I've been soul searching about skateboarding lately. Skateboarding has been a very important part of my life. It has been a primary factor on where I've lived. Moving to Portland, Oregon at one point was very much influenced by the skateboard scene and culture of that city. I've chosen houses to live in according to proximity to skate spots. Skateboarding has been the sole activity that I've done since the age of six or seven that has never wavered from my life.
But that dedication has a downside. I've passed on a lot of experiences so that I could remain in my skateboard bubble. A lot of things I was interested in doing, I've passed on because they'd take time away from skating. That isn't to say I have never had any other activities outside of skating, of course. I've dabbled in running, cycling, weight lifting, and Brazilian Jujitsu (among other activities). But all of those other things have always come with a little sense of guilt. After all, while I'm doing those other things, I could be skateboarding. It is almost as if I'm cheating on skateboarding by enjoying other physical activities (when I could be skateboarding).
I know that probably sounds lame. It is lame, but I have centered so much of my life around skateboarding I literally feel guilt moving away from it. Or maybe I feel like I'm moving away from what I have defined myself as for so long.
The unfortunate thing is that I always wanted to get into hiking, backpacking, and camping. I never did because a weekend without a skateboard seemed like sacrilege. I've never wanted to be a racer, but I've always wanted to get more into cycling, cruising on a bicycle from point a to point b. Instead of that (and after the two bikes I bought got stolen in a house robbery), I got into distance skating instead (gotta stay on a board, man). I want to learn to fish, but those hours in a boat could have been spent in a ditch.
I'm admitting it because it ends today. No longer am I going to define myself so forwardly as a skateboarder. No longer am I going to feel guilt for not skating and for doing some other activity.
I've recently started running again. It has been a fun challenge that I want to continue. I also recently bought a used bicycle that I'm fixing up to ride. I'm skipping my Friday skate to go camping. And between all these activities I'm going to keep skating. Freestyle a few days a week peppered in with swerving some cones and carving some ditches.
Life is good with variety.
Thoughts on the Skateboarding Hall of Fame
It took less than a second for Google to offer me several links to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame website. I clicked a link and was welcomed by an interesting splash page filled with pictures of classic skate equipment. I love seeing old skate equipment so I was pretty stoked on what I found. Really, I'm not positive of what I was expecting, but I can admit, I wanted to hate the website. I wanted to hate it because the entire idea of skateboarding having a hall of fame seems like the antithesis of what skateboarding has meant to me over this lifetime of riding.
As a twelve year old, skateboarding was my escape from the rules and forced teamwork of little league. As a teenager, skating partnered with punk rock as a search for self away from the judgmental eyes of parents and teachers. It was rebellion. As an adult, for me, skateboarding is a very solitary experience. It continues to be my escape. When I am skating I am nobody. I am reduced to concentration on the act of skating. Whether I skate well or poorly is immaterial. I am lost of the act of being on my board (and often falling off of it).
Teenage me would probably not see the seeming oxymoron of a SHoF. A love for the history of skating has been deeply ingrained in me since I first saw the movie Skateboard Madness. I've always been drawn to the history of this activity, and the history of the activity (it seems to me) doesn't get nearly enough recognition.
However, history and heroes are two different things, and the entire process of skateboarding insiders nominating other skateboarding insiders does seem a bit. . .masturbatory. But that isn't to say that the accomplishments of Tony Alva, Rodney Mullen, Tony Hawk, Steve Olson etc. shouldn't be celebrated. I keep thinking about it in punk rock terms. A punk rock hall of fame would truly indicate that punk was dead. However, bands like The Ramones, Dead Kennedy's, and Black Flag should be celebrated for their music. Does celebrating the rebellion mean that the rebellion is now simple nostalgia?
Probably. I skate a public skate park in a town of less than 4,000 people in Arkansas. It sits next to baseball fields. We can't fool ourselves into thinking skateboarding, now an Olympic "sport," is in any way still rebellious. Sure, we still have the opportunity to break rules, skate where we're not wanted, and have issues with security guards and police. But the amount of totally legal spots paid for by city governments certainly balances out that equation.
It all becomes too confusing for me. I'm going to throw some Circle Jerks onto the car stereo, hit a couple skate spots, and not think about it anymore.
The Freestyle Winter
In my book, Nobody: Essays From a Lifer Skater, I mention that freestyle wasn't something that captured my interest as a newbie skater. My initial fascination had been captured by images of vert and pool skating in 80s Thrasher Magazines, and even though we had no pools or vert ramps to ride, I was eager to harness that aggression on curbs and banks. The precision and sheer amount practice time necessary for freestyle wasn't something, as a teenager, that I was willing to invest into for my skateboarding.
It seems that my attention span and interest in details has improved over the last 30 years (as one would hope). I first attempted freestyle in late October of 2018, and I have been in love with freestyle skating since then. It requires such precise movement and such dedication just to learn one basic maneuver. For instance, I thought learning to spacewalk would be a cinch. I mean, looking at freestyle skaters like Kevin Harris or Tony Gale who spacewalk with such ease. It must be simple, look how easy it looks!
There was nothing easy in my experience of learning to spacewalk. It took session after session of trial and error before it clicked and I was able to propel myself by turning on the back two wheels of my board. Doing a decent walk the dog was much the same. Backwards walk the dogs? Forget about it. And doing a flamingo (one-footed turn to fakie followed by a one-footed carve)? So much more difficult than it looks when Terry Synott is doing them on instagram.
Freestyle brought me a new way of progressing on my skateboard just as I was wondering what I could do to keep myself moving forward for the winter. And it was a very wet winter. Thank goodness for a clean garage to work on tricks while it rained outside. I added nosehook impossibles, rail flips, rolling fingerflips. . .tons of new tricks to my bag.
Freestyle has also ignited the fire to street skate. Much of my flat ground street tricks aren't considered "good" freestyle. I like to take my foot off my board with boneless tricks, ollie fastplants, and no complies. I've been able to rediscover all these old flat ground tricks, added them to my freestyle, and even incorporated curbs and parking blocks to the mix. My skateboarding feels fresh again. Personal Progression as I move past my mid-forties.
What constitutes progress?
I showed up at one of my local skateparks this afternoon with two tricks in mind. I wanted to do a half cab into a blunt with a 180 out on a parking block, and I wanted to attempt a no comply, half fingerflip, land in casper, and flip out of casper. For those that know me, neither of these tricks sound like something I would work on, at least not for the last couple years.
For the last couple years (until October 2018) I've not done many tricks at all. Sure, I still did a few berts when skating banks, but I had taken my progression away from tricks and focused it on speed and smoothness. I was trying to do the same carve line faster than the last time I did it. I was trying to make my berts smoother. I was trying to dodge cones and push for miles a little faster than I had previously.
Skaters want to continue to progress. That is part of the thrill of skateboarding, getting better each time we roll. Too often, I think, the idea of progression is based solely on doing something more difficult or more dangerous. The kickflip leads to the tre flip. A grind on a ledge leads to grinding a rail. Kickflipping down a four stair leads to a five or more.
For those of us whose bodies have physically peaked in relation to recovery and resistance to injury, we often aren't able to take things bigger, higher, or more dangerous the way we may have in previous years. In fact, handrails and stair sets over four stairs aren't something I even consider skating anymore. I know, should things go wrong, I might be out of action (and out of work) for far longer than I could possibly afford.
What does progression mean to you?
What do you feel constitutes progress?
Has your idea of progress changed over the years?