May 31, 2011

Ramp I.T. Up! With Skate!, Native American skateboard culture returns to the museum

A few curious onlookers stop to see what we are doing. I hear a “Cool! Can we come back?” With this, I turn to see a young father provide an assuring smile and a pat on his son’s back. It’s about 10:30 in the morning, and we are setting up equipment on the 3rd floor between the Vantage Point exhibition and the Activity Center, now under construction. TV? Check. Game installed? Check. Board calibrated and communicating with the TV? Oh, no, it’s not turning on. Hmmmm, time for fresh batteries? The hunt is on to find a tiny Phillips screwdriver to remove the board's back cover. My colleague walks up at just the right time and pulls out his pocket toolkit. Success! With batteries replaced, the board’s blue light is on. I pick up the remote, press the letter A, and the rock music starts. Now . . . we wait for the testers.


Skateboarding is an indigenous sport. The modern skateboard, or deck, owes its heritage to thepapa he‘e malu(surfboards) andpapahōlua (land sleds) of Native Hawaiians. And did you know that the International Association of Skateboard Companies estimates that nearly 12 million American children participate in skateboarding—more than the number enrolled in Little League Baseball? Skateboarding is also one of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, and the subject of Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native Americaa highly successful exhibition at NMAI in Washington and New York. So it seemed only fitting to find a way to bring skateboarding—and the wonderful content from Ramp It Up—back to the museum. But how could we do this in a small space? Enter the I.T. (Information Technology) staff and the game Tony Hawk: Shred, here played on a Wii.

At various times during the months of April and May, you may have seen us testing the Shred skateboard experience with visitors. We’ve been checking to see if the public understands the themes and messages and if the interactive can work without regular, direct staff involvement. We’ve been pleased to find the answer to these questions is yes. We’ve enjoyed watching visitors from young children to older adults approach the skateboard. Some people have known exactly how to work the controls, gleefully speeding toward the finish line while their friends or parents offer congratulations for a game well skated. Others have steadfastly tried to complete a run after they electronically ate it, hearing the game's “Oooo!” followed by a sympathetic “Ow!” from the gathered crowd. 

Taking turns

On any given test day, we’ll observe the interaction for about two hours or until it seems like a good time to pack up. On this day, it’s now 12:30. I turn off the monitor, collect the cords, remind myself to recharge the batteries, and roll the equipment cart to the staff elevator. I take one last look around and then disappear behind the camouflage doors feeling pretty confident that the test went well.

Want to know more about this activity? I invite you to get amped and check out your 5-0 with a jam session when the Activity Center opens later this year!      

—Erin Weinman, I.T. Applications Manager, NMAI

Visitors testing the Skate! activity at the museum, April 29, 2011. Photos by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

Comments (29)

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Absolutely amazing piece of invention. Kids gotta love it much :)

Great idea. Provide great education and make it fun! And good exercise as well. It seems like this could (should) be incorporated into more of the curriculum.

Now that looks like fun. I had no idea you could skate board on the Wii. I have a Wii and did not know this was available. I must say my kids would love this.. I wonder if Tony Hawk or Rob Dyrdek assisted in the development of this game. This reminds me back in the day, when I use to skateboard.. This looks like a much safer way to skateboard. Well I am glad I found this, my kids will be super excited too. :)

Landon Shire

I have heard about this game at the end of 2010. Only by looking at how this game works, I could take a decision that this is a kind of break through in gaming. To me, this is the the "real game" to play. A game in which moving the whole body to play, I like this game.

one of the benefits of technology, we can play indoor skateboard. thanks

great, i used to love skateboarding 30 years ago an i did not know the origin, i think this should be advertised as part of the rich cultural heritage that native americans gave to world culture.

Wow, this is a great way of promoting Native American skateboard culture; very interesting read. Thank you!

Webmaster of Longboard Reviews

This is really new for me. We have a Wii-Fit Plus at home that we use in conjunction with the big TV. However, we never thought about adding skateboarding to the games. Now we will look for it at the shops.

Also I think this is a great way for kids to stay healthy whilst having fun at the same time. So are still doing the tests?

