Sunday, August 30, 2015

You Look Like a Torture Victim

A regular patron at work came up to me last week. He said, "It is frightening. You always limp in here. Open wounds on knees and elbows. Scabs all over your shins. Palms look like you were just taken down from a cross. You look like a torture victim. It's frightening because there is obviously on-going bodily injury. It makes people recoil to see that. I have to ask. What the hell is going on with you?"

Without a second's hesitation I responded, "I am a skateboarder."

"Oh," he said, "That makes sense."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Things That Speak for Themselves

Three random photos from the Instagram accounts of Antihero and Nike SB. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board (Part 5)

Thoai Tran wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding. Here is Part 5. See introductory comments I wrote on this post for full context of the entire series. 

NOTE ON PART 5: In Part 5, Tran's writing does seem somewhat dated, mostly because he speaks of rollerbladers. They are now mostly absent from skate parks and skate spots. I am sure if Tran was writing this in 2015, he would be talking about scooters, or maybe longboarders (albeit they don't directly copy skate culture as much as rollerbladers did, and scooter kids are never found outside a skate park. When was the last time a scooter got in your way at your local curb?). That said, there are much deeper lessons in Part 5 than surface level distinctions between rollerbladers and scooter-people. One must not mistake the finger pointing at the moon, for the moon itself.    

Part Five: Songs of Life

I had a grudge against rollerbladers. I did not like the way they imitated skaters, wore the same style of clothing, use the same skate lingo, and pull off those lame easy tricks. I was disgusted to see rollerbladers everywhere, including at all the skate-spots. I listened to many skaters, as they condemned rollerblading, giving lists after lists of attributes that make our sport so much better, so much more beautiful. Master Ch'an was in the area, so I decided to drop by, and discussed my impressions with him about rollerblading. Surely the master himself must agree with me...and perhaps may even give some of his own reasons.

This was what Master Ch'an said:

"Every morning, I am greeted by this wonderful lark. It sings the most beautiful melodies as it flies down to one of the trees outside my house. It sings exactly when the morning sun is coming up, as though to greet the brightness of the day and welcome the inevitable sunshine. It does this every morning, regardless whether other birds are present. It does not seem to particularly care about the other birds, because it does not stop singing when they are around. It does not stop singing to see what the other birds might do, to contemplate its differences, to feel superior or inferior to them. It just sings and sings, every morning, day after day. It is the lark's inherent nature to do so, to do what is natural and perfect for itself. It is content with its own nature."

"My friend, too often have I seen arrogance among skaters. Like this lark that is content with its own being, if you are happy with who you are, then why should you let other people bother you, upset you? If you love what you do so much, then why should you stop and reflect on your differences with others? Why should you stop your skating to condemn others? It is your own inherent nature to skate. You skate because it is natural, it is a reflection of you, not because others aren't the same as you or aren't part of your reflection. Does this lark stop singing because other birds are around? So you too must not stop skating when other people, who may not have the inherent nature to skate, but perhaps to ride a bicycle, or drive a car, or do things on rollerblades...when these people are around. Another bird can sing beautiful melodies just before twilight or can fly longer distances. Does that make this lark or the other bird inferior or less beautiful? Absolutely not, because it is still beautiful with its own special inherent nature. "

"My friend, let skating become the locus of your universe. Let it become part of your reality, part of your inherent nature. Skate because it is natural for you and for you only. Like a lark that sings the most beautiful melodies, use your skating to bring refreshing melodies into your life. Don't stop skating when others are around you. If you see rollerbladers around you, don't get upset and let them ruin your skating. Why should others ruin what is natural, what is inherent, or perfect for you? Learn to appreciate the beauty of your own skating, as well the beauty of others. Sing your own melodies that will greet the burning sun within you."

"Just shut up and skate"*

So spoke Master Ch'an

*T.A. Paterson

For the Moment, It Is Ours.

I often skate this curb after work. I get off shift around 2:45am. My sessions are alone, and very late. One night I noticed that black car in the background. Looked like a cop car. Thought I would soon get kicked out. Nothing happened. After a bit of time, I realized it was just parked there. No one seemed to be sitting in it. Prolly an overnight worker at the near by building. Didn’t think anything of it.  

Every night I go skating, it is there. Sometimes in a different spot, but always at that exact same far end of the parking lot. With time, it became part of the background. I never noticed it anymore. Until one night, about 3 months ago. It was about 4:30am. I had been skating for about 45 min at that point. Suddenly, a light in the car went on. Then one of the doors opened. Someone got out. They started walking towards me. I am a security guard (e.g. bouncer) at a bar/night club, and I took Shotokan karate for 5 years. I am not afraid of conflict (nor do I seek it). "The life of a Repo Man is always intense."

As the person walked towards me, I just thought, “OK, let’s see where this goes.” The person then turned off into the bushes, took a piss, and went back to the car. I now realized what this whole car was about. Someone was living out of it. This is where they parked at night. This was "home." A mix of feelings came over me.

First, was annoyance. I liked this spot because I was all alone at night. Now there was an invader.

