Background: The informant is a twenty year old photography student in New York City. He learned of the taboo while growing up in both Los Angeles, CA and Burlington, VT. He has skated regularly since he was 12 years old.
Context: The informant was teaching me how to skateboard in his San Diego neighborhood and informed me of the taboos. This piece was collected in its natural performance setting. The piece itself is a summary of the conversation because the performance was not planned and was recorded after the performance and not as it was being performed in real time.
I was “mall grabbing” the skateboard and the informant quickly began to make fun of me and told me not to hold the skateboard in this manner. Mall grabbing is holding the skateboard vertically by the top truck, with the grip tape of the skateboard facing the holder’s legs. This is considered a “rookie move” and would have almost certainly invited insults and jeers from other skateboarders if we were at an actual skate park. When asked why it was bad to “mall grab,” the informant said that having the grip tape face one’s pants or shorts usually leaves scuffing or pilling on them.
After being informed about this taboo I remembered that I had once heard of skaters being made fun of for “pushing mongo” so I asked the informant to explain what this meant and why it was taboo. He told me that “pushing mongo” refers to the practice of riding a skateboard using the front, rather than the back foot, to push the ground and generate momentum. He noted that this is taboo because it is an inefficient and awkward way to ride the board and makes it difficult to transition from pushing to doing tricks. The assumption is that if an individual pushes mongo, he/she/they can’t skate stably or perform tricks smoothly.
Analysis: Skateboarding is an incredibly exclusive subculture in my experience. When you go to a skatepark, people usually gather in groups, observe each other skating, and often make fun of other skaters in the park who aren’t “good.” The taboo on “mall grabbing” and “pushing mongo” quickly becomes a way to distinguish the beginners from the experts. It creates explicit ingroups and outgroups. It shows that skater culture places a high premium on the ability to perform tricks in a particular, socially sanctioned way. When an individual pushes mongo, it is more difficult to perform tricks in the smooth and seamless manner that is preferred. Although there are many different skating styles, these taboos highlight that there is an ideal style and when skaters perform outside of this ideal, they are not accepted into the wider community.