Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Lunatic Fringe: An Open Letter to Anyone Who Sucks at Skateboarding

[Every so often social media bubbles-up with complaints that some skaters post “boring” or “sub-standard” skate footage of themselves (e.g. “Do we really need to see, or cheer for, someone doing a kick turn or footplant?”). Not long ago another of these incidents occurred. It was time to throw down a gauntlet.]

Skateboarding was once a crime. In 2020 it will be an Olympic sport. A lot has changed. Skate parks are often now sandwiched between soccer and little league fields, adjacent to a dog park, and next to some other iconic metaphor of affluent, white, suburban America. Yes, we have “made it.” Skateboarding is no longer a (social) crime. Big corporate money. Video games. VICE TV shows. ESPN. Red Bull. Monster Energy Drink. Target. Nike. The Olympics. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, with this new normal(ization), aspects of more traditional social structures and attitudes (“sporting” and otherwise) have also emerged within skateboarding (even if they are often unspoken). Fit in. Do what your peers are doing. Don’t stand out (too much). Score more points than your opponent. Go bigger. Go longer/further. Be more tech. Use your skateboard as an extension of your ego. You aren’t “relevant” if you’re not dropping the newest “banger,” or trying your best to mimic (or fawn over) the type of skateboarding shown by modern hype media. Sure, facets of this have always existed in skating, but it now seems amplified. I am not, in anyway, trying to make the “old days” sound utopian. They certainly were not. That said, there is no denying that there are now more “normies” within skateboarding than ever before. Moreover, they are bringing their version of “normal” with them. Today there are some people in skateboarding whom likely would have been the very ones yelling “SKATE FAG!!!” at us in the not-so-distant past. All of this I find very disheartening. It is completely alien to what first drew me to the “outsider” world of skateboarding.

Personally, skateboarding has always been a means to “opt-out.” It was (and still is) my revolt against pop culture, and the standard mores of organized sport and organized society. Granted, I come from an era when skateboarding was nothing more than a cheap form of social suicide. Being a skater once automatically made you an outcast, and a target of contempt and ridicule. Now that skateboarding has become normalized, it has also become its own facet of pop culture—Thrasher apparel is now available at mall kiosks, everyone has a DC Shoes t-shirt, and there is that whole Supreme/Huf/Diamond thing, too. It almost seems as if the “goal” of skateboarding has become to post the most NBDs on Instagram. Fuck that. “Opting out” suddenly also means opting-out, or rebelling against, certain aspects of skateboarding itself. Irony always wins in the end.

As skateboarding becomes more and more of a social norm, and skateboarding’s own social norms become less and less distinguishable from gym class, a trip to the mall, or a large scale sporting event, I find it more important than ever to be a visible, and vocal advocate and representative of a lunatic fringe. A fringe that embraces an outcast status from both popular culture, and popular skateboard culture. A fringe that, as Lance Mountain once said, “Represents that skateboarding is fun to do by being terrible at it.” Why do I embrace this role? Because skateboarding is more than simply outshining others at the park, out-scoring an opponent, buying placed products, or fitting in with the cool kids at the DIY. As I understand and experience it, skating is a direct insurrection against those tired social tropes. That is worth defending and fighting for.

Skateboarding is at its absolute worst when it closes doors to participants because of an ability-based social hierarchy. This is especially true, and atrocious, when it occurs on the local level. Skateboarding is at its best when it opens doors that are substantive and meaningful alternatives to a typical consumer/competitive/jock existence. With more of the latter seeping in, there also needs to be more overt counter-points. It is more important to be a dissident within skateboarding today than it ever was before (well, the mid-1990s certainly could have used some, too).

This is not to say there is, or should be, an “us v. them” dichotomy—we have far, far too much of that in the world right now. What I am saying is there is no “right,” “correct,” or “valid” way to engage with skateboarding, only different ways. Once some things are seen as “good” or “acceptable” (back tail down El Toro) others are seen as “insignificant” or “trivial” (kickturn on a micro ramp). Yet, they both stem from the same Stoke. But all of this is common sense, no? I would think so. Then why does it even need to be stated? Because sometimes there is great force in speaking the unspoken. I simply want to add a voice to an existing chorus. Moreover, if you go back to the first paragraph of this post, there are some that may benefit from hearing differing perspectives.

