The real goofy vs. regular: A look at skateboarders in the SPoT database

In board sports, riders are "goofy" stance if they lead with their right foot and "regular" stance if they lead with their left. These terms seem to imply that one way is more "correct" or common than the other. I'm goofy, so I'd like to know just how goofy it is to be goofy. It turns out, a little bit goofy.

I checked out the Skatepark of Tampa (SPoT) skateboarder database, which has been maintained for 12 years and is probably the most extensive and detailed online.  The database consists of professional and amateur skateboarders who've been to SPoT for some reason or another.  Given that SPoT has been host to two of the largest annual contests in skateboarding since the mid 90's (the Tampa Pro and the Tampa Am), you can bet that the best have been through the doors. Note that in skateboarding, the term amateur (or am) doesn't necessarily imply that the person is less skilled than a professional - it only implies that the person doesn't have their name on a product yet.

SPoT Database Statistics

Of the 6,047 profiles examined, 12.6% are pro.   4,030 of these profiles had stance data, of which only 44% are goofy.  I personally find this a bit surprising, as I assumed it would be closer to 50%.  To put it mathily, a chi-square test indicated that the difference from 50% is statistically significant, \chi^2(1, N=4030) = 57.65, p < .001 , V= .12  (where V is Cramer's V).

Average 22.79
Median 23

Many of the database entries also included age, which is summarized in the table.  Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that the average age of a competing skateboarder is 23 (I think that may be a tad high). To speculate a bit, I'd guess that the database, which has been maintained for 12 years, adds skaters regularly without deleting older ones.  Assuming that most of the ages are updated over time, the database will accumulate ageing skateboarders who aren't actually active anymore.  For more information about skateboarder age, see this Nerdsday Thursday post.

Also, word clouds are really pretty to look at so, why not, here are the most common first and last names in the database:

SPoT DB Common First Names

SPoT_last_namesNothing surprising here, but it does confirm my previous suspicion about the importance of people named "Mike" in the skate industry.  (Or maybe it's just a common name? Who knows, it's a mystery that will never be solved.)

So there we have it, the archetype skateboarder from the SPoT database is Chris Smith, regular, am, 23.  A very interesting follow up would be to see if there is any link between skateboarding stance, footedness in other sports, and handedness.

If statistics gets you pumped up to go skate, you can leave now.  For the other all of you, here's my favorite winning run from the 2011 Tampa Pro, featuring the very goofy Dennis Busenitz:

U.S. Skatepark Density

Number of Skateparks


Number of Skateparks Per Million People

It's no surprise that California has the largest number of skateparks in the country.  But when you adjust for population size - dang Wyoming!  I want what you're having.

Data sources:

What do skateboarders talk about?

It turns out, mostly skateboarding, videos, teams, and people named Mike.

To find out, I analyzed over 50 interviews from the wonderful skateboarding blog the chrome ball incident.  I did this by scraping the content from the site (with python, of course) and then filtering out some common words (stop words) to get meaningful results.  I then used Wordle (which is really, really cool) to make tag clouds of the 150 most frequently used words in all of the interviews.

The total word count was a whopping 229,199 words (for comparison).  The first round of filtering was pretty modest - I only removed the 186 most commonly used English words.  Here are the results (click the photo to embiggen):

Including a slightly larger list of stop words reveals a bit more character:


Amongst the expletives and common skate-slang ('dude', 'stoked', 'rad', 'spot', etc.), the word 'street' (as in, street skating) is mentioned 3 times as frequently as 'vert' (as in, vert skating) - something we've seen before.

You can see the raw data here and here for each stop word filtering.  Play with it please!

The physics of Jake Brown's ollie 720

I'm a couple weeks late on this, but recently Jake Brown landed the first ever ollie 720.  To put that in layman's terms, he did two full rotations without holding the board on his feet with his hands.  Check it out:



So this seems crazy.  How did he do that?  How did he keep the board on his feet?  Magnets?  It turns out, it's actually very simple physics:

The Conservation of Energy


That's it!  Jake Brown doesn't really have to do anything because the conservation of energy won't be violated (it's a law!).  So yeah, thanks physics!  Skateboarding is so easy.



Thrasher Magazine Covers: A Look at Skateboarding Trends

One indicator of a trend in skateboarding is how much media coverage that trend receives (it goes both ways of course – trends influence what is covered, and what is covered influences trends).  Thrasher magazine has an online archive of all of its covers (and some full issues too!) spanning from 1981 through 2012.  These magazine covers provide a snapshot of what's interesting or popular in the skateboarding world at the time, so it seemed like a fun project to go through them and categorize the types of skateboarding represented.  Over 300 covers later, I did just that.  I also  did something that some skate nerds may abhor - I counted stairs.  A LOT of stairs!  Skateboarders like stairs!!!

