Port Washington has a problem. An increasing number of youths are forsaking their video games and comfortable couches, grabbing skateboards, and going outside in the fresh air to exercise and socialize. They are out of the house and getting fit. They are having all sorts of self-propelled, zero-carbon-footprint, good-for-the-environment fun.

This sounds like a good thing. But the reality is that there is no place in Port Washington for them to use their skateboards without getting in trouble.

My 14-year-old son is one of these youths. No longer does he mope around the house during the summer months, complaining of boredom. Instead, he gets up early, grabs his board, heads out into the summer air and skates until he drops. He comes home with the sweaty afterglow of someone who has just had a great workout. He is happy and relaxed, in a good mood, and generally pleasant to be around. Yes, I did say he was 14.

But he and his buddies are feeling the squeeze of an intolerant community. There is literally nowhere for skateboarders to congregate and work out that does not intrude on someone's private property or public sense of freedom.

It doesn't help that the police department has developed a proactive policy against skateboarders. Officers now routinely stop skaters, take their names, and include them in field reports whether they are breaking rules or not. They have even started confiscating skateboards.

I recently called police headquarters to get some advice about where we can send our boys so that they could skate without bothering anyone. After lecturing me on how skateboarders are a nuisance, the lieutenant suggested Manorhaven, an area out of his jurisdiction. Not the helpful advice I was looking for, but rather an indication that our town is reluctant to deal with the reality of this growing sport.

I do understand why the police are concerned. Their job is to protect our property, something they are exceedingly good at it. But, while it is true there is a certain percentage of skateboarders who have little respect for private property, and cause damage on a regular basis, it's unfair to include all skateboarders in this group. Most skateboarders I know are good kids. We - me, my wife and all the other parents we know - work hard to educate and communicate positive messages to our sons. Every day we stress the need to show good judgment and respect for private property.

The ever-increasing population of skateboarders in Port Washington is evidence that this activity is growing in popularity, and we as a community need to find positive ways to make it work. We need to be more tolerant. We need to let kids be kids. The plan to build a skate park near the town docks is a fantastic first step. We should all get behind this idea and help in whatever way we can to make it a reality. We also need to be more forgiving and encouraging to these boys who are doing their best. Is it so terrible if they skate on an unused basketball court? Is it really wrong for them to skate on the street in front of their own house?

Would you rather have them home playing "Grand Theft Auto"?

Chris Kiel

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