Skateboarding needs visible counter narratives—ones that show “skateboarding is fun to do by being terrible at it.” Narratives that show skating is not only about ledge NBDs, triple kink rails, 15’ high gaps, and mega ramps. Of course those are all valid pursuits, but they are not the only valid pursuits. The counter-factuals (that’s us) are equally valid (I would argue even more so, but I’ll save that for another post). We tread dangerous waters if NBD/banger-based skating is represented as the only legitimate face of skateboarding. It is important that skating’s other faces also have a seat at the table. What are those “other faces”? I leave that intentionally open and vague, but I will say this much; they certainly include kick-turns.

Some stoked, unknown, skater.

For all the kooks out there—to all the skaters not trying to be the next Jaws, Nyjah, or Shane O’Neil, to all the people who are just beginning (adult or kids), to all the skaters who pad-up just to skate a curb, to all the people who are rolling just because they love it, and are not trying to prove anything, or impress anyone, to all the people who are following their own path, and their own Stoke, I salute you. I will always applaud your efforts no matter how small others may think they are. You are valid. You are the counter-point. You are skateboarding in its best form.

So, get stoked on your kick turns. Skate at the same spots. Do the same simple tricks. Learn nothing. Maybe not even do tricks at all. Just carve and roll. Impress no one. Have fun. I will always cheer for you. Not just because at 8, or 48-years-old, that you just did your first carve, but even more significantly, because you represent the most important thing I know in skateboarding; a place outside a “sporting" norm, without any rules, judges, or point-scale gradation. A place where we follow our own Stoke, on our own terms, with our own meaning and purpose, free of anyone else telling us how anything is supposed to be done.

So, yes, absolutely share that footage with the world, because it will unequivocally inspire others. Moreover, it is the counter-narrative. Every “non-banger” clip and photo is a chink in Olympic armor, and shows that skateboarding isn’t as vapid as Street League, Thrasher, and many others make it out to be. Even better, your clips and photos show that skateboarding still has a place for people who want to opt-out. This version of skateboarding, the one that remains an “outsider,” is the skateboarding that is important to me. It is the skateboarding that I fell in love with. It is the skateboarding that I will always champion and defend, above all else.

Post-Script: To be clear, I am not in anyway knocking tech dogs, stunt men, or their fans. I was once one myself in younger days. Further, there are plenty of skaters with pro-level ability who embody everything written above. I am also not knocking anyone that wants to pursue the dream of Olympic gold, or to be the best competitive skater in the world. If that is your path, I wish you the best of luck in those pursuits. What I am simply saying is that there is far more depth and soul to skateboarding than standing on a podium, real or imagined.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Reduction to Ash & Playing the Long-Game

The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” –Jean-Paul Sartre

I was one of those guys. You know the type. The ones who despised wearing pads, claimed that they actually give you less incentive to land something, thought they are uncomfortable/hinder movement, and pretty much refused to wear them at any cost. I didn’t care if anyone else wore them, but me, no fucking way—I was too cool for school. If fact, I steered-clear of transition for decades because of my inane loathing for pads. What a complete and utter fool I was.

Irony always wins in the end. Today, I can say that pads have literally changed my life in the last 18 months, and they opened doors I never thought possible. I’ve been meaning to post something about pads for a while, but, well, procrastination. My previous post unintentionally got the ball rolling. So I finally started this longer post, only to soon realize it wasn’t actually only about pads. There was something much bigger and deeper going on, but you'll have to read to the end for that. Everything in life is a metaphor for something else.

Me, falling.

