Saturday, August 29, 2020

Saftey Gear Buyer's Guide

I’ve written a lot about pads on this blog, but I’ve never done any reviews of what’s available. The question comes up so often on various Facebook groups that such a post is long overdue. This post focuses on kneepads. Elbow and wrist guards are briefly touched on. Helmets are covered, but I literally just cut-and-pasted something I had previously written about them.

Disclaimer: I have not owned every single pad on the market. Nor do I intend to. Hence, there are some gaps in my direct knowledge. If there is something I have not directly dealt with, I state that. Any comments about those products are based on friend’s reviews of them, or other research I’ve done. Agreed, none of that is as good as direct experience, but it will help provide some context, and it is better than no information at all. I also know there are some brands I didn’t even touch upon (Paincheeters is one example). To be clear, this post is NOT meant to be an exhaustive review of every single pad on the market. It is, however, both (a) an overview of the pads you are mostly likely to run across, and (b) a starting point for your own research. Last, I will continually update this post if/when my knowledge base on this subject increases. Ready to go? Let’s dive in.   


My ass about to get saved by my pads.

                                                                 KNEE PADS

First Consideration: What level of protection are you looking for? Do want something just to prevent small-scale abrasions and light impact injury? Are you going to skate mini ramps, and are thus looking for a bit more impact protection? Are you hitting bigger bowls, and vert ramps? Do you have any preexisting conditions that might mandate something more protective? Do want something that could reasonable be used on almost any terrain? The answer to any one of these questions will have significant impact (pun intended) on what pads you should be considering.

Second Consideration: How much do you want to spend? If you are looking for minimal protection, then you don’t have to drop big money. Pads are certainly ones of those things that you get what you pay for. But suppose you are looking for serious protection. Then what? I always tell to people ask themselves this question: Assume that your kneecap is shattered, and you could not walk. How much would you be willing to pay to have that ability back again? Most people would pay far, far, far more for the ability to walk than they would for the cost of very top-end pads. Well, those pads might be what allows you to continue walking in the future. Think hard about that. Moreover, what is the cost of your insurance deductible, or a trip to the ER? I bet that deductible is close to same price as a good set of pads. You do not want to be in a position where you drop hard to your knees, thinking your pads are going to save you, only to find they do not. Moreover, pads are not just about saving your knees and elbows, they can indirectly save you from twists and tears, as can be seen here.

The point I am trying to make here is that if you are actually looking for pads that provide actual protection, do not go the cheap route. You might pay dearly for it (in more ways than one) down the line. Remember, we don’t heal as fast as we used to anymore.    

Other Considerations: Do you want custom sizing? The ability to recap them? Is color and style a consideration? Slip-on or open back? What type of strapping systems? Fit? There is a lot more to getting pads than you may first realize.

                                                               LOW-END PADS

The typical brands in the low-end category are Pro-Tec, Bullet, and Triple 8 (note that Triple 8 also makes a higher-end pad). Pads in the ”very low end” grouping all cost about $25-$30 a set. That is cheap (notice I did not use the word inexpensive). These pads will not offer you any serious impact protection, even if worn with a padded knee gasket. If you drop hard to your knees with any of these pads on, I guarantee you will feel it. I would not really want to knee slide very low-end pands. However, if you are street skating, and want a low-profile pad to protect against some minor impact injuries/scrapes/abrasions/etc., these will absolutely work. That said, they just may not last long, for they are indeed cheap. Quality and craftsmanship at this level in minimal. Stitching isn’t very strong. Looking at pads at this price point, you get the feeling the pads might “break” before they even get “broken in.” With those considerations, let’s take a look at few specific brands and models.

Pro-tec Street Knee: I have owned a set of these. Very low profile (e.g. not bulky). Slip-on (e.g. have to take shoes off to get them on). Velcro straps. Relatively comfortable. Very minimal padding. Cannot be re-capped once plastic cap is worn out, but whatever, they are $25 for a new set. Material and stitching seems like it would quickly fall apart with regular use. Pro-tec used to make a higher end pad called the “Drop In”. It does not appear as if those are in production anymore, and I know nothing about them.

Bullet Knee Pads: I have not owned these, but have seen them in person. In every respect they are very similar to Pro-tec Street knee pads. Slip-ons. Strapping system is almost exactly the same as Pro-tec. Will not offer serious impact protections.

Triple 8 Street Knee Pads: While I have not worn these, I have seen them up close in-person. These pads are very thin, and offer extremely limited protection. For the record, I would never ever consider wearing these. They would protect against simple scrapes and abrasions, and that's about it. I should note that these pads have butterfly backing, so you do NOT have to take your shoes off to put them on. Personally, I hate butterfly-backed pads. The often create some weird feeling pressure points, and I just never trust them to stay on as well as slip-ons. Craftsmanship on these is, well, they cost about $25. You do the math.

                                         MEDIUM & UPPER MEDIUM RANGE PADS

The low to medium range pads usually cost between $40 and $65 a set. These start to offer some impact protection, and don’t feel like they will fall apart after six weeks of use.

Killer 187 Fly Pads: These run about $40, and they are certainly a step-up in terms of quality and protection from the “very low end” pads mentioned above. Slip-on. Cannot be recapped. I am not a fan of the bottom strap on these. Instead of using a typical Velcro strap, they have this weird lace-through thing. If you don’t double lace it, you end up with a large section of the strap flapping around. Dumb. They should have just used a Velcro strap like everyone else does. 

All 187 pads stick way out in FRONT on your knee. This is because they are ergonomically designed to fit the best when you are actually in the knee slide position. Hence, they stick-out in a manner unlike any other pad. Viewed from the side, they have a distinct "scalene triangle" profile, as can be seen here on a 187 Fly Pad. 


This design also causes some pressure points at the top and bottom of the pad when you are standing (which is less noticeable with a gasket underneath). They can be a little uncomfortable when in any position other than a full-on knee slide (or sitting in a chair). This design also makes them hardest pads to get on and off. That said, 187 Flys are my current go-to pads for street skating (I'm recovering from a broken leg, and wear knee pads on street right now). They are a little thin for hard knee drops, but for $40, they are good product.    

Triple 8 KP Pads: I have not seen these. They run $37 - $40 a set. Butterfly backing. They are certainly a step-up from the Triple 8 “street pads,” but just from looking at them on-line I can tell they wouldn’t offer serious impact protections. Considering the price, I’d assume these are comparable to the Killer 187 Fly knee pads.  

