The popularity of street skating — performing complex stunts while skateboarding in the streets — has been rising fast among children, with magazines, video games and hundreds of videotapes and DVDs devoted to the sport.
Traditional skateboarders used ramps and skate parks, but street skaters pride themselves on peforming tricks in public places. There are even professional street-skaters who compete in extreme sporting events such as this year's X Games.
But the Journal of Trauma has published a study today attributing the rise of skateboarding-related injuries to the popularity of street skating.
Researchers and safety advocates are concerned because many street-skaters do not wear any safety gear while performing street stunts like riding skateboards down stairs in public places.
Dr. Flaura Winston, a pediatrician and researcher with the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia who led the study, was in disbelief when she saw some of the moves involved in street skating.
"My first was reaction was, 'Oh my God — I can't believe they're out there without any gear on at all,'" Winston said. "'They're going to have injuries.'"
Bigger Than Baseball
In the 1990s, the sport transitioned from a 1980s-style known as "vert" — in which skateboarders used 10-foot-high ramps in areas designed for skateboarding — to street skating.
Winston's team reported that skateboarding injuries in the past few years have been increasing at an alarming rate. Between 1998 and 2001, injuries increased by an average of 16,500 per year. In 2001, more than 100,000 people, ages 7 years and older, visited an emergency room for skateboard-related injuries.
Winston attributes the huge jump in injuries to the rising popularity of street skating.
For teenagers, skateboarding is bigger than baseall. Last year, 10.6 million children under the age of 18 got on a skateboard, compared to 8.2 million who played baseball, American Sports Data reported. Many of those children are using the boards for street skating.
Not Just Breaks and Sprains
Young skateboarders are not protecting themselves properly for the complex stunts of street skating.
"The thing that worries me is the rate has been increasing recently, and that has a lot to do with the change in the sport," Winston said.
Winston warns that the injuries are not just minor breaks or sprains. Nearly 5 percent of the injuries are to the brain or the head — head injuries that often could be prevented if the skaters would just wear helmets.
But safety advocates admit they face a huge hurdle as they try to convince kids it's important to wear helmets and pads.
A recent visit to this popular skate shop in New York City illustrated the problem. There were dozens of magazines and videotapes, and even clothing ads that celebrated street skating. Not one of the featured athletes had on any protective gear.
Daredevil Moves Add Appeal
Jeb Maycott, who manages a New York skate shop called Blades, says that for better or worse, the added risk is part of the sport's appeal.
"Half of the reason skateboarding is so popular and kids do it is because it's so rebellious — they like doing the daredevil kind of stuff," Maycott said.
On a recent day in New York's Tompkins Square Park, dozens of kids were practicing street-skating tricks without any pads, or any interest in wearing them.
"That's part of the sport — to get scratches and stuff," said Asa, a 12-year-old street skater.
It is an attitude that seems to be the norm right now. And it is exactly what has Winston and her colleagues sounding an alarm.
"We might start seeing this relatively safe sport is going to become known as a relatively dangerous sport — and I'd like to stop that," she said.
ABCNEWS' Greg Hunter reported this story for Good Morning America.