Anyway, I currently wear pads only when skating transition. At first I only wore them in deep bowls. However, with time the size of ramp(s) that “mandated” wearing them became smaller and smaller. I suppose that is a function of (old) age. Now I won’t even go near a mere 4’ tall ramp without knee/elbow pads. The helmet comes out once in the 5’ height range (I wasn’t wearing one on 5’ ramps, until I hit my head. Lesson learned). In a previous post I mentioned a few reason why I wear pads on “smaller” sized ramps. The present post is a longer follow-up, which illuminates other reasons I have fallen in love with pads.

Pads Actually Work

Pads directly and indirectly prevent injury. This isn’t debatable. As a skater, it is a hard fact of life that we will fall and we will get hurt. As skater in his mid-40s, it is an even harder fact of life that, (a) we become increasingly more vulnerable to injury with age, and (b) healing/recovery takes much longer than it used to. To add insult to injury, getting taken-out on some stupid-little-minor-bail (e.g. see video in previous post) that could have easily been prevented with pads is just, well, that is some full-on turboclown type shit. Not skating because of a dumb injury means a nice stint with acute, crippling, existential despair and misery. No one wants star in their own Kafka or Camus novel because they stepped on their board again while running out of a bail (that would have been better served with a knee slide). That’s just a dolt move, and 100% avoidable. 

Moreover, mini ramps can bite much harder than bigger ramps. As someone on Facebook aptly said, “Minis can be more dangerous. You don’t have as big of a landing zone, or the time to get there. One second you’re on the coping, the next you’ve fallen straight to the flat bottom. When your reflexes, balance, core strength, and flexibility are not what they used to be, and when your brain remembers things your body can’t do as well anymore, pads can be the only thing that saves your ass.” A friend of mine got this hipper on a 4’ high mini ramp. He hung-up on a back Smith, and tried to run-out of it. He realized he couldn’t, and then tried to fall/roll on to his side to lessen the blow. But by then, it was too late. He went straight to the bottom, hip first. It was a month before he could really skate again. He also had a really hard time sleeping for two weeks. Grim. If he had been wearing knee pads, there might have been other bail options. If you think this pic looks bad, just know it got much worse a few days later.

It all distills down to this truth: Avoiding injury today means skating tomorrow. Pads make it much more likely I will be skating tomorrow, and that is all that matters.

The Mental Factor

There are huge mental factors in skateboarding. Anyone who has looked down from the lip of a vert ramp before their very first drop-in, or eyed their first real handrail, or even wrestled with hesitation before doing an acid drop off a curb for the first time…no matter the context, every skater knows about the mental anguish intrinsic to skateboarding. Unfortunately, this also becomes more acute with age. Pads have an undeniable mitigating factor to this anguish. Personally, I would not have started skating transition without pads—I was simply too scared of bailing, and bailing hard (and this is coming from a guy who used to do 10+ stair handrails). Pads removed a huge part of that fear, and opened new doors for me. They literally changed everything about my skating in the last 18 months. After 30+ years of skating, I have finally fallen in love with transition, and it feels like I have (re)discovered skateboarding all over again for the first time. Pads made that happen. I couldn’t be happier or have more gratitude.

Pushing Boundaries & Skating Beyond Your (Current) Ability

Once you combine the fact that (a) pads actually work, with (b) their impact on the mental factor, you get to see the real magic start to happen. Pads allow you to skate beyond your current ability or skill level. You can bail stuff without getting hurt, and you can try stuff (that you already know you can’t yet pull), without the fear of injury when you bail. The two feed into each other. Pushing beyond your current ability is where progress, and new tricks, happen. Sure, this happens any time you try something new (pads or not), but adding pads to the equation moves the needle of how willing and how far you can push yourself…and still walk away unscathed for work the next day.    

The Counter-Narrative
In an age where Thrasher won’t even publish photos that show someone wearing pads, and there are padless pros flirting death in pro bowl competitions, anyone who wears pads serves as a counter-point. It is good to have realistic counter-narratives for the common-man and common-skater; a narrative that shows there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that pads can actually open doors to new tricks and terrain, especially for those of us who are not gifted with insane natural skill, or have aged-out of the ability to immediately bounce back-up from a hard-slam, or heal-up from injury in sort time. I am proud to play a small part in that movement.

