Hello granddad, got a new skateboard?

When the height of cool is ever younger and younger, it's hard for the older funkster not to transmogrify into a tragic grown-up. Eleanor Bailey reports

They come, they soar, they insist on wearing exceptionally funky T-shirts and, these days, a lot of them are pushing 35.

Last week, Generation 97, the biggest skateboarding competition ever in this country, was held at Wembley. Meanwhile, yet another boarding "concept" shop opened in Covent Garden.

Quiksilver caters for boarding of all kinds - surf, snow and skate. It sells equipment and, of course, the coolest clothing range, as is amply demonstrated in its evocative advert, featuring Serge Vitelli, a skate- turned-snowboarder in his late twenties, in long baggy shorts and checked shirt down to his knees. Maybe he's still waiting to grow into them. The trouble is, when the height of cool is arriving at an ever younger age, it's hard for the older funkster not to transmogrify into a tragic grown up.

In skateboarding and life, cool is getting younger. Older people are forced to plug into the hip habits that the 11 year old has left behind. The media and the adult population is still completely overexcited about Tamagotchi and Tazo collecting and Teletubbies (this month's Face has a letter from a reader outing Tinky Winky as "the first role model Britain's Queer Toddlers have ever had").

But the really cool, the ultrayouth, are less interested. Mark Ratcliffe, director of Murmur, a youth-culture research company, explains that Teletubbies is the kind of thing that appeals to six year olds and 30 year olds but few in-between. "To a 12 year old, Teletubbies are just facile, whereas adults can have a laugh. Twelve year olds generally reject anything aimed specifically at them."

Skateboarders have always thought of themselves as cutting edge and, indeed, the 11 year olds down by London's Westway are just that. "Skateboarding has defined fashion since the late Seventies," says skater Jim Harrison, 30. It just doesn't look the same when you're paying a mortgage.

At 29, Lee Smith might be thought rather old to take to the street on a piece of wood with wheels on the bottom. Six months ago, after all, he was a Ferrari mechanic. But then he got made redundant and a friend asked him to come and work in new skateboard distributor L'Esprit D'Equipe. "In the Seventies I was on a push-bike," explains Smith. "I had literally never been on a skateboard before. It was so exciting. Luckily the kind of stuff I wore was the right kind of stuff - like combat trousers and T-shirts. Now, every morning, I skate to work down the King's Road, and I'm learning tricks on the ramp. I am going to carry on doing it for the rest of my life."

While professional skateboarder Sean Goff is with the other thirtysomethings at the unofficial "grown-up night" in Northampton's skating park, his seven-year-old son, Otis, out-cools him on the PlayStation. "He rings me up every morning to tell me his latest Soul Blade score [a fighting game]. He's normally better than me. His schoolfriends' dads are on the dole or have a normal job, but he likes it that the other kids go "Whoa! that's cool" when they hear what I do. At 25, I had the mortgage, the job and the car, but I didn't see why that meant I had to develop this sensible adult mentality."

Anna, 28, who runs an independent record shop, says that she is regularly out-cooled by ultrayouth. "Having groups the age of Hanson around isn't new. But what is, I suppose, is the nous of this cool sector of 12 year olds. Adults turn to them for inspiration. My partner gets really over- excited about Tamagotchi, but my ten-year-old son just laughs at him. He's into Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. There's no point trying to compete, they know far more about what's cool than I do."

Forty per cent of Sony PlayStation users are aged over 25, but eight year olds are better at it. Sony's head of PR, Alan Welsman, says, "Eight year olds have the ability to pick up faster and can spot the loopholes and find ways to cheat that adults can't. It's because they are prepared to concentrate so much harder."

Adam, a publisher, bows to their superior sophistication. "I was at a party and a group of girls were there who could not have been more than than 13. They were the coolest people in the world. They dressed better, they had more confidence. I tried to respond to their lippiness but there was no point. They just made me look really pathetic."

Of course, not every 11 year old will be embarrassed by you. They may be far more media literate than the average 30 year old, but the vast majority are still pretending to be 15 and frightened of the dark. It is the small superclass of 11 year olds who make the rest of us look frumpy. At least soon they'll be dissed by five year olds for wearing last night's trainers.

Fandango reports on the launch on Quiksilver on page 9.

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