Beneath a canopy of trees, skaters from all walks of life lay in the grass on a hot June day. Groups of young people took to JFK Memorial Park in Cambridge on skateboards and sat side by side as friends new and old laced up their roller skates. A DJ spun a youthful mix of indie and hyper-pop music, and there was an undeniable buzz in the air. People came from all over Greater Boston to participate in the “Rainbow Rollout”, organized by LonelyBones Skate Co., a skateboard collective launched in 2020 by Rayven Tate and 23-year-old Claire Lee. Attendees walked up Memorial Drive and back to the park, where music, snacks and a raffle took place.
As the entrance to the park began to fill up, Lee grabbed a megaphone and greeted the group. Then came a disclaimer: “For anyone worried about pacing or anything, we’ll go very slow. If you ever feel overwhelmed, we have plenty of marshals. The people there weren’t professional skateboarders, and that’s the point. Lee and Tate started LonelyBones because they felt there was no place in skateboarding for people like them: young women of color just starting out. In doing so, they ended up tapping into something much deeper.
Skateboarding boomed in the 2000s, and often rebellious young men were the face of it. However, in recent years, this face has changed. Even popular culture has taken hold. “Skate Kitchen,” a 2018 film about an all-female skate gang in New York City, was well received by critics and viewers. He struck a timely deal and received an HBO spin-off show called “Betty.” Whether or not culture reflects reality can be debated. But in this case, it seems like the reality of a changing skate culture is in sync with what we see on our screens. Lee and Tate’s club for people on the fringes of popular skate culture is one of them. With LonelyBones, the two founders help solve the problem of intimidating and sometimes unwelcoming skate park experiences.
Lee, a New Jersey native and recent Northeastern University graduate, grew up snowboarding and surfing. She has always been into active sports and thought skateboarding would be a logical new sport to try. But at the same time, the skateboarding culture she grew up with wasn’t one that felt open to people who looked like her. “I think something in skate culture is a bit more exclusive,” she explained. And growing up as a child of South Korean immigrants, the sport seemed inscrutable to him.
When Lee met her boyfriend, himself a skateboarder, a whole new world opened up to her. For Lee, he became a bridge to a world she wanted to be a part of. He showed her the tricks of the trade and she fell in love with the sport.
Tate, who is originally from Texas and also a recent Northeastern University graduate, felt the same way. She was drawn to skating culture – especially fashion after growing up in private schools with uniforms. While searching for her own style, she found the aesthetic interesting. As lockdown orders are enacted across the world, she decided now was the perfect time to learn. But she didn’t know where to start.
Little did Lee know that time spent skating with her boyfriend was essential to creating something that would mean so much to so many people. The start of LonelyBones, like many Gen Z events, started with a DM. “She posted a video of her doing an ollie or something,” Tate said. Everyone had been sent home from the Northeast due to the pandemic, and Tate decided to respond to Lee’s message. “When I come back, can you please teach me how to skate?” she asked. Then the two hatched an idea. Maybe they could start a skate club. But they didn’t know if other people would be interested.
Lee and Tate posted to Northeast Facebook groups and created an Instagram announcing their first event. “I think 60 people came to the first one,” Tate said. Both founders were shocked. Most of the people who showed up were strangers to each other, but Lee said it was immediately hot. “I think it was comfortable because these people felt the same way we did for so long that the event was kind of a relief,” Lee said. Since then, the two founders have organized meetings.
LonelyBones found itself at the intersection of post-graduation blues, pandemic boredom and a genuine hunger in people to learn a new skill. The collective is not exclusive, but they are focused on maintaining a space where women, gender non-conforming, disabled and trans skaters can feel comfortable. They host events several times a month and are currently hosting their first summer roller skating camp for beginner inline and quad skaters. Camp, like all LonelyBones events, is completely free. In summer, attendance fluctuates between 60 and 100 people. “The band drives itself, energetically,” Lee said. It’s one of the many things that makes the band so unique.
Positive energy is hard to cultivate artificially, and it was palpable at the event at JFK Memorial Park. Northeastern New York graduate Alana Persing said the collective has helped her feel more at home. “There are other Latin women here. And anyone who feels like they haven’t had a home,” Persing said. “I feel like we were kind of shut out of this type of activity for no real reason.” Many attendees said that in traditional skate parks there is pressure to show up and prove yourself. At LonelyBones events, Persing explained, that’s never the case.
Community is at the center of LonelyBones, and skateboarding is just the vessel. Lee chokes up remembering the people who told him they made real friends at those events. It really resonated with young people in Boston. It’s a strange time as major cities break free from peak pandemic restrictions, and on top of that, many of Lee and Tate’s peers are recent college graduates. “We just want to be the starting point, an introduction to skating and community building and living, honestly,” Lee said.
At these gatherings, people making friends can be seen in real time. After all the skaters returned from their ride on Memorial Drive, Matt Salomon and Nicole Zhao sat next to each other on the sidewalk, chatting. They looked like old friends. But they were far from it. “I was just sitting across from Matt, and I was like, ‘Hey, let’s be friends,'” Zhao said. Solomon laughed and explained that it’s one of the few events of its kind where the goal is to be part of a community. “Even if you have a short conversation with someone, it’s nice and not awkward,” Solomon said.
Zhao explained that if you’re brave enough to go to the skate park, but no one is like you or wants to spend time with you, it’s easy to feel discouraged. LonelyBones is unique in that it makes you feel like this activity can be for you too. Everyone here wants to hang out with you. “We launched it, but it’s community-centric, and we really want everyone to be able to occupy space here,” Tate said.
Frequent attendees take this message to heart. When Northeastern grad student Julia Clarin started skateboarding a year and a half ago, someone came up to her at a skate park and told her about LonelyBones. Being able to learn with a support group of like-minded people has been important to her as a skateboarder and as a Boston transplant. Clarin says that if she ever sees someone looking intimidated or lonely in a skatepark, she returns the favor by inviting them to skate with LonelyBones. “That person who reached out to me was so meaningful,” Clarin said. “So I want to be that person for other people.”
Going forward, Lee and Tate want to focus on building their impact, especially on young skaters. They hope the collective will be able to offer graduate scholarships at some point. Both also want the collective to be a place where young skaters who don’t see themselves represented can turn. “If I had seen someone who looked like me skate when I was a kid, I probably would have started skating much earlier, and it probably would have affected other aspects of my life as well,” Lee said.
The two founders want people who feel left out – for whatever reason – to get out there, grab a board and take some space.