Okay, okay - results first and then I'll talk about the more boring technical details for those who are interested.



Cover Trends

Figure 1 (direct link) shows the overall makeup of Thrasher covers. It's not much of a surprise that the majority are street tricks, since roughly 2/3 of the covers happened after the street skating boom of the early 90s. This shift away from parks and transition skating and onto the streets can be seen in Figure 2 (direct link).  In this case I've included vert, swimming pools and park transition in the definition of transition.  1991 marks the real turning point, with both transition and street skating sharing about 42% of the covers. This turning point also corresponds to the general lull in skateboarding's popularity of the early 90s, and the so called "death of vert skating".

I do think there's a bit of a discrepancy between this trend and the "everyday skater" of today.  After skateboarding became very popular in the early 00s (thanks THPS!), lots of skateparks popped up which resulted in a resurgence of park and transition skating.  This, coupled with the fact that the increased number of skateboarders means that more street spots employ skating countermeasures (e.g. skate stoppers, security), leads one to expect more skatepark or transition covers. I think this discrepancy comes from the fact that while many pros regularly skate at skateparks, when it comes time to "take care of business" (shoot photos or film) they turn to the streets.



Figure 3 (direct link) shows the number of stairs on the cover over the years. I'm sure you're all wondering about that crazy looking outlier at around the 2008 mark.  It lies a whopping 6 standard deviations above the mean!  This point corresponds to the November 2007 cover, with Steve Nesser doing something like a 49 stair 50-50 (I couldn't get a perfect count).  This will forever be known as the "Nesser Point" by skateboarding historians.  You can see the 5050 here.

Figure 4 shows a zoomed in version of Figure 3 with the data broken into groups so you can see trends in the smallest and largest number of stairs each year (direct link).  We can see a bit of a divergence between the highest and lowest stairs per year.  I feel obligated to give this phenomena some silly name, so I'll call it the "Tech-Gnar Funnel". The lowest ones tend to increase, but at a slower rate than highest ones.  This is because some skaters are still pushing technical limits on small (~8 stairs) rails and stairs, while others are testing the upper limit of board and body resilience by constantly upping the stair count (more about this in a later post, perhaps).



Thrasher Magazine has predominately run covers that feature street skating, and the percentage of these covers has increased over time playing a role in the "coverage-trend" feedback process.  The average number of stairs featured on the cover has increased dramatically since the early 90s, giving rise to the Nesser point and the Tech-Gnar funnel.

I would really like to do a similar analysis with other magazines to get a better picture of overall trends, as well as compare between them.  Unfortunately at this time no other magazine offers an online archive (that I know of - if I'm wrong about this please let me know!).  Thrasher seems to have a reputation as being more transition oriented, so it would be neat to compare its covers to other major magazines and see if that's the case.

If you'd like to see a breakdown of this data in any other way, let me know, or if your are feeling ambitious - give it  a shot yourself!


A Few Notable Covers

This guy started a revolution. He didn’t invent the ollie , but he some how figured out that you can take it from a vertical wall (which helps get you in the air) to a horizontal surface. We all take this trick for granted today, but I would have loved to have seen people’s reactions when this cover came out.

Natas. This cover was probably very confusing at the time. “How did he get up there?”

This is probably the first handrail cover. It’s not a “traditional” handrail in that it doesn’t go down any stairs and it isn’t very tall from the side approached, but it certainly is a railing for someone to put there hand on.  And Ron Allen is still ripping!

This is the first serious handrail cover. Frankie Hill, of course.


Boring Details


It’s difficult to chop a smooth continuum into discrete categories, and this project was no exception. Most of the covers were very easy because they obviously fell into a certain category. There were a couple slightly ambiguous cases though ( is this street or transition skating? It’s a street spot, but it’s not really a modern “street” trick).  At the end of the day I had to make a subjective decision (“I know it when I see it” ). There were only a couple ambiguous cases, so they definitely don’t have a big impact on the larger trends.

Counting stairs

Skateboarders like to skateboard on lots of different types of stairs. This added some complications to the counting process. For example, a 3-flat-3-flat-3 triple set is clearly larger than a 9 stair, but how much larger? It depends. For that reason, double/triple/nthle sets were omitted, and the final count included only standard stair sets that were easily countable. I also omitted large block stairs (e.g. Barcelona’s four block) for the same reason.  The number of these omissions is small, and including them in the data has barely any effect on the long term trends. (I would rather have fewer data points that were clearly defined than more data points that were sloppy!)

There is also the problem of actually counting the stairs. Most of the cases were easy, but once you get past 15 or so they become very tedious to count (thanks Steve Nesser).  But, I'm confident that all the numbers are accurate to within a stair or two.


The data are available here. Take a look, and if you disagree with some of my categorization decisions or stair counts, please let me know comments!