Matt. (Orlando, Florida)

Perhaps the actual skateboard the kids are standing on should be replaced with a more authentic "papa he‘e malu" to more firmly make the connection between the modern sport and the origin from the surfboard?

Dave L.

This is new for me.I think this is a great thing for kids to stay healthy and hvaing fun.thank you very much.

That looks great for kids, but I still think they would prefer the real thing. It looks like a cross between a skateboard and a surboard.

I love this! Ever since we bought our Wii, it has been extremely convenient to have something like this to keep the kids active indoors. Especially during very cold weather and we just went through a very, very hot summer here in the south. Thanks for posting this. I'm sure your readers will value this article as much as I have.

Any activity that keeps our youth not in front of the TV is excellent. Skateboard is much of our culture now then any other recreational sport.

I think any good activity that keeps our youth active is an excellent idea

Skateboarding if fun and love it too. Its sure a piece of America culture.

This is how technology works. It is an exercise, thrill, adventure and fun in one. Kids would love it and the parents would also be happy because unlike any other video games, they also need to exert energy.

Maybe I shouldn't comment as I haven't yet tested the board but it might be even better with a small height from the floor...

Yes I think the benefits of such games go beyond fun, this could be the cure to obesity and potato couch syndrome that we're now witnessing in the modernized world.

Interactive games will continue to evolve and for the most part it is for the good. You may see kids with their heads down on their ipads and think they are video gaming zombies, but tablets are also amazing learning devices.

Looking forward to the snowboarding game!

I so like that skateboard. I really like the technology nowadays.


Love the technology for indoor skateboard! Just curious to try myself :) This kinda game is really interesting. All the time simply, I use to play online games. I just wanna try this indoor Skate!

The indoor skateboards look awesome that would work great since we are in Colorado.

Kids love anything with video it seems! At least it gets them moving and can help get them activity when the weather is bad!

Nice article good to read this. i love skateboard and i have many skateboard in my childhood.

Thanks for this sharing this wonderful project and educating the world on the real origins of skateboarding.

I really like to play games and this of one of my favorite.
Looking to play like this. Thanks for this.

Thank you for this information.

really enjoyed to read this article

This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am truly impressed to read everything in one place.

May 13, 2009

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America

Members of the 4 Wheel Warpony skate team (White Mountain Apache). Photo courtesy of Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache/Navajo), 2008.

Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America
June 12, 2009–November 1, 2009
NMAI on the National Mall, Washington, DC

Ramp it Up celebrates the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of American Indian skate culture. Skateboarding combines demanding physical exertion with design, graphic art, filmmaking, and music to produce a unique and dynamic culture. One of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, skateboarding has inspired American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities to host skateboard competitions and build skate parks to encourage their youth. Native entrepreneurs own skateboard companies and sponsor community-based skate teams. Native artists and filmmakers, inspired by their skating experiences, credit the sport with teaching them a successful work ethic. The exhibition features rare and archival photographs and film of Native skaters as well as skatedecks from Native companies and contemporary artists.

Comments (34)

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I find this very interesting. I grew up when the skate board culture was reaching it's popularity in the early 80's. It at the time was a white kid suburban type thing ofcourse some of us joined in. It is now a very popular past time. I enjoy it. I however just don't see it as part of our culture. I think there are many other things that our youth could focus on that could keeped them focused our give them a better work ethic. Maybe learning some of and reviving some of the traditional ways.


Young people always have taken the things they come in contact with and changed them to fit their world view. Horse was a big dog for the People brought over by new immigrants, and yet Horse became part of the Way. Young people who find a vehicle that helps galvanize their identity should never be diminished or ignored, particularly when it empowers them to grow and build themselves on a good road as this exhibit shows.

Any activity that keeps our youth not in front of the TV is excellent. Skateboard is much of our culture now then any other recreational sport.

Now for us "old" guys who grew up in the 80s skating, but are now too lazy to push, they've got electric skateboards.