Second, I was wondering if the noise from skating woke them up/kept them awake. Should I feel bad? No. Huge parking lot. They could move to other side if that was an issue.  

Third, was the realization that they were most likely thinking the same thing about me. Who is this invader freak that comes skateboarding at 4am? GTFO. 

Forth, and most important, was a sense of solidarity. This parking lot is normally filled with normal people, going about their normal lives. At 4am, nothing normal is going on here. Rather, it is a place of exile. A place for rejects, losers, and outliers to escape. Tonight, the auto-dweller was watching me skate for a while. In turn, I was watching them, watching me. There seems to be an unspoken understanding between us. At 4am, this parking lot becomes a sanctuary for the underclass, a place where we are free from the judgmental eye of  normal people. Here, at 4am, we share a space and time, knowing that for the moment, it is ours.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Do what you love, before you can’t.

Someone made a comment to me about skateboarding and the so-called mid life crisis the other day (e.g. the implied that I was having one, and that’s why I was still skating). Paraphrased, this was my response.

A mid-life crisis is when someone tries to either assert how so-called young they are, or they decide their life is not going the way they wanted it to, and suddenly make some rash/bad decisions. I have been skateboarding for 29 years. There is nothing in life I have loved more. The reality check is that I am 41-years-old. I do not have many more summers in me where I will be skateboard, at all, let alone with what ability I still have. I need make the best use of the time I have left, before age, and a crippled body, takes it away from me forever. I am not asserting how young I am. Quite the contrary. I am asserting how old I am. I have not decided I don’t like where my life is going. I am a skateboarder, and that is exactly where I want my life to be. It’s not a mid-crisis. It’s a mid-life awakening. Do what you love, before you can’t.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board (Part 4)

Thoai Tran wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding. Here is Part 4. This one is amazing. See introductory comments I wrote on this post for full context. 


Part Four

A young skater once remarked to Master Ch'an:

" You don't wear the latest skate clothes. You don't even have on real skate shoes. If you are going to skate, you might as well have the image that goes along with it! The girls aint going to like you if you sport those 10 dollars no name jammies from PayLess. Get with the program man!"

So began Master Ch'an:

"A little seedling that sprouts out of the forest floor requires the crudest and simplest requirements for life. Requiring just the water that comes down from the clouds above, the all-encompassing air, and the minerals found in the forest soil, this little seedling will grow, and develop into a mighty oak or spruce tree. Placing a pair of Airwalks or Etnies by this seedling won't stop it from growing. It just keeps growing. Placing t-shirts with logos of skate companies by this seedling won't hinder its inevitable growth into a tall tree. Hanging a pair of baggy Levis on one of its many branches won't cause it to die...

"Like a seedling that requires only the simplest elements for life, your skating requires very few elements for you to grow and develop into a mighty fortress that stands tall and proud among your peers..

"Use your infinite curiosity to break away from the shell that has encapsulated your skating and prevented you from sprouting out of the soil of mediocrity. You will grow...

"Use your dedication to hold your body strongly within the skating foundation. Let it provides the minerals and nourishments for your inevitable growth. Let it provides the sunshine that gives your skating life. Through the violent rain, the freezing cold, and the sweltering heat of summer does this young tree remain attached to its very foundation. You too must remain attached to your skating during moments when friends are away, when the last skateable spot suddenly has "No Skateboarding Permitted" signs, when your art is viewed as obscene and unlawful, when no one is there to support your art. Indeed, you will grow...

"Use your creativity to blossom and give rise to countless leaves which will absorb completely the brilliant light - the essence of skating and of life. A seedling which is transplanted into a distant forest, where it is surrounded entirely by plants and trees of different species, can still grow tall and mighty.. Your skating too, although different and strictly your own, will inevitably grow, despite being surrounded by mediocrity. Use your creativity to blossom among the endless rows of common maple trees. Indeed, you will grow...

"But most importantly, use your love for your art, for your skating, to grow. This is the one thing that no Airwalks, Stussy shirts, or Levi pants can ever replace. Fashion comes and goes, like so many other trends. But the sun, and the rain, and the minerals will always be there to nurture the seedling and help it grow. Seek within yourself the qualities which are eternal, infinite, and everlasting. It is so easy to say "Hey, check out these Airwalks. I love the way they look." But saying " I love skating" requires something which lies deep within your soul, something which outlasts even the most beautiful shoes...

"Remember this, and your skating will inevitably grow...

So spoke Master Ch'an.

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board (Part 3)

Thoai Tran wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding. Here is Part 3. See introductory comments I wrote on this post for full context. Part 3, below, is one of my personal favorites that Tran wrote. 

Part Three: Flowing Stream

Master Ch'an visited a skatespot where skaters from the area came and performed their art. On that day, a local skater was doing long 50-50 grinds on a waxed ledge. Master Ch'an applauded after each time the skater came off the ledge. This was rather unusual for the skater, who had never been applauded for doing a regular 50-50 grind. After the skate session had ended, the skater approached Master Ch'an and asked:

" You applauded whenever I did 50-50 grinds on this ledge. Why did you find this trick worthy to be applauded, when, in fact, there are so many other tricks which are more difficult and complicated than that? A 50-50 grind is simple, is not even beautiful! I can show you the other tricks right now, then you will be truly impressed!"