Battle Gear is Punk

Pads are fuckin’ punk, maybe even more so now than ever before. While I have never once heard a skater bash another skater for wearing pads (esp. on transition), I have often heard skaters express that they personally don’t like them, or “couldn’t bring myself to wear them.” If pads are an unspoken “uncool,” then wearing them is a spoken “fuck you” to elitist cool-guys. I find nothing more enticing. When I first started skating, one appeal of skate culture was that exact attitude towards mainstream society. I still embrace that. Pads are an overt anti-fashion and anti-ego statement to jock-types caught in the latest skate fashion trend. The counter-narrative has a nice ring to it. “This is me. These are my fucking pads. Fuck you, and fuck your ideas of social compliance.”      

The Long-Game of Perspective

I am 44-years-old. One thing has been with me my entire life; skateboarding. Jobs, pets, friends, family, lovers, material belongings, etc. have all come and gone. All of life is flux and change. That said, skateboarding has thankfully remained one of the more constant things. I am under no illusions of perpetual youth and invincibility. Skateboarding won’t last forever. The end is closer and closer every day. Eventually my body will crumble, break, and fail beyond any point of return. Bukowski once said, “If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it is your duty to be reduced to ashes by it.” And that is exactly what I intend to do. I’m riding this train until the very last fucking wheel falls off in a smoldering pile of broken bones and scarred flesh. That said, I am not trying to burn the candle at both ends. I am knowingly and intentionally playing a long-game strategy. With that, your perspective shifts. One of those shifts is a real effort to stay healthy and injury free. To that end, I now find myself doing things that were inconceivable in my younger days. Things that include, among others, stretching, trying to eat well, exercise outside of skateboarding, and, well, wearing pads when I skate little 4' high mini ramps. 

Time and age strip a lot away from us. Ultimately they take everything, even our lives. However, they also provide great gifts. One of which is the perspective and ability to fully understand how important and meaningful some things are to us. Skateboarding is one of things. If you think this post is about wearing pads, you are not entirely wrong. But, there is something larger. What this post is really about, is taking steps to continue doing something you love, as long and as far, as you possibly can. Never stray from the things that make you glad you are alive. Keep them as close as you can, for they constitute the fabric of our lives. Much sand has indeed escaped the hourglass, and I certainly now see through it with a much clearer vision. 

Here is a short clip of me doing something I love, with pads on (well, there is some padless street skating, too. I go down way harder on transition than on street).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

One Reason I Wear Pads On Small Ramps

Why do I wear pads on ramps that are only 4’ high? Simple. Watch this clip.

It’s little shit like this, which is why I will always and unabashedly wear pads on even smaller mini ramps. There is a lot more going on here than it may first appear, and this bail could have been catastrophic without pads. Let's break it down.

In this clip I was going into a frontside 5-0 grind to tailslide. I was leaning a tad too far forward at the start of the trick. The rear truck snagged as I was going into the tailslide, and some how I managed to pop the rear wheels on top of the platform, as can be seen in this screen grab.

With the wheels now on the platform, this caused the board to immediately stop its sideways momentum. I, however, kept going. I then tried to simply step off  (my board) with my front foot, so I could easily just “run out” of it and/or run down the transition (which is the normal procedure for 95% of all bails on a ramp this size). But not so fast. My front foot got “caught” in pocket of the nose (almost like doing an ollie), and I couldn’t get the board out from under my feet. In the pic below you can see how the board is “stuck” to my front foot as I tried to “run out” of it.

Worse, the forward inertia had continued to pitch my torso far forward of my tangled-up feet. By the time my front foot was finally off the board, my window of time to “run out” of the trick was over. I was way off balance, and there was no question I was going down. The next pic shows both the moment my foot is finally off the board, and also how far forward my leading shoulder is. There is no recovery at this point. This is also where things get interesting.

