Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture In Native America

Feb 2, 2014

Skateboarding is most often associated with teenaged, white urban dwellers, but a new exhibit is providing a different picture of the sport.

Credit Tim Evanson /

The traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian is called “Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture In Native America” and will open February 8th at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman

People may be surprised to find there is a skateboarding culture in Native America.  Jen Tregarthen, the marketing and public relations officer for the Sam Noble Museum, says skateboarding was a spinoff of surfing, an invention of Hawaii’s indigenous population.

“Skateboarding as a whole is an indigenous sport, same as surfing. When surfing arrived in California from Hawaii in the 1950s and 60s, it created a huge trend. Especially with the Beach Boys and ‘Endless Summer,’ the film,” Tregarthen said.

“Many people just embraced that as a youthful sport. One company out in California began making what they called ‘sidewalk surfers’ which were just planks of wood with roller skates on them. When that arrived in Native cultures, they really embraced it. It became very popular for creativity,” she said.

“A couple of the local tribes will be represented, Pawnee is one of them. We've also got the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Navajo, Yakima, the White Mountain Apache and several others will be represented,” Tregarthen said.

It’s more than just drawings on skateboards.

Jen Tregarthen
Credit Susan Shannon

“It’s not just art on skateboards, it’s about the culture of skateboarding in Native American communities, specifically on reservations.” Tregarthen said it provided an outlet for creativity and also offers a safe place from the addictions and joblessness found on so many reservations.

“It also incorporates other mediums such as photography and videos,” Tregarthen said.

“It encompasses the native cultures as a whole, how the elders interact with this culture and how the government interacts with it and why it’s so well supported.”

Ramp It Up is part of a traveling exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and will be on display from Feb. 8 until June 15.

On February 8, a reception in partnership with the Jacobson House Native Art Center will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Three artists from the Jacobson House will be doing a “live paint” exhibition, and there will be a D.J.  providing music and to help direct the crowd and let visitors know what is going on. The Education Department at the museum will be providing family friendly activities.

The museum will offer complimentary admission for that weekend.

Please Note: This event has been postponed until April 5 due to weather conditions. The museum will still be open on Feb. 8 and offer free admisssion.


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