I think skateboarding is unlike any other activity because it promotes a positive lifestyle that can be applied to any group, ethnicity, or nationality. Having been raised here but born elsewhere I always struggled to reconcile the 2 world's as I could only assume Native Americans do on a much deeper level. Skateboarding, I believe, acts as a vehicle to understand yourself first, then have the strength to go back and understand your past, so you can shape the future. Skateboarding saves the world!

This is so rad. Applying art and culture into a sport that teens are stoked on is something very rare these days. It's kinda like the tahoe paddle fest for peoples on the west coast. What are the names of the artists and companies? I'm sure a skate magazine such as thrasher or transworld would love to hear about this and get these kids some promo. Thanks NMAI for covering this!

I used to skateboarding when i was in college.Me and my friends used to do skateboarding in weekends.I thank you for this article, you brought back my memories.

In regard of Shoshone, Skateboarding requires an incredible amount of focus. It also requires a huge commitment of time to be just average. Anyone that skateboards, has to know commitment and persistence very well. I do believe that there are values that are learned from skateboarding.

This reminds me of this time when I was 15 and skateboarding. I tried to do a trick of a picnic table, the board went straight down and I landed on top of it. Let me tell you this was the worst bruise I have ever had in my entire life. LOL

Do you weblinks to the artists, both those who may have documented the work and those creating the work?

I used to skateboard when I was in college. Me and my friends used to do skateboarding on weekends.I thank you for this article, you brought back my memories.

Hi people, all man's situations have their ups and downs.

Keeping kids busy with a sport activity they like is important for their health and to keep them away from troubles (drugs, street gangs...)

Thanks for sharing.

Skateboarding is something kids really enjoy and I think this is really important. But the kids need to realize how important it is to have their helmets on.

Wow...I've never heard of native american skateboarders...this is news to me....interesting article.

Skateboarding is great for kids. Our localpark has recently been renovated and now has a complete skate area. It gives the kids something to do. They can use their energy in a positive way.
We sell products to a lot of skateboarders and think these guys really love what they do.

Interesting culture Skateboarding is. It is not just a habit anymore :)

I am from Brazil and we have a nice ramp built in the middle of amazon jungle, where native people from there used to skate, but it is so hard to get skateboard parts that they quit skating.


This is a great project for indigenous Indie filmmakers to follow up. We will make sure our community promotes the work.


Dingi Ntuli

Kids and adults enjoy skatboarding. We really need a skatepark here but the local council hate yet to begin work. It was agreed that our park would be open this year but it's not looking too good at this point!

Well done. There is absolutely no doubt that active involvement of sport, in all its forms, can be a positive influence on all involved - both those who are actively involved as well as those that support them.

Great to hear and see that the sport of skateboarding is inspiring and helping these young people of two great cultures.

Golfing News

hi, i am Tony.
Discovered this site when I was browsing for material for our webpage, clearly it’s not all relative however its interesting how you can reach a web site accidentally and find yourself looking through something completely different but just as helpful. I am inclined to get distracted a quite a lot this way.

Wow it just goes to show how small minded people are (myself included) that would never even have entertained the thought of native americans doing something that is so common and that so many of us enjoy... great post :)

Skateboarding is a great way to not only express yourself but also meeting new like minded friends and having a great time. Im a skater from the 70% from way back with the old plastic board and wheels but now im all about my nike sb trainers and plywood boards. How times have changed.

thanks for sharing this great article

Interesting article, very educative and mind opening.

that's a really cool idea, never thought skate boarding could be an effective cultural tool but obviously it can...

I had no idea that Native Americans were into skateboarding. It is nice to hear that they are doing something positive and constructive as youth. Hopefully we will see some of them on ESPN one day.

Hey there i think thats a great idea we need more skate parks everywhere but especially in places were it could not just motivate people to skate but to motivate and show that anyone can accomplish anything they set there minds to whether it be getting good at skateboarding or by proving to themselves that it was by getting better at a really hard sport to get the hang of thank you so much
henry james

Interesting article,
Honestly havent heard about skating on this level,
but it could create lots of fun and joy.

This looks like incredible fun for the kids, and anything interactive is sure to be a hit with young people. Skateboarding is a great sport to become involved in.

Thanks for this nice post

Nice info.

Nice post with great information i come to know about through this article