Smith Scabs: I have never seen these up close. So, again, that grain of salt. I crowd sourced some info on there, and watched several review videos. The Scabs are low-mid pad that run about $40. At that price point, I’d expect them to be on par with the 187 Fly pads or the Triple 8 KP pads mentioned above. These can be recapped, which is nice (and I believe they the only pad in the $40 rage which can be recapped). Butterfly backing. They also have a more color options at this price point any of the other manufactures.

Smith Scabs Elite/Elite II: The Elite and Elite II are step-up from the Scabs. These run about $65-$70 for a set. My understanding is that the only difference between the Elite and Elite II is that the Elite II has a replaceable cap. There is no price difference between the Elite and the Elite II. The padding itself can also be removed from the pad shell for washing. With most other pads, you can just throw the entire thing in the washing without having to remove anything (see manufacture specs). Butterfly backing. Lots of color options.  

Some people have complained that padding on Smith Elite pads does not extend far enough around to the side of the knee, which can cause some problems. Apparently some additional side padding was added to the Elite II. The Smith Elites and Elite II both have a slightly lower profile than the 187 Pro, but they also have less padding as a result.

An on-line shop had Elites on sale, so I grabbed them out of curiosity...and promptly sent them back. There were four stand-out "problems" with these. First, as I said above I do not like butterfly-backed pads (e.g. I am not free of bias). The Elites have a rather involved closure system. To get them properly adjusted took longer than it would just my shoe off use slip-on pads (my preferred style). I felt this was way more complex and time consuming than slip-on pads, and I was never really comfortable with how they fit...they always seemed loose, even though they were snug. Second, holy hell do these things stick out in a really obtuse and strange way. The side profile on these things looks like a large tumor is growing directly out of your kneecap. Super weird. I wish I had taken a photo of them (on me) before I sent them back to illustrate this. Third, relative to other pads, they have a smaller, and rounder "cap."Te rounder part was a weird one. I got into a knee slide position with these on (on a rug), and I had a "hard" time "balancing" on them--because of how round the caps were,and how much the pads "stuck out." It felt like I was trying to balance my knees on a ball or something. I imagine this might get real weird during actual knee slides. Last, was they did indeed has less padding on the sides of the knees (as mentioned above). They did seem to have a good amount of padding over the knee cap area for impact protection...but these were just not the pads for me.   

Triple 8 KP Pro:  These also fall into the medium to upper-end range. I have also not seen these. They run $65 - $70 a set. Butterfly backing. When you look at the profile of the KP Pro, they also have that that distinct “scalene triangle” design like 187, but they don’t seem to stick out as much as the 187 Pros.

Killer 187 Slim Knee Pad: These are new-ish product from 187. They run about $65 a set. Slip on. Velcro straps, which IMHO, is a much better option than the bottom lace-style strap on the Fly and the Pro (see pics above). These appear to be a mid-range pad that falls between the Fly and Pro. The ergonomics are the same, so everything mentioned above about that issue should hold true for these, too.  I have never seen these in person, or heard any reviews of them.

                                                                HIGH-END PADS

Killer 187 Pros: These are good, protective pads, but they have a few drawbacks. They run about $100 a set. Butterfly backing. Weird lower strapping as mentioned above with the 187 Fly pads (really dumb design, IMHO).  Personally, I can't stand the way the 187 pros look.  The Pro version has a lot more padding than Fly version, hence they stick way, way, way out in the front due to that scalene triangle profile. All high-end pads are going to be bulky in some way (e.g. because they have lots of padding). There is no such thing as a highly-protective “low profile” pad. The two are mutually exclusive, as they should be for the obvious reasons.  That said, the manner in which 187 Pros stick-out is just something I can’t deal with.

These pads are "trending" right now, but I think that this because they are among the few "high end" commercially available pads out there…and some big-name endorsements. Killer 187 made custom order pads (color/sizing/etc.), but that has been suspended since Corona hit. No idea when it will resume.  If you want good protection, and can deal with how the stick out, these are a good option. One thing to note, I have seen many complaints about these pads slipping down a lot...and others saying they have no issue with slippage.

S-ONE: I know almost nothing about these pads. $100 for a pair. Butterfly backing, sort of. These seem to have an “open” back with two larger straps at the top and bottom. Personally, that alone would keep me from buying them. S-One has very dedicated helmet following. I have not heard anything bad about their helmets. From what I have seen on-line, their knee pads seem to be a quality product, on the higher end of things.  

Pro-Designed: This brings me to my favorites, Pro-Designed. PDs have been around forever. Wild Bill has been hand-making pads for skateboarders since the 1980s. A small independent business at out Texas. Custom sizing at no extra cost. He makes a number of different versions from them from smaller ones to full-on mega ramp type shit. Different color options, and strapping options. These are the CLEAR winner for me in the high-end category. I wouldn’t wear anything else. 

                                                                ELBOW PADS

All of the above manufactures make elbow pads to their corresponding knee pad price-point. This is to say that the Pro-tec “street elbow” pads is going to be the same quality and protection level as their street knee pad (e.g. cheap), and Pro-Designed elbow pads are going to be top-notch. One last thing to point out Killer 187 elbow pads also have that “scalene” design, which creates the same issues as their kneepads, but on your elbow.

                                                               WRIST GUARDS

I’d like to clarify that wrist guards are not designed to prevent broken wrist/arm any more than kneepads are designed to prevent a hyper-extended knee. Wrist guards are intended to help minimize sprains and similar soft tissue damage. Yes, they may help prevent breaks to the smaller bones in wrist/hand, but don’t think your hands are bullet proof if you are wearing wrist guards. That said, Pro-Designed makes the best wrist guards. Period. End of story. If you want wrist guards, there is only one kind to get.       


There are number of different manufactures that produce good, quality, certified helmets. Pro-Tec, Triple 8, S-One, 187 Killer, and Bell are all good. All of these fit differently, and people’s heads come in vastly different shapes and sizes. So, if you want a helmet, go try them on somewhere. A good fitting helmet you will hardly notice. An ill-fitting one will either give you a pounding headache in 10 minutes (because it’s too tight), or provide inadequate protection (because it’s too loose). Can’t find the exact style and color you want? Simple, just go try helmets on somewhere, and determine the brand/size that most comfortably fits. Once you have that info, just order the exact one you want on-line somewhere. Make sure to cover it with stickers.  