Master Ch'an replied:

" How can something so small and insignificant be so important in the whole scheme of things? Look at this rock that I am is indeed plain and simple. It has no monetary worth, and not too many people will find this beautiful. But if I were to throw it into a flowing stream, this small and insignificant rock would change that stream completely and forever. It would change the way the stream flowed by adding a new source of turbulence and displacing millions of water molecules to travel in different directions. Indeed, the stream would forever be different with this rock in it..."

" Like a rock that is so essential for making the stream the way it is, your skateboard is an essential part of you. It is part of your body and becomes incorporated into your being. Indeed, many skaters have noted how their board doesn't seem at all like a separate entity when they skate. This is completely true because your soul absorbs your board completely, making its reality one with yours. You are one with your skateboard..."

" And like the stream that continue to flow despite having an external rock placed into it, your skating must also flow continuosly, despite having a board placed beneath your feet. Tricks should be landed smoothly and consistently to maintain this everlasting flow. A 50-50 grind, simple as it may be, is a reflection of the stream within you, the reality that is everlasting and is beautiful. Therefore, my friend, if you land a new trick that you had spent many hours practicing, remember to do it again and again, until it perfect...until you are at a point where you can do it anytime, anywhere. The stream continues to flow whether it is in the woods or in the open, whether it is during the daytime or night-time. Remember my friend, when you go skating, don't be dependent on others to decide what is cool and what is not. You should skate to satisfy your own thirst for absolute perfection. Surely a stream won't change its course of direction or stop flowing because there are people standing nearby. So you too must not change your skating when other skaters are around you..."

" My friend, when you realize this, your skating will become a stream that flows to absolute perfection..."

So spoke Master Ch'an.

The Danny Way Incident of 1989

This photo forever changed the course of my life. And almost ended it, too.

It was published in Poweredge Magazine, October 1989, Volume 2, Number 9. It is a photo of the world famous skateboarder Danny Way. We were both 15 when this photo appeared (he is two days older than I). Every kid has their heroes, and he was mine. I can’t remember when I first latched on to him. I know by 1988, when Shackle Me Not came out, I was already entranced, and he had already reached hero status. The wall next to my bed was covered with every photo of him I could find.

Then the October 1889 issue of Poweredge dropped. That one photo. The bottom of my world dropped out. Total collapse.

When I saw first saw this photo in 1989, a blinding, horrific, and crippling light bulb went on. I realized that D. Way wasn’t just my favorite skater. Under the surface, a lot more was going down. When my eyes came across this little handrail photo, I also realized I had a “crush” on him. Like, a legit actual Beatle-mania/teenage girl-Justin Bieber type crush; I realized that I had no interest in girls. None. Zero. Not going to happen. Ever. This was the photo that fully crystalized the fact that (1) I was queer,* and (2) there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

Terror swept over me. I went deep into the closet, and even attempted suicide when I was 16. Things were much, much different back then. I finally “came out” when I was 19. First to skater-friends, and then my parents. Things have great ever since. The irony is that my skateboard hero, and first “school girl crush” turned out to be a homophobic asshole, who, in time, would be tangentially involved with a gay bashing that ended with someone dead, and Josh Swindell in jail for almost 20 years.

Skateboarding teaches some hard life lessons. One of them it taught me was the people you look up to, the people you choose as role models, the people you choose to concern yourself with, sometimes, they can be your worst enemy.

“One thing I know for sure, heroes always die.” –Husker Du    

*I hate the word “gay.” It congers up way too many, albeit totally stereotypical, images of a culture I don’t relate to in any way. Madonna. Premium fashion brands. Brunch at fancy restaurants. Vapid self-absorption. Mincing and preening around the disco. Overall “fabulousness.” There is nothing inherently wrong with all that, it’s just not my world in anyway, what-so-ever. My world is Slayer, blood, scabs, punk rock, PBR, and skateboarding.   

The Parking Block Diaries

A nod to The Parking Block Diaries. Some of the best writing on skateboarding I've ever read. Great insight into skating's development, social impact in the 80s and 90s, and how the experiences of/from a your average skater are critical to all of it. Seriously, just go read it. All of it. 

More Gurney, Less Nyjah

Jerry Gurney, at first glance, looks like he might be Lemmy's little brother. Well, at second glance, too. You also might mistake him for a washed-up rocker. Not so fast. This video of him is the best / most original thing I've seen in a long time.  Skateboarding needs more characters like this. A new favorite.   

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board (Part 2)

Thoai Tran wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding. Here is Part 2. See introductory comments I wrote on this post for full context.

Part Two: Revelation

I searched long and hard for the elusive master, the only one who can enlighten me about skating. I had watched countless hours of video footage and absorbed countless photographs of skaