I love skateboarding.
I started when I was thirteen years old and have never put it down. It’s been one of the few constants in my life. The way I dress, the things I say, and the places I’ve lived have changed, but throughout it all, I’ve always skated. I’ll admit, at times it’s taken a back seat to whatever flavor of the month sparked my interest – snowboarding, cycling, running, capoeira, etcetera – but I’ve always returned to my first love. It’s hurt me. Left me beaten, bruised, and bloody, but I’ve always stood up, brushed off the dirt, and came back for more.
My first exposure to skateboarding was when I was 8 years old. I went to the local mall with my mother, and on our way inside, I saw a guy skating in the parking lot. He would ride up to a stone pillar, scoop the board into his hand, run up the pillar, then jump back onto the board. The maneuvers he was doing – now obsolete by today’s skateboarding standards – seemed physically impossible to my childish mind. The things he did on the board were like magic and I knew I wanted to do them. I had no idea how, or even whom to ask, since I didn’t know anyone that skated, but I knew that I could figure it out. When I got home that night, I found a pair of my dad’s old shoes and had him help me glue them onto a board he had bought me a yard sale. That was the only way I could figure out how to get the board off the ground and it was a complete failure. It wasn’t until several years later when I finally saw my first skate video that I realized the potential of what can be done on a skateboard.
Throughout 8th and 9th grade I learned a lot about skateboarding, both through watching 411 Videos and reading Transworld Magazine. Some of the cool skater kids that I had no desire to be friends with called me a “poseur” because I wasn’t part of their group. Once, I remember one of them stopped me in the hallway and verbally ripped me apart about my brand new Maple jeans. Like the passive person that I was, I stood there and took it, thinking for a second that maybe I was just trying to be like the cool kids. It was later discovered that this particular kid used a hacksaw to put artificial slide marks on his board in an attempt to make him look better than he was. He also took a file to his brand new Etnies to make poor excuses for ollie and kickflip marks. I was always suspicious when I saw the perfectly round quarter-sized wear marks on his shoes. This was one of my earliest lessons in the nature of people – those who are quick to criticize others are probably the least secure in themselves. Much like the closeted homosexual tough-guy that runs around calling people faggots, it was the phony cool-guy skater kid that ran around calling people poseurs. Go figure.
We skated everywhere that it wasn’t allowed, mainly because it wasn’t allowed anywhere. In my hometown, skateboarding was banned on all public property including sidewalks. I once got a ticket because a police officer thought he saw me riding across a gas station parking lot. In reality, I didn’t even have my skateboard, but that didn’t stop him from writing me a summons. Situations like these helped form the anti-authority mentality that still shines through in my personality today. Confrontations with the police were a regular occurrence, which in retrospect, added to the proverbial thrill of it all. We stole wood from housing developments that were under construction, drove for what seemed like days to explore mediocre skate parks, and got chased out of everywhere. We worked hard to feed our habit and did a pretty good job at staying satiated. It wasn’t just about doing tricks. It was about exploring unknown landscapes and seeing what the skate gods delivered.
Over the years, my interests changed, but skateboarding stayed with me. As people often do, I went through many phases throughout my adolescence – hippy, stoner, grunge kid, hip-hop head – it didn’t matter, skateboarding fit into each one of these categories like a skeleton key. I was exposed to enough skate-centric media to know that the stereotypical “skater boy” was dead. Jamie Thomas, Chad Muska, Rodney Mullen, Ed Templeton, and Kareem Campbell embodied completely different styles, yet all were incredible skaters. Skateboarding is a subculture aggregator. I knew it was something I’d always be a part of, regardless of which particular subculture I belonged.
Now, at 33 years old, I’m no longer one of the many people I thought I was throughout my youth. I’ve given up on being cool. I go to bed at ten o’clock and watch Jeopardy almost every night – but I still skate. Scouring industrial parks and pillaging lumber isn’t my game these days. I haven’t jumped down a set of stairs in years. I tend to stick to the ramps and pools, since (in my head, at least) the consequence factor is much lower. My local skate park is perpetually closed, yet it’s almost always occupied. When I first moved to Brooklyn, I used to have to jump an 8-foot fence to get in. Now, some local kids jury-rigged a section of the surrounding fence to form a gate, allowing easier access for everyone. It’s good to know that, despite how mainstream and accessible skateboarding has become, people are still willing to work for it.