IMPORTANT: ONLY BUY A CERTIFIED HELMET. REPEAT. ONLY BUY A CERTIFIED HELMET. Non-certified helmets are useless, and do almost nothing for actual protection. They should be banned from sale due to their misleading nature (in fact, they are banned in California). If you have a non-certified helmet (or your kid does), throw it out, and get a real helmet. Below are a few links to more information about certified helmets.

Friday, June 12, 2020

A Moving Moment

[A topologist studies properties of objects that are preserved when moved, bent, stretched or twisted, without cutting or gluing parts together.]

My elderly parents are moving. Today I went to help them pack. I’ve had stuff in storage at their place since I was 19-years-old. I now have to get rid of most it, including these three toys.


I played with these countless hours as a kid. They are among the last tangible, direct, links I have to my childhood. Letting them go is sad. It feels like extinguishing a dim, but long burning ember that still kept part of my (childhood) soul alive. As long as I kept these toys, that part of my spirit would endure. Without them, my distant youth atrophies, fades, and disappears forever.

But let’s get real. 

What purpose have these old metal toys really served? They have sat, mostly forgotten, in a dusty corner of the attic for decades. Every few years I would inadvertently unearth them, smile, and then cast them back to shadow of almost forgotten memory, until the exact same process repeated itself again.

I commented to my mom this afternoon that, “It’s sad to let favorite childhood toys go.”

“Yes. Yes, it is,” She said. “But those were never your favorite toys. Not by a mile.”

Her statement shocked me. Incredulously I asked, “They weren’t? Then what was?

Her voice lowered, almost to inaudible whisper. She spoke with a quiet, but calculated and compassionate demeanor that was both full of conviction and truth. I stood, entranced by her words and tone.

Oh, you still play with it. All the time. In that respect, your childhood has never really ended. That is a gift. A gift very few ever know. Cherish it.” And then she pointed.

My eye followed her old, shaking, crooked, arthritic finger as it motioned to the corner. When I saw what she was point to, a tear of joy, empathy, and understanding started to roll down my cheek.

Later in the day I dropped my old toys off at a Goodwill bin, in hopes that they would eventually find another soul to ignite. I stood there for a while, as if at a gravesite, and said my final goodbyes to a greater symbolism. I remembered there was a curb not far away. A curb I had skated for countless hours as a kid. A breeze came up behind me, and the glow of dying embers rekindled into a brilliant light.

EDIT: I drove by this donation site after my curb session. They toys were gone. Someone had taken them to a new home.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Ace Trucks Review: Part III (The Final Verdict)

The first two parts of the Ace review can be found here and here. So, I’ve been riding these around a bit over the last week or so, and switching them out with my Indys to compare. It’s time for a final verdict.

Wheelbase Revisited

I’ve been putting the Aces on decks with different length wheelbases to see how that impacts things. I normally ride a 14.38” wheelbase deck with Indys. With Aces on that deck, the wheelbase was a bit too short for me. I won’t rehash that here, as I covered it in Part Two. One thing I forgot to mention in Part Two was manuals. Wheelbase length really changes the balance point for manuals. Aces felt way more twitchy to me, and I had to press the nose/tail down a lot more to find the balance point. I didn’t like the way it felt. At all. And I never really got used to the feeling of it.

I put the Aces on a deck with a 14.5” wheelbase to counter-act the shorter Ace wheelbase, and see how it felt. The actual wheelbase (axle to axle) on my 14.38” with Indys was 17.375”. The actual wheelbase on the 14.5” with Aces was 17.250”. That is a .125 difference, which is almost nothing. So, in theory, these two set-ups should feel very similar. Would it? I was eager to find out.

I immediately noticed three things. First, the 14.5” with Aces now felt MUCH more like my Indys in every respect. Second, the balance point for manuals was back to “normal.” And third, I keep coming back to this, was the weight. With a longer deck wheelbase, you could really notice the weight difference. Aces are fucking heavy. I later tried them on a deck with a 14.25” wheelbase. And man, was that thing fun to carve around on, but the overall wheelbase was just way too short for me. Totally fucked up my ollies, overall stance, stability on 5-0 grinds, manuals. etc…but super fun to just cruise on.

Grinds Revisited

As mentioned in Part Two, my Aces are new, and my Indys are almost ground to the axle. Hence, very different contact / friction patches. I honestly don’t think this would change too much with time. Indys have a lot more metal encasing their axle than Aces. So, even when Aces were ground down close to axle, they would still have a much smaller contact patch than Indys. Ace trucks grind very well. Almost too well for my tastes. Over the last week I’ve had a few slappy sessions (yellow painted curb), and a few curb sessions on a typical New England hard granite curb. With both types, the Ace grind almost felt like I was on a well-waxed metal skate park ledge. They just didn’t produce that same level of satisfaction that an Indy grind did. Indys felt a real grind, whereas Aces felt a bit more like a slick glide. I like that real grind feel.    

Returning to Turning

I really like the way Ace trucks turn. That said, Aces feel a tad wobbly for first the 2/3 of a turn, but then tighten-up a bit in the last 1/3 of a turn. To me, Indys have a smooth and consistent feel the whole way through a turn, without the “rocky” factor during the first part. This was a subtle feeling, and not some major difference, but it was noticeable. Again, I really like the way Aces turn. Nothing I’ve ridden comes as close the feel of an Indy turn as Aces. You can absolutely tell that Ace trucks come form the linage of Indy geometry. They are indeed of the same blood and family. Ace trucks turn great, but definitely on the more surfy-carvey end of things. Going from Thunders to Aces would be a huge shock to the system for many reasons.


