Ever since I was in single digits, I’ve been fascinated by skateboarding. From the plastic yellow deck with the red polyurethane wheels that I had in the early 80’s to the Lib Tech maple & fibreglass deck with jet black Spitfire wheels I’ve used so sparingly over the last ten years, and all the others in between, I’ve skated on and off on all shapes and sizes of skateboards for thirty years.
I’ve seen the sport go from boom to bust, to boom again, before skateboarding finally achieved the critical mass that made it part of pop culture and here to stay. What’s unfortunate is that I haven’t had many friends to skate with over the years, which has led to it being a somewhat lonely pastime for me and caused my interest to run in cycles.
When I first took up mountainbiking in the mid 90’s I was fortunate enough to have some good friends who were also passionate about the sport. We’d spend days learning new skills and that kept me motivated to keep riding.
I’ve not had that luxury with skateboarding. Some years I’ve barely been on my board and it was after a barren 2010 where I skated just once, when I decided that I should throw myself at it for 2011 and get the most out of a sport I love before my body is too old and creaky to do anything about it.
The trouble is, I’m not that good.
This is nothing to do with being 38.5 at the time of writing. Far from it. The fact of the matter is that aside from being able to skate in a straight line and turn, there’s never been much in my repertoire to suggest I’ve spent a fair bit of time doing it.
Kids in skateparks have asked me over the years “How long have you been skating for?” Which is a polite way of saying “you appear to be old and rubbish, therefor you must be new at this.”
It’s somewhat galling that for the last ten years I’ve been able to reluctantly answer “A very long time. Since your mum and dad were little, most probably.” This usually brings a head-tilt-nod of pity.
Not that I’m really bothered about being rubbish. I’ve never had particularly agile feet, so when street skating got really technical in the late 80’s and replaced vert as the main form of the sport, I fell between two stools. I wanted to skate vert, but there just weren’t any ramps around, and I wasn’t technically good enough to perform street skating tricks. Those flip tricks just seemed beyond me, to the point where I couldn’t even be bothered practising them.
I just got on with enjoying riding my skateboard. I’ve never felt that I had to land a switch kick flip to find it satisfying – a lot of the time in the 80’s I was content to find a really steep hill and fly down it at break-neck speeds.
But it occurred to me that there’s no reason I can’t learn some basic tricks, which is why I decided to challenge myself this year to learn how to perform an ollie, a ramp trick, and a grind.
These are all within my grasp if I just keep practising. And, after three Friday afternoon sessions lasting two hours each, I think I can safely say that those things are still within the realms of possibility – I just need to keep at it to get better. It’s not coming to me easily – far from it. After videoing myself I could see just how shaky I look dropping into the bowl at Unit 23 skatepark.
Each week I have found a slight improvement in different areas, though. By the end of my first visit I was dropping into ramps and had improved my balance. After the second I was dropping in much more consistently and had gained some strength in my legs so I wasn’t completely crippled for the days that followed. The third week I didn’t improve on the ramps much, but was throwing myself into the bowl with no fear and at one point I landed a small ollie from the concrete floor onto the bed of a ramp. I fell off right away in surprise at doing it, but it’s progress all the same!
And it’s seeing these slight improvements each week that’s keeping me excited about it. I can’t wait until I’m more graceful and confident, but, short of an 80’s style movie montage, it’s going to take me a while to get good at it.
Those skills will come in good time, I’m sure. In the meantime I’m finding skateboarding now as fun as I ever did as a kid.