So, what to do in this situation? If you have pads on, you just drop to your knees, and walk away. If you do NOT have pads, dropping to your knees would be disastrous. You may not be walking again for awhile. Without pads on for this bail, you would most likely tuck that leading shoulder and attempt to "roll out" of it on to your back, take it on your hip, or just dive face first straight to the bottom. There is no way you're not going down head first at this point. God knows how any of those other bail options would have ended, or what other kinds of injury would come from it. But, because I had pads on, I was able to just drop into that knee slide, and walk away unscathed. Pads are not always about saving your knees/elbows; they can often indirectly save other parts of your body, as this situation clearly illustrates. This bail would have been a very, very, different story without them. 

So, I will always wear pads on even “smaller” ramps because they occasionally save your ass, and save it in a major way. Old guys like me need as much help avoiding injury as we can possibly get. We certainly don't heal as fast as we used to, either. Avoiding injury today means we will be able to skate tomorrow, and that is all that really matters. Plus, battle gear is punk in that anti-cool kind of way. The real irony here, is that less than two years ago I hated wearing pads, and didn't even own any. Live and learn.

I've accepted the fact that I've pretty much become the exact stereotype of an "old guy skater," but I wouldn't have it any other way. Of course, the shorter way of saying all of this is, "I wear pads now because I'm old, and I suck." Hah. But, if you can't laugh at yourself, then what's the point? Life is weird. I'm still doing handrails at 44-years-old, but I won't go near a mini ramp without pads. Something is horribly wrong here. 

Post-Script: I don’t (yet) wear pads when street skating, but I know someday it will eventually come to that. Who knows when. When it does, I will embrace it with every fiber of my being, after all, I'll still be skateboarding. :)   

Post-Post-Script: Further comments on this topic can be found here

We Are What We Have Been Becoming

Do you remember the skater you were before the world told you who to be? We are what we have been becoming, and you once again become that skater when you get old. 

Some young kids in the 1980s. Some old guy in the present.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"I Broke My Neck, and That's Fine"

This is a scan of a 'zine article by Dan Overfield. Dan is "lifer" who recently broke his neck while skateboarding. He may never roll again.

For many reasons this article brought me close to tears when I first read it; Losing something you love. Loving something you lost. The hope, grace, and strength. The realization that none of us can do it forever. The perspective on larger aspects of life. It's a must read.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Shoulder Injury Follow-Up

This is a follow-up from the Sept 25 post about my shoulder injury.

I just got out of a physical therapy evaluation. I can see why people may not get PT for this injury (Stage II shoulder separation). They said that ligaments mostly heal on their own, and there is not much PT can do to specifically aid that process. Thus, my PT goals are to straighten posture a bit, strengthen supporting shoulder/back/trap muscles, and flexibility. Pain level should be the guide as to what I do / don’t do, and I should stop doing whatever I’m doing if pain kicks in.

Of course, my first question was when I could start skating again. He said exactly same thing the orthopedic doctor said, “Ideally, not until shoulder movement is pain-free during full range of motion. But if you started before then, shoulder pads could help avoid a set-back/reinjury if I were to fall on it again before it’s fully healed. And even doing that should wait awhile.”

My biggest short-term fear is falling forward on shoulder again (e.g. those bails when you get pitched forward and hit the ground). Skating right now isn’t a good idea. Skating without some kind of protection up there (esp. now) is unquestionably a really, really bad idea. There is no question that on the tail end of recovery, I’ll be skating for a bit in hockey shoulder pads, no matter how odd that may seem. I actually embrace it. Battle armor is punk. Plus, I think skateboarding is at it’s best when it’s challenging any type of status quo.  

But, the real question is the short-term issue. In six days I am headed to Austin, TX for a week. The purpose of the trip is, you guessed it, skateboarding. Timing is horrible. I’ve never skated a real ditch before, and this was going to be the first time.  So, what do I do?
I’m not sure yet. Essentially it’s going to be a (calculated??) risk assessment. Go, but don’t skate? Do some very mellow rolling around without any shoulder protection? Wear shoulder pads, and still take it easy, but maybe not quite as easy? I really don’t know. Where I am going to draw those lines is totally unknown right now…but I’m absolutely still going. 

I havn't skated in over two now, and it's really starting to get me bummed out. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Kingfoams: The Insoles That Will Change Your Life

This post is a review, and ringing endorsement, of Kingfoam insoles.

Kingfoam insoles are among the best products I have ever encountered. I endorse them to/for anyone, not just skaters. There is literally no product in modern day production that I speak of as highly as I do of Kingfoams. If you are an older skater with any foot/knee problems, you should absolutely give them a serious look.

First, what makes Kingfoams so good? They are made of some crazy-ass foam that absorbs absurd amounts of force / impact, yet still provide for great board feel. I no longer fear Primo on kickflips. Let me restate that, I no longer fear Primo on kickflips. Yes, you read the correctly. They are that good. Bruised heels? Never again.

Despite what you may think of Aaron Kyro / Braille Skateboards, he does a damn good video review of Kingfoam insoles. Watch this clip and you’ll see an astonishing visual display of the impact absorption I mentioned. The video is also pretty amusing, too. Here is a link to Aaron's video.

Kingfoam makes several different types of insoles. People have different types of foot arches. Some shoes accept insoles, others do not. Hence, navigating all of it can be a little confusing. Hopefully this post will help.
Let’s start with the basics. First, for Kingfoams to really function, you need a shoe that comes stock with a removable insole (e.g. Vans Pros, Adidas, etc.). A shoe like the NON-Pro Vans is going to have some problems because there is no removable insole. Adding one will probably make your shoe fit too snuggly/tightly. That’s bad.  

Second, you need to know what type of arch your foot has (low, medium, or high).
This video shows a very simple and easy way to figure that out. The video suggests cardboard. IMHO, newspaper works just as well, if not better. 

Third, take a look at the Kingfoam Buyer’s Guide, and note which of their insoles correspond to what type of arch you have.  

Last, and this is where things get a little cloudier: pick out which insole you want.  Here is what I can tell you about them from personal experience.  

I have a mid arch foot, and skate in Vans Pros. I hate the stock “ultra cush” insoles that comes with Vans. To me, they often feel like heel has sogged after a very short period of time. My knees and feet would often get sore after skating for a while in Vans. Many people have said this, and switched over to Nike as a result. I also work a job where I am on my feet all day. At the end of a shift, my feet are just spent/sore. Once I replaced the stock Ultra Cush insoles with Kingfoams, I never had these problems again

I have tried two different types of Kingfoams. The standard “5mm Kingfoam Insole” ($19.99), and Kingfoam "Elites" ($29.99). I wear the 5mm ones in my work shoes, and use the Elites in my skate shoes. The Elites offer a bit more impact protection. Hell, Jaws even wears them (and for good reason). Both the 5mm version, and the Elite version, fit great in Vans shoes. The 5mm ones comes in specific sizes, and the Elites are cut-to-fit.* Both of these do not work in Adidas. The stock Adidas insoles have a tad bit of arch support on the side. The two types of Kingfoams I use do not have any arch support, so when you put them in a pair of Adidas, they feel really weird. I imagine one of the Kingfoams with arch support would work in Adidas, but I can't speak with first-hand knowledge. I have no idea how they fit in other skate shoes, but I am sure you could find out without too much trouble. Google. Slap forums. Etc.

I have never tried the Gamechangers, because I am so enamored with the Elites. Someday I’ll get a pair and post a review. I have heard nothing but great things about them. Kingfoam also makes some very thin insoles. These might work in shoes that do NOT have a removable insole, but I would be skeptical of it. There is no way they could function as well as the Elites.

*Always cut these a bit too big at first, and then slowly trim to exact size. If you cut them too small, they will float around under your foot, and be extremely annoying, if not useless. To cut them, just remove the stock insole, and trace them against the Kingfoam, and then cut down with scissors.