There are two major sticking points for me and Ace trucks (well, three, actually). Wheelbase is one. Weight is another. Ace trucks are freakishly heavy. I constantly noticed how heavy my board was with Aces on it. Constantly. Even during kickturns. Most truck companies have some hollowed-out portions of the bottom of their baseplates to reduce weight. Ace does not. Looking at underside of Indy hangers, you can actually see the underside of the axel, because potions of the hanger were removed to reduce weight. Ace does not have anything like this. Most other truck companies offer a hollow king pin, or hollow axle, or even a titanium axle to reduce weight. Ace has none of these. As a result, Aces are one of, if not THE heaviest truck on the market. I noticed that while skating, and I did not like it. The third sticking point is their stupid size ranges discussed in Part One. Since I normally ride an 8.25” deck on street, this does not really impact me. If I rode an 8.5” deck, I wouldn’t even consider Ace trucks because of their obtuse sizing. To that end, one might note I never really tried Ace trucks on transition. There is a reason for that. I ride an 8.5"-8.75" deck on transition. Ace does not make a truck that properly fits decks of that width.    


Overall, Ace makes a great truck. If the weight and wheelbase are not an issue for you, and provided you don’t ride an 8.5”-ish wide deck, Ace trucks are absolutely worth checking out. However, I will be sticking with my Indys for the reasons above. That said, if Indy ceased production tomorrow, Ace is my second choice. I just wish they weren’t so fucking heavy. Maybe when that 2020 “total redesign” comes out (god knows how long Corona is going to delay that) Ace will address some of these issues (weight and sizing). If they do, I will certainly give them another try. 

Oh, one last small, petty thing. This logo is horrible. Try again.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Dealing with Skate Anxiety, Part I (Injury)

I previously wrote this primer for people “returning to skateboarding after a long break.” It covered things like avoiding common old-guy injuries, equipment, and how to navigate the social world of skateboarding without making a turboclown of yourself. However, I recently realized there was one huge topic I entirely missed: Anxiety.

Skate-related-anxiety usually comes in two forms. The first is injury or reinjury anxiety. This is simply fear of getting seriously injured. The second is social anxiety. Usually this stems from how you think you will be perceived by other skaters or anyone else for that matter (e.g. not doing “cool” tricks, being the “old guy” the park, wearing pads, looking dumb, out of place, poseur, etc.).

If either or both of these sound like you, please find some solace in the fact that you are NOT alone. Many grapple with these exact issues—and not just people starting up again after a long break. People who have skated continuously their entire life also face these two anxieties from time to time. I certainly have. You are not alone. This post is about dealing with both of them. Your anxiety will not be solved by the time you are done reading these words. However, I hope that you walk away with some perspective, and a few mitigation strategies to make things more manageable. Again, you are not alone.  

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, therapist, clinician, social worker, etc.

                                                               Injury Anxiety

In May 2019 I broke my leg/ankle on a 6’ mini ramp. I had two surgeries, and now have a lot of metal in my leg. I was cleared to start skating again in March 2020. My ankle is weak, and not nearly as flexible as it once was. If I come down on it wrong, it hurts, and I collapse. I can no longer properly “run out” of tricks. My ability to do “controlled falls” is nowhere near what it once was. Because of this, I often now wear knee/elbow pads even when skating a curb (e.g. I collapse/can’t run out of bails). Not only do I have ankle reinjury anxiety, but now I also wrestle with anxiety about injuring some other part of my body because I can’t fall with the controlled manner I once did. Add to that, the fact that our reaction time slows with age, and the fact that we don’t heal as fast as we used…and, well, yeah, there is a lot to be anxious about.

I share my story so that if you are reading this, and you have (re)injury anxiety, to let you know you are not alone. I know exactly what you are dealing with. I, too, have very real experience in this field. Much of what is written below is aimed at someone who is just starting-up again, or is just coming back from a major injury. However, this information is equally applicable to someone working on their first kickflip McTwist as it is to someone learning to ollie again. The specific trick here is wholly irrelevant, as it is actually nothing more than a mere variable in a larger, universal structure of injury anxiety. Danny Way, about to try something he’s never done before on a megaramp, probably has a similar (injury) anxiety that you may have acid dropping off a curb. Sure, the scale and scope of those two tricks may be vastly different, but the existential experience of that anxiety is often shared across all skill sets. So, what can be done about it?

Injury anxiety is an injury to the mind and spirit. Its origin stems from concern about injury to the body. Thus, we have to focus on the mind to overcome injury anxiety. Your primary goal is to do what ever you need to put your mind at ease (or to ease it as much as you can).  Let me repeat that. Your primary goal is to put your mind at ease. Do this in any manner, and by any means necessary, that works for you.

There are many ways and approaches to putting your mind at ease. Use as many physical, emotional, and spiritual tools as you need. The list below is by no means exhaustive; it just touches on some basic concepts. Use what resonates with you, ignore what does not, and experiment with new approaches. 

Baby Steps: Start with tiny baby steps. Just roll around a parking lot. Pushing. Kicktuns. Carves. 180s. Rock and rolls on small curbs. Acid drops off small curbs. Stationary tricks on curbs. Do what you are comfortable with. Do what is fun. Then slowly, as you begin to feel more comfortable, push the envelope a tiny bit. Find a slightly higher curb. Go a tad faster. Etc. Don’t go outside your comfort zone, but just stretch it a tiny, little bit each time. Allow yourself small victories—even if is as basic as TRYING something you had never tried before, or something you were too scared to (re)try. These are indeed victories. They are forward progress. The journey of thousand miles starts with a single step. Focus on those small, single steps. Each one is a victory.

Keep a Notebook: Write down your small victories. It can be hard to keep track of incremental progress when you are immersed in it. Having a log gives you something to reflect on. Writing something down gives it a more concrete reality. It transforms abstract concepts into something more tangible. It makes dismissal and repudiation a harder task. Moreover, it is acknowledgement and admission that something occurred, and it provides for recognition of your victories.

Skate Often: Skate everyday if you can. This will keep you mentally comfortable and familiar with what you are doing. Big breaks between sessions will allow uncertainty to creep back in. They also allow your muscle memory to wane. Go to the gym once a week, you wont see any results. Go three times a week, and you will be in a much better position. The same is true for putting your mind at ease with what you are doing. The more you do it, the more familiar it becomes. Familiarity provides comfort and solace.  

Pads: If they would help your mental state, wear every damn pad you can get your hands on. Hell, wear full ice hockey equipment if it helps calm your spirit. I’m dead serious. Wear any and all gear you need to help put your mind at ease. Maybe with time you’ll shed some it, maybe you’ll add even more. It doesn’t matter which direction you go with it. All that matters is taking whatever steps you need to get out there. Safety gear helps prevent physical injury, but sometimes it’s not your body that really needs pads, it’s your mind that does. There is nothing wrong with that.

Location: Find a calming skate spot you like. We’ve all had our favorite spots, and we’ve all had spots we hate. It’s the energy and “mood” of a spot that either resonates or repels us. Find a spot that just “feels good.” Make that your home base. You don’t want to be at war with your physical surroundings, as this does not calm the mind. Find your “happy place” and skate there.                         

Music: This can give you something to focus your mind on while skating. Music is also great for setting a mood, too. Listen to something that helps put your mind at ease, and puts you in a good mood, no matter what kind of music it is.   

Name Your Anxiety: Verbalize and articulate (to yourself) that you are feeling anxious. Once you name something, you can deal with it more effectively. Put it in as specific terms as you possibly can. Example: “I am anxious about sliding out on this 5-0 grind and falling on my (once broken) arm again.” Once this is done, you can decide how to deal with this trick based on your comfort levels. Just got for it? Stop skating entirely for the moment? Move on to some completely different trick that you are comfortable with? The choice is for you to make, but once you concretely state what you are having anxiety about, you can develop a roadmap/plan for managing it. 

Know When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em
: There are three roads to the top of the mountain.

First, if you are skating and things don't feel right, stop skating. Maybe stop for a few minutes. Maybe stop for a few hours. Maybe stop for the day. Rarely does anything good come from forcing yourself do something, that is supposed to be fun, when you're not feeling it. If your mind is not in the right place, neither will be your skating. Be honest with yourself about what feels right, and do what ever that is. If need be, fight that battle another day.

Second, if you are skating and something doesn't feel right, go do some totally different tricks. Supposed you are trying backside tailslides on a bench, and suddenly they start freaking you out for some reason. Stop trying them. Move to something completely different. Something you are comfortable doing. Something you have fun with. Maybe it’s carving a bowl for a bit. Maybe it’s power slides. Maybe it’s switch 360 flips. It doesn’t matter, just do something totally different from whatever was causing the anxiety. The purpose of doing something different is to “ground” or "recenter" yourself, which will help calm your mind. Once that is done, then maybe try an ollie to backside axle stall a curb. Then an ollie to pivot. Then a pivot to tail. Then a backside ollie to tail. Then maybe a short ollie backside tailslide. Then repeat this process again a slightly higher curb, working your way back towards that bench, one baby step at time (bringing us right back to the beginning…baby steps).  

Last, if you are skating, and something doesn't feel right, go for it! This approach works for some people. I am NOT one of them. The second way is what works best for me. I only include this third method because it does work for some. The theory is that if you push through (and assuming you come out alive), you have directly confronted the fear, and have proven it to be something that you don’t need to be afraid of. In short, you violently break the tension. If this works for you, great. 

As stated above, the real thing here is to just be honest with yourself about what feels right—and to do whatever that is.

In closing I just want to remind you that (a) you don’t have to relearn everything from before, and (b) you will most likely never be as good of a skater as you once were. Age does that to everyone. Don’t let that discourage you. Focus on the present moment. Of course this is just another way of saying, "have no expectations from your past” (which I covered extensively in this post). If you remember only two things from this post, it should be “baby steps” and “put your mind at ease.” Skateboarding is supposed to be fun. Follow the path that leads you there. If you do that, anxiety doesn’t stand a chance.  

Part II will talk about social anxiety that may come up when skating around other people. That section has not yet been posted, but I will link here once it has.  

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ace Trucks Review: Part II (First Ride)

In Part One of my Ace Trucks review I covered a lot of factual, nerdy, tech stuff. Weight. Height. Length. Board fit/truck size(s). Etc. Yet, for some unknown reason I left out the issue of kingpin clearance. Part One has since been updated to include that info. Here, in Part Two, we cover something much more subjective: truck performance.

                                                            PART II: Performance

For starters, let me clarify that I am 46-years-old, and recovering from a broken leg. If you want a review on how Aces perform on f/s feebles down kinked rails, switch backside flips into f/s krooked grinds on ledges, or heavy pool skating—you ain’t going to get that here. What you will get is an honest review from average old-guy skater who isn’t trying to sell you something, isn’t making money off reviews, or isn’t trying to use the review to flaunt my own skate “ability” (which is a laughable concept). That said, on we go… 

Let’s get this one out of the way right up front. I’m sorry, but turns and grinds be damned…nothing feels as good as Indy when you’re going for that full-on Mall Grab. Aces just don’t have the same heft, or proper grasping/clutching ergonomic hanger features that Indy does. Nothing comes close to Indy in this category (or looks as good while wearing a Thrasher t-shirt as Indys). Food Court, here we come. 

Weight: Well, just like in Part One, guess what the first thing I noticed was once Aces were mounted on my board? How much heavier it was. Like, damn. Ace make their trucks out of White Dwarf star material or something? Shit is DENSE. While I know the shorter wheelbase / lever effect may off-set the “feel” of that weight while skating, it ain’t going to change the “feel” of getting shark bite from a heavier board while skating transition. Can’t wait to take this thing in the ankle (or head). Any time I picked my board up while skating the same thought went through my head, “Goddam this thing is so heavy!!!” More on this later.

Turning / Carving: I ride my trucks on the tight end of “loose,” or on the loose end of “tight.” I am an “extra medium” kind of person. Consider the durometer of Ace stock bushings, I was convinced they were going to be far too loose for me right out of the gate. The first “test” I did on Ace trucks was just to carve around a parking lot for awhile. This was to (a) determine how tight/loose the stock bushing actually were, (b) get the trucks adjusted to my preference (if possible), and (c) to get a sense of how Aces turned/carved. I was expecting some very loose, wobbly, borderline uncontrollable trucks based on what I’ve heard about them. Moreover, every time I’ve tried non-Indy trucks, I instantly hated them, and had to really force myself to continue riding them for a while before I could make an honest assessment. With Aces, I was expecting all this to happen, yet again. The result? I was utterly wrong on every single count.   

