A house party somewhere in New York city. Teenage skate kids pass a joint around a bedroom. As things start getting steamy, Camille escapes to the roof, stoned. In the Manhattan night she approaches Devon, a red-haired boy who works at the same supermarket as her. He’s played by Willow Smith, and Camille is a bit sweet on him.
“So, um, what’s your favourite colour?” she stammers.
“Red,” Devon replies.
“Oh,” says Camille. “Is that why you turned your hair red?”
“Ok. I’m going to go inside.”
Camille makes a sheepish exit, but a few scenes later she’s on another rooftop, doing an ollie in front of the Empire State Building as Devon takes her picture.
This happens in Crystal Moselle’s 2018 film Skate Kitchen, named after a real-life group of skater girls who all play fictionalised versions of themselves, including the supremely talented Rachelle Vinberg, who plays Camille. Even if you haven’t seen it, those scenes might also sound familiar to anyone who’s ever watched Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid 90s, 2005’s Lords of Dogtown or the seminal 1995 film Kids. Each of these films is a paean to New York skate culture. And in each of them, skaters smoke weed.
Cannabis and skateboarding have a relationship that dates back decades. Both weed and skating emerged from counterculture movements in the 1960s and 70s, and they share a similar ethos of non-conformity, rebellion, and self-expression. And it’s not just in New York. Since the sport emerged from the empty swimming pools, backyard ramps and abandoned car parks of California, skaters have taken their love for weed around the world.
“If I wanted to go and get weed as a kid, I’d have gone to the skate park,” says James Ross, founder of the streetwear brand TAR. James grew up in Sydney, but moved to London about 15 years ago. He’s spent time in the States too, and says that wherever he goes, he’s never far from a skate park or a joint. In fact he’s currently barred from entering the US because of a drug charge he picked up in Britain for carrying a small bag of weed.
These stories form part of the TAR ethos. Scroll their Instagram and, among the many rappers and stylish people modelling their clothes, you’ll find TAR-branded grinders, zoot tubes (protective cases for your joint) and a variety of smell-proof bags — equally useful for carrying bags of weed or cans of spray paint. “If there’s a way that I can keep my friends from getting arrested, I’m down,” says James.
He started TAR in 2015 because he needed a new bag for his spray paint cans and couldn’t find one online. Knowing that graffiti writers needed gear that would let them navigate brick walls and barbed wire, he designed a slick, hard-wearing bag that wouldn’t rip under pressure. Soon he was designing clothes too, most of which were just as appealing to skaters as they were to graffiti writers. “Those sort of activities, whether it’s skateboarding, BMXing, graffiti, freerunning, any of that kind of stuff, your clothes will get ripped unless you have the right stuff,” he says. He coined a tagline — “military grade products for inner city situations” — and TAR was away.
As skating gained popularity throughout the 70s, cannabis use was normalised and often celebrated in magazines like Skateboarder and Thrasher. In Venice, California, a skate team called Zephyr became notorious for skating in the drained swimming pools of local celebrities. They became known as the Z-Boys and, as photographed by Glen E. Friedman, were often seen with joints in mouths.
As kids grew up trying both weed and skating became a rite of passage. “There’s the rebellious, coming-of-age thing,” says James. “Every teenager wants to do a bit of graffiti, a bit of skateboarding, they might fancy themselves as a rapper … it all goes together.”
There’s the rebellious, coming-of-age thing, every teenager wants to do a bit of graffiti, a bit of skateboarding, they might fancy themselves as a rapper … it all goes together
Then there’s the practical side of skating and smoking. “It’s probably the same reason the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community smoke weed, or like the boxing community,” says James. “It’s proven to be really good for recovery and treatment of pain. And there’s not many things as painful as skateboarding. Especially at a certain level: if you don’t land it, whatever happens is gonna be painful.”
In the 80s, Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs led to a crackdown on drug use and a more conservative cultural climate, coinciding with a dip in the popularity of skating. Although skaters never stopped smoking weed, the stoner-skater archetype began to fade from pop culture. Then in the 90s came Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the Playstation, the first in a series that would elevate the sport to stratospheric levels — and one of the best stoner games ever made.
Californian vert specialist Tony Hawk became a global celebrity, guesting on the Simpsons and smoking the occasional bit of weed. Not long after, fellow skater Chad Muska (a playable character on the Pro Skater games) collaborated with éS to make a pair of shoes with a zip pocket in the tongue — perfect for carrying a bag of weed.
By 2016 skating was approved as an Olympic sport, making its debut at Tokyo 2020. Within moments of the announcement, stories broke claiming that no skater could possibly pass the mandatory Olympic drug test as they all smoked too much weed. James is philosophical about the sport’s Olympic inauguration, mentioning the up-and-coming skater Niall Gilroy, who skates for TAR.
“He’s an incredibly gifted skater and he’s completely quit cannabis because he wants to be part of the Olympics,” James says. “That’s a life choice he had to make, which affects his recovery and his health. But if that’s the price to join the Olympics, it’s an easy decision. It’s a shame that he has to do that though, because it’s not like he’s quitting because he doesn’t wanna smoke weed.”
There are those who say that the Olympics is just a sign of how commercial and sanitised skateboarding has become, that skating shouldn’t have rules and that stopping skaters smoking weed is not what the sport’s about. James sees it another way. “The more lanes, the better,” he says. “If there’s an Olympic lane that people can go down and they wanna be an Olympic skateboarder, that’s great. That means it creates more space for the street skaters. If a street skater wants to go and street skate and be the guy out there crashing the streets, that’s him, and he’s not gonna be clashing with some technical skater that wants to be in the Olympics. Cos they’ve all got their own space now.”
Even with the allure of a gold medal, weed and skating look likely to live happily ever after.