarder.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been yelled at for skating here,” said Brink, who grew up in Ocean City. “When I was younger, it was my only way to get around.”
“It’s really not about making the younger voters happy. It’s become an allages thing,” Hills said.