Aces turned great! I did not instantly hate them. I fact, I liked them. I have never ridden a truck that turns as much like Indys as these. Mind blown. The stock bushings were not too soft. I did have to tighten them a bit, but they were totally manageable (rumor has it they become much softer once broken in). I’ve heard people describe the Ace turn as unpredictable and twitchy. I did not find this to be true, at all. For me, the turns were smooth, controlled, predictable, and had a terrific flow to them. I’ll be honest, I was really, really surprised by this. I’ve also heard numerous times that Ace bushings take a week or two to really break in. I could absolutely tell these were “new” bushing (and they were sticking to one side once I got off my board), but they did not have the all-too-common horrific “new truck” feel to them. Two hours later, and they were turning even better. Maybe that sketchy, twitchy turn will manifest once the bushing are fully broken in. Time will tell. Was the turn superior to Indy? Not sure I’d go that far, but it was absolutely on par with Indy. And without question they turned better than any other non-Indy truck I’ve ever ridden. This, however, is where the really positive side of Aces began—and ended—at least for me.

Wheelbase: As mentioned in Part One, Aces have a very short wheelbase. Over the years I have tried all sorts of different deck dimensions, including various wheelbases (everything from 14” to 15.25”). I have found that 14.38” (with Indys) is my sweet spot for most terrain (need a bigger wheelbase on full-sized tranny).

When I rode decks with longer wheelbases, everything seemed slow and sluggish, and my stance felt too wide if something required me to have one foot near the nose, and the other near the tail (esp. on tranny). Everything seems to take more effort to get slower results, sort of like running into the wind. Ollies, kickturns, kickflips, turning into/out of railslides, 180 ollie/nollies…everything fell prey to this. Hell, even axle stalls on mini ramps felt slower. Of course, this all makes sense. It takes a tractor-trailer more space and time to turn than a sports car, and that is because of wheelbase length. 

When I rode decks with smaller wheelbases, everything felt too cramped, and less stable. Ollies felt weak, like I couldn’t widen my legs enough to really get an explosive pop—as if trying to swing a baseball bat by holding in the middle (e.g. total loss of power). On things like 5-0 grinds my feet felt too close together, and thus unstable, almost as if being forced to do the grind on just my rear foot. Sometimes I’d land tricks with my foot/weight too far over the nose (deadly on transition). Getting into smiths, hurricanes, and feebles all required more of a body twist so that the front trucks would clear the ledge. Flip tricks and pop shove-its felt too…sensitive? Like, if I added slightly too much or too little force, the board would be way, way off the mark. Generally, on a shorter wheelbase deck, things felt too weak, whippy, cramped, and unstable.

So, I was incredibly curious to see if trucks that shortened the wheelbase would have the same effects as a deck that shortened the wheelbase. And it absolutely did. But in an oddly different way. With the Aces on my board, I started to notice that I had to put my feet in slightly different positions than I normally did. My timing was getting really screwed up for awhile, but then I adjusted a bit, and things “stabilized.” Somewhat. That said, all of the problems I had with shorter wheelbase boards were happening, but in an oddly different (yet the same) manner. I couldn’t quite pinpoint or verbalize what the difference was (e.g. between a shorter wheel base deck and shorter wheelbase trucks), however, but it was there. Everything just felt a tad too cramped, unstable, and squirrely. Ollies. Grinds. Railslides. Stall tricks. Transition (I only skated these on a smaller DIY quarter pipe). Slappies. They all felt slightly “off” in a manner that did not inspire confidence. In fact, it was the opposite. I was doubting myself, and my board. That is never a good headspace to be in. I am sure part of this was just that I was riding something different, and wasn’t used to it yet. But another part of it certainly was that Aces crossed me over that into that Twilight Zone of shorter wheelbase that just doesn’t work well for me. I have been skateboarding for 35 years. By now I have figured out what works best for me (I think???).   

Grinds: These were interesting. Ace metal is absolutely softer than Indy metal. Aces seemed to grind a bit easier than my Indys. Part of that is surely because the Aces are brand new, and thus have a very small contact/friction patch. Conversely, my Indys are almost ground to the axle, and thus have a much larger contact/friction patch. Hence, my Aces had less a lot less friction. The feel of the grinds was very different between the two trucks. The only way I can describe it is that Aces felt more like asphalt on a hot day as opposed to concrete on a hot day (if that makes any sense)…Aces were “softer” and more “waxy/buttery.” Some people claim they love the feel Ace grinds. I remain undecided on this issue.

I should also mention pinch here, as in krooked grind pinch. Thunder Trucks have a notoriously good pinch. The reason for this is because the axle sits very far forward on the baseplate. Thus, the center of gravity is a bit more “behind” the truck, allowing for some really good pinch stability. On Aces, the opposite is true. Because the axle is so far back on the baseplate, your weight ends up a bit more forward, which can make the pinch a bit less predictable. I use Thunders here to illuminate the point. Indys sit between the two. Because of this, I would say Thunders have the “best” pinch, and Aces have the “worst” pinch. This is not to say that krooked grinds are impossible on Aces, you just have to adjust a bit. Ben Degros also talks about this exact issue in his review of Ace trucks. Ben does a great review of Ace 44s, and substantially mirrors much of what I have said here. His video is worth a watch. Ben and I often come to a lot of the same conclusions (except he really likes Thunders, and I do not).

Ben makes one quick comment in his review, that is very easy to miss, but is very important when it comes to wheelbase. He says, “If you have mellow kicks (e.g. you like a flatter board) and you like a steeper feeling pop (e.g. a taller truck OR a longer wheelbase), you’re not going to like it all (it = Ace trucks).” Wow. There is so much in that quick statement that may not be immediately obvious. Ben’s statement is so important that I am going to follow-up my Ace review with post dedicated to nuances of a fulcrum and lever (e.g. trucks and deck), and how wheelbase impacts the effective feel of your board. A short preview: A smaller wheelbase makes your nose/tail flatter. A longer wheelbase makes your nose/tail steeper. Yes, you read that correctly. Stay tuned.

Board Fit: I mentioned the obtuse, stupid, turboclown truck sizing that Ace has in Part One. I will say, to Ace’s credit, that I did not notice a huge problem with 8.35” trucks on an 8.25” deck. That, however, does not in any way, manner, shape, or form, excuse Ace from making inherently wrong truck sizes. “Being different is one thing. Being stupid is another.” Ace truck sizes are, well, stupid.

Last, I come full circle, and go right back where I started in Part One: weight. Every time I picked up my board I thought, “Jesus Christ, this thing is so fucking HEAVY!!!” This absolutely had some mental impact on me. I kept feeling that I would need to use extra force on any given trick to compensate for the added weight. Every time an ollie-based trick went south I wondered if it was weight-related. I kept thinking my board was more sluggish (weight) when skating, but I couldn’t tell with certainty if it was or not. What I know for certain is that, (a) with Aces I am literally riding the heaviest board I have ridden since before small wheels/big pants days, and (b) it had a mental impact. Those are not things I really want to have to think about when skating.

So, after my first multi-hour/terrain session on Aces, this is what it all distills down to:

(1)    They turn great so far (but they might get way more twitchy as the bushings break in???);
(2)    They are heavy as fuck;
(3)    Weird feeling grind that I can’t figure out if I like or not;
(4)    Wheelbase is tad too short, and seems to cause me to loose ollie power, and makes other tricks feel less stable;
(5)    A lesser Mall Grab;
(6)    Did I mention they are heavy as fuck?

The turnability was comparable to Indys. For me at least, Indy performed better than Ace in every other category. I will continue to ride Aces for awhile, as I don’t think it is totally fair to judge a truck (that does not completely suck) on just one day’s worth of riding. I will also say this; so far Ace is a very, very good truck. The closest I have seen to Indy. They just may not be the truck for me—but the hype about them is real, and real for a reason. After just one day of riding them, I can certainly say they are quality product. If Indys ceased to exist tomorrow, I would be riding Aces, no question. So, if you like Indys, Ace are absolutely worth taking a look at (provided you don’t ride a deck around 8.5”…because Ace does not make a truck that properly fits those decks….so fucking dumb).

FOLLOW-UP: Today I went skating with a few friends. I wanted to have a fun session, and not be in “test mode” the entire time, so I threw my Indys back on. Within 20 seconds I was like, “Ahh!! Indys feel SO much better!!” Granted, this is partly because Indys are what I am used to. I will certainly put Aces back on my board, and give them a longer/fairer test run, but I think the writing might already be on the wall.  Part Three (Final Verdict) has since been posted and can be found here

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Ace Trucks Review: Part I (Techy Nerdy Stuff)

Despite despising NHS, I have ridden Indys for a very, very long time. Why? Because I have always found them to be a superior product. And yes, I have tried all other major brands. I gave Aces a shots when they first came out. I was not a fan. There were a host of known problems with them at the time. Some of those problems have been since been corrected. In hopes of riding myself of all NHS products, this week I decided to give Ace another chance. This is my review of them. Indys are what every other truck on the market is compared to—they are the “gold standard.” Hence, I will be comparing Aces to (my) Indys.

For reference purposes I ride Indy 144 titaniums on an 8.25” deck with a 14.38” wheelbase. I will be comparing those Indys with Ace 44s.

                                                 PART I: Technical Nerdy Stuff

Before I even get to the performance aspects of Ace trucks, I am going to cover a lot of nuanced, nerdy, tech stuff. I am sure some people think this level of scrutiny is absurd. Other thrive on this kind of stuff. You've been warned.

Weight: The first thing I noticed about Aces was how heavy they were. Like, wow, these things are tanks. This surprised me, because looking at them compared to Indys, Aces look a lot more svelte. Then I weighed them. Yup, they are heavy mofo’s. Aces came in a 398g (14.03oz) each. Thus, a set of two weighs 796g (1.75lbs). By comparison, a set of standard 144 Indys (e.g. not the hollow, forged hollows, or titaniums) weighs 387g (13.6oz) each. A set of 144 Indys weighs 774g (1.68 lbs.). This makes Aces the heaviest truck on the market, weighing noticeably more than the heaviest version of Independents. That says a lot. There is, however, a caveat. Ace trucks have a significantly shorter wheelbase than Indys. Thus, due the basic physics of a lever, Aces may feel “lighter” when skating them than they actually are. More on that in the performance section of this review. Suffice to say, these are significantly heavier than my titanium Indys.

Height: Indy claims all of their forged baseplate trucks are 53.5mm tall. When I measure them, they come in a 53mm. Standard Indys are 55mm tall (too tall, IMHO). Ace claims their trucks are 52mm tall. My measurements came in at 52mm and 53mm. So, no real difference from (my forged) Indys here.

Wheelbase: Measured center-of-axle to center-of-axle, the wheelbase of my Indys came in 17.375”. Aces came in a 17.125”. That is a .25” variance. That is significant difference. This, of course, will have significant impact on performance. Ace has one of, if not the shortest wheelbase on the market.

Kingpin Clearance: In the photo above you can see the kingpin clearance. I didn't measure this, but it's about standard, and on par with Indy kingpin clearance. Someone please tell my why inverted kingpins haven't become the industry standard???? 

Axle Length (total):  Indy axle length is 8.25”. Ace came in at 8.35”. I want my trucks to the same width as my board, or maybe slightly narrower. I don’t want my wheels sticking out. I was concerned about this issue. More on this later in the review.

Axle Length (individual): For this, I measured the length of the axle that sticks out from the hanger. Indy came in a 31/32mm. Ace came in at 33/34mm. On Aces, this causes your axle to stick out further beyond the end of your wheel and axle nut than with Indys. Unless you stack washers to compensate, this means the end of your axle has a greater chance of getting chewed-up from various impacts (and potentially making it harder to get your axle nut back on).

Hanger Length: Indy hanger came in at 5.62”. Ace claims the hanger on 44s is 5.75”. My measurements came in at 5.56”. How they got 5.75”, I have no idea. I was so shocked by this discrepancy that I went back and re-measured. I was correct. These are nowhere near 5.75” hangers. See for yourself in this photo.


Height: I once read that Bones bushings can not/should not be used in Ace trucks because Bones bushings are shorter than stock Ace Bushings, and thus completely compromise the geometry of the truck. I took the stock Ace bushing out, and measured them against Bones bushings. The height was exactly the same on both the top and bottom bushings (see two below two photos), so that claim is worthless. Both Ace and Bones bushing measured 25mm tall (when stacked).

Shape: Both stock Ace and Indy bushings come in cylindrical shape. Indy makes aftermarket conical shaped bushings. Ace does not.

Hardness: Ace bushings come stock with a 91a bushing on top, and an 86a bushing on the bottom. Indy comes stock with 90a bushings (top and bottom). Indy has aftermarket bushings that range in hardness from 88a to 96a (in both cylindrical and conical shapes). Ace offers no alternate after-market bushings. 

