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Use your head(gear) while skateboarding

Cuts, broken bones heal; brain injuries might not

Dale Roe

Last month, we ran a story about Round Rock's Shayla Dame Skatepark. The article included photos of kids who had launched themselves (and their skateboards) into the air kids who weren't wearing helmets.

That rankled a few of you.

The skateboarding community doesn't seem to be overly cautious. A scan of area skate shop websites turned up mentions of shirts, hats, decks and wheels, but no safety gear, even though it is sold in the stores. The Round Rock park doesn't require protective items, although its website "strongly recommend(s) the use of helmets, knee and elbow pads" (the same site, though, also features a photo of a helmet-less skater).

Pop culture doesn't help. This weekend I caught "Back to the Future," which featured Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly zipping through a town square on a skateboard, hitching rides from cars by grabbing onto their bumpers.

It seems fun and harmless, but the sport can be dangerous.

In 2010, about 700,000 skateboarders in the United States generated 130,627 emergency room visits, according to data provided by the National Safety Council. Children were most often the victims: 45.1 percent of the injuries were suffered by kids ages 5-14; those ages 15-24 incurred 43 percent.

While scraping, cuts and abrasions along with elbow, wrist and knee injuries are the most common, more serious mishaps result in broken bones and head trauma, says NSC spokesman John Ulczycki.

"A serious head injury is life-changing," he says. "Most kids ... don't think about that." While most broken bones will heal, brain injuries are more likely to be permanent, Ulczycki adds.

The NSC recommends the use of pads to protect skateboarders' wrists, knees, elbows and hips and, most importantly, a helmet to lessen the impact of a blow to the head. The gear may not fully protect from fractures, but wearing it can reduce the number and severity of cuts and scrapes.

When selecting a helmet, the NSC says to look for proper fit and make sure it does not impair vision or hearing. Discretion is important in padding selection, too: If it's too tight, it might restrict circulation and movement; too loose and it could fall off.

The NSC also recommends skateboarders learn how to fall. If you're losing your balance, crouch down. That way, you won't fall as far. If you do fall, try to land on the fleshy parts of your body and roll instead of absorbing the impact with your arms. You're less likely to suffer serious injuries if you relax your body, rather than stiffening up.

"It sounds stupid," laughs Colten Perry, manager of the Austin Skateboarding Club. "But there's an art to falling, an art to bailing. If you fall forward and your elbows are completely locked up, you're probably going to hurt or break something."

The club offers year-round lessons and camps for beginners and advanced skateboarders ages 4 and up with an emphasis on safety (information about summer camps beginning June 5 can be found at www.austin skateboardingclub.com or by calling 447-5283). Falling properly is among the first lessons in the club's beginner courses, along with proper use of pads and movement fundamentals.

Perry also teaches his students (who are required to wear helmets) other safety techniques. While it's safer to skateboard at a facility custom-built for the sport than on a sidewalk or a street, arenas can become crowded and dangerous.

"What I do — and what I teach the kids to do — is to sit down, stretch out and see where everyone's going," he says. "Don't just run and jump on your board and go out there. A lot of people have patterns with what they're working on. See what those patterns are, and that will keep you from getting run over."

Contact Dale Roe at 912-5923 Twitter: @djroe