Summer Safety: Skateboarding Helmet Culture

Spencer Kinley's piano teacher said she'd never seen anyone like him. A musical prodigy, the boy somehow just knew how to play, his parents said. "It was a talent that God gave him," his mother Melinda Kinley said.

His father, Karl Kinley, said his piano talents gave people a greater understanding of his character.

"He loved to play things that just moved," he said.

Spencer also loved skateboarding. Earlier this month, he was skating down a hill near his home in Texas.

"In the beginning I said, 'Spencer you know, you ought to be wearing a helmet with this skateboarding stuff','" Melinda Kinley said. "'Oh no Mom, nobody wears helmets when they skateboard,'" was what he replied, Spencer's mother said.

He lost control and flew off the skateboard, landing on his head. Spencer Kinley died at age 15.

Skateboarding attracts millions of people, most of them young men -- many of whom are ignoring the risks involved, resulting in tragic accidents like the one that killed Spencer. On the contrary, many skateboarders are drawn to the sport because of the danger involved. The skateboarding industry put out clear a message: Danger warnings are printed right on the boards.

"The most common type of injuries from skateboarding tend to be ankle injuries and wrist injuries followed by head injuries," said Julie Vallese of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In many skate parks, boarders often are required to wear protective gear. On the street, however, it's a different story.

"It just constricts everything, like helmets and pads and everything," one skateboarder said. "You just can't move as well."

Another boarder said protection isn't necessary because the sport has mellowed. "There's not as much dangerous aerial maneuvers out here," he said. "The worst you gotta worry about is getting your skateboard run over."

Part of the reason skateboarders are wary of wearing helmets on the street stems from skateboard culture, which promotes going bigger, higher and faster with safety as an afterthought. "Lords of Dogtown," the 2005 film starring Heath Ledger, chronicled the sport's origins in Santa Monica, Calif., created by freewheeling nonconformists.

Roger Harrell is the publisher of Skateboarder magazine and serves on the board of the industry trade group International Association of Skateboarding Companies. The magazine's photo spreads are full of hazardous stunts, but in only a few photos are the boarders wearing helmets.

"Most of the people who would be featured in the magazine are very proficient in the sport," he said. "If you're starting out wearing safety gear would be highly recommended. But as your skill level increases that need for those types of equipment is not as great."

Safety equipment is also missing on some of the Web's biggest skateboarding sites. Among those shown without gear is Riley Hawk, son of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

"I do blame the industry for not making it cool to wear helmet," said Karl Kinley.

As the Kinleys face life without their youngest child, they can't understand why helmets aren't mandatory for skateboarders, and they're trying to get the message out. Karl Kinley has created a poster he'd like to see hanging in every skateboard shop.

The Kinleys said one positive experience came from their son's death: They helped others in need by donating Spencer's organs.

Meanwhile, other skateboard companies and magazines contacted by ABC News had similar explanations for why most skateboarders don't wear helmets in photos and videos: The athletes all have advanced skills, and helmets were never a big part of skateboard culture. They do urge "beginners" to wear helmets and pads.

Tony Hawk said if he and his son aren't wearing them, it's usually when they're doing less dangerous maneuvers that they know well.

"Wearing a helmet can make all the difference," Karl Kinley said.