Baseplate Wheel Clearance: This is an issue related to Thunder trucks. As noted here, Thunders have a well-known baseplate “issue,” where the baseplates do not clear the distance of the wheels. This means greater hang-ups on nose/tail slides unless you use stupid amounts of wax to prevent your wheels from “catching.” No other truck on the market has this “problem.” I only mention it in this review in case the concern is in someone’s mind. To be clear, Aces does NOT have this problem, as their baseplates stick out beyond the distance of normally sized wheels. This is how basebplates should be designed (get with it, Thunder).

Made in China: I don’t care about this. Some do. Ace trucks are made in China “with material (some? all?) imported from the USA.”

Appearance: Everything above is factual information. Weight. Height. Lengths. Etc. Now we move to something more subjecting, appearance. There are a lot of people who love how Ace trucks look. I am not one of them. I think Ace trucks look really crude, cheap, and almost department store-ish. I cringe when I look at them. I ended up getting a set of matte black trucks, because I think they look far less a tragedy than the standard silver ones. Skateboarding has big mental components to it. When I look down at my board, I want to see something that I am stoked on, not something that puts me in a bad mood. Unfortunately, I am not one of the people who fawn over how Ace trucks look.  

Board Fit: Most truck companies make trucks in .25” intervals. 8.0”, 8.25”, 8.50”, 8.75” etc. Ace does not follow this pattern. Their basic truck sizes are 8.0”, 8.35”, 9.0”, and 9.35”.  This, frankly, is utterly asinine. As I mentioned above, I ride an 8.25” deck. I want trucks that fit my board. Not ones that have my wheels sticking out a bit, or are way undersized (e.g. 8.0”). But even more obtuse, is the huge jump in size between 8.35” and 9.0”. What if you ride and 8.5” deck (very common size)? Ace offers this “advice” from their web site:

What size Ace trucks do I use for an 8.5” deck?

We get this question a lot. For our more street skating set-ups, or advanced riders we recommend 44 Classics with both of the supplied axle washers in-between the bearing and the hanger on each axle end. We also recommend 55 Classics with no axle washers between the bearing and the hanger, this solution is better for transition skating with more grinds and less flips and spins. Don’t forget that wheel width and in some cases bearing offset will affect the overall track of your final wheel and truck width.“

There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start. I’ll just leave it at this: Ace, stop being a turboclown-rogue, and just make the same damn truck sizes that every other manufacture in the industry does. I occasionally ride an 8.5” deck. There is no chance in hell I would put grossly inadequate-sized truck on my board. Even if I decide I love these 44s on my 8.25” board, I’d never put an 8.3” or a 9.0” truck on my 8.5” deck. So, Ace, you might be loosing business because of these stupid truck sizes. Stop. Just stop. Ace had slated to release a total truck redesign in the summer of 2020, but I am sure Corona Virus has/will delay that. Hopefully when they do, they will start producing normal sized trucks. Last in the board fit category, I will again mention the “individual axle length” addressed above. Given this “washer explanation” for 8.5” decks, that might explain why Ace axles stick out further than Indys (e.g. so there is space to add washers needed to make their ill-sized trucks “fit” wider boards). Again, this is obtuse. Ace, fix this shit.

So, there you have it. A pretty lengthy review of Ace trucks, before I have even skated them! Part Two of this review (first ride) can be found here.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Place on Earth

This a story of curbs, the afterlife, personal chaos, and finding a moment of sanctuary.  

A ritual is an act regularly repeated in a set precise manner, often performed in a sequestered place and according to a set sequence. Meditation is harder to define. Suffice to say it may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception, self-awareness, and well-being. Some claim it can lead to enlightenment.

The older you become, the longer it takes to get “warmed up” on a skateboard. Some years back I developed a “warm-up” routine. It was around 20 or so curb tricks that are mirror images of each other. B/S ollie to tail. F/S ollie to tail. B/S blunt. F/S blunt. Etc. I could often tell how well a session was going to go based on well how the warm-ups went. After I broke my leg, these were no longer “simple warm-up tricks.” They had all been transferred into major goals to hopefully one day again achieve with some degree of regularity. Much of my recover to this point has been relearning these “warm-ups.”

My elderly, crippled, and financially insecure parents were told two days ago that their lease would not renewed on Aug 1st, 2020. They do not own a home. They now have three months to move. They have lived at their current location for 15 years. They will have to relocate into a substantially smaller place, and will likely be forced to shed about 2/3rd of their entire belongings. I will probably have to finance most of their move. Emotion and stress levels are running very high.

I went skating tonight. I arrived at a curb I often skate. They place was utterly deserted. Even the drone from the nearby highway was absent. Its abnormality was actually bit eerie. The Corona Virus has caused a blanket of silence to fall across the night. I was alone in a quiet world with my curb.

I started doing my warm-up tricks, and then realized that I was actually doing “an act regularly repeated in a set precise manner, often performed in a sequestered place and according to a set sequence. I was performing a ritual. One I had developed long, long ago. Skateboarding can be many things. Some of those are things like “reducing stress, anxiety, depression…and increasing peace…and well-being.” My warm up tricks. This wasn’t just a ritual, it also had aspects of meditation. Especially now.

I stopped skating for a bit, and just listened to that unusual, deep stillness that enveloped the land. My mind drifted. I’ve been thinking about that Grosso birthday tribute a lot over the last week. Towards the end of it, Lucero says something to Jeff like, “Make sure there is a nice curb for me up there in heaven.” I remembered this quote, and then heard myself say out loud, “Me, too. Me, too.” I surprised myself that I had done this. A voice from nowhere that shattered the silence. I looked around for brief second to see where it had come from. In doing so, a veneer was lifted.

Fifteen feet in front of me was a nice curb. The veneer wasn’t just lifted it. It was shattered. It was like flying through clouds, and then breaking into the endless blue sky. A wave of euphoria and deep understanding swept over me. I almost started to cry from joy. “Make sure there is a nice curb for me up there.” The object and intentions of eternal happiness are not some abstract utopian concept. There are here. Now. I was actually standing in paradise at that very moment. And for that moment, sanctuary was mine.     

Some claim that ritualistic meditation, even in the midst of chaos, can lead to enlightenment. I (now) believe them.