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How Scooters Are Becoming Millennials’ Extreme Sport of Choice

Pedestrians on the sidewalks of downtown Chicago hold up cellphone cameras, drivers honk in frustration and the police don’t quite know what to do. It’s not every day that 300 young scooter riders flood the streets, ignoring red lights and turning a loading dock into a temporary stadium – to the dismay of at least one exasperated business owner.

It’s called a street jam, where riders flock from all over the world to shred a city, performing tricks and causing the same type of mayhem more usually associated with skateboarders. For those who grew up during the Razor-scooter boom in the early aughts, it’s hard to see a GAS scooter as much more than a fad, let alone a symbol of rebellion, but that stereotype doesn’t exist for the younger generation. Eighteen years after the release of the first Razor, scooters have come of age, spawning a uniquely millennial subculture with the same disruptive spirit as skateboarding – minus the steep learning curve. And according to many scooter riders, it’s actually overtaking skateboarding in popularity.

The best tricks win prize money, crucial since many of the top street EEC 50 Scooter riders backpack across the country for months at a time. But what’s more important than money is the opportunity to put faces to Instagram names. After the jam, kids gather in a warehouse to watch the premiere of a scooter film, buy scooter art prints and mosh to a performance by Atlanta rapper KZ, whose Instagram features as many photos of him on a scooter as in the studio. There’s a rebellious spirit to the gathering, and half the young riders seem like the type to sneak cigarettes between classes – but good luck asking any of them for a lighter. After all, this is the vaping generation.

“Scootering is the first sport that developed through the Internet, so we were able to build a whole industry in just a few years,” says Andrew Broussard, considered by many to be the godfather of scootering. He landed his first tailwhip on July 4th, 2001, and became hooked. While still in high school, he launched Scooter Resource, a message board that for the next decade would be the website of record for the community. Broussard also began hacking together custom scooters capable of taking more abuse, a business originally branded Scooter Resource in 2006, before being renamed Proto EEC 125 Scooter in 2008. The company doubled its revenue for six years straight, its growth only slowing once a rush of other companies entered the market.

A rift exists between “park” and “street” brands, with street riders preferring upstart, rider-owned companies like Proto and TSI to corporate operations like Fuzion (available at Walmart). Scooters are modular, which has created a marketplace for component-specific companies like River Wheel Co. and Tilt, which produces nearly indestructible wheels, decks, forks and even the clamps that connect the parts. Scooter riders (or often their parents) drop up to $700 on pro-level rides, a sharp contrast to the costs of earlier models.

The lexicon of tricks grew and was cataloged on Scooter Resource with specific credits for the pioneers behind each move. Because a scooter has handlebars like a BMX bike and a deck like a skateboard, it’s a hybrid capable of incorporating tricks from each with a much quicker learning curve, which is undoubtedly part of why it appeals to a younger crowd.

“When you first start out skating, you can’t just ollie right away, you have to practice for six months,” says Szydlowski. “On a scooter, a bunny hop takes, like, a day to learn. Or an hour.”

Today’s riders mainly find inspiration on YouTube. It’s resulted in underground scooter celebrities like the Funk Bros – Corey and Capron Funk – who are far from household names but boast 3.5 million subscribers. Scooters still play a part in their videos, but they’re now known mainly as Jackass-style pranksters (who can land triple front flips). Ryan Williams, a well-known rider of both scooters and BMX bikes, has 950,000 Instagram followers. But despite these riders’ huge followings, their popularity leaves little trace outside social media.

The rest of the community is the same; nearly everything happens on Instagram or Facebook. According to Tommy Daddono, one of the organizers of the Chicago Jam and a founder of scooter manufacturer Outset Select, his event is one of the most popular street jams in the world, but it was un-Googleable until a week after the dust had cleared.

Since pro-level scooters are so costly, many of the kids come from affluent backgrounds. Despite this, the scene feels decidedly DIY. Riders dress with a mix of grungy skater gear and a touch of Internet irony. One middle-school rider in Chicago wore a black cap with small text reading “Link in Bio.” Just like skateboarders, shredded jeans and dirty Vans are the style, but unfortunately for the burgeoning scene, it takes more than just streetwear to convince skateboarders who came of age during Razor’s initial boom that scooters are cool. Landing a backflip at a skatepark definitely turns heads, but a combination of entitlement and inexperience has made most scooter riders a bane to skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX riders.

“There’s a stigma because of all the little kids,” says Daddono. “Every skateboarder will tell you that [scooterers] don’t look where they’re going, they’ll ride in front of you. They don’t have the etiquette yet.” Many simply never learn, which Broussard credits to a lack of guidance from older kids. “Skaters will complain about it, but they’ll never go up to 125cc 150cc Scooter riders and explain why what they’re doing is dangerous or bad park etiquette,” says Broussard. “But if it’s a young skateboarder, they’ll give them pointers and help them out. It’s a hypocritical attitude.”

Even though it’s still a fresh industry, it might already be getting too mainstream for Broussard, who fears the popularity could ruin the rebellious character, just like with skateboarding.”The founding generation of scooter riders is drastically different than the current generation,” he says. “We rode because after the Razor boom, it was not trendy. We were experimental. Now, some kids spend more time accessorizing their electric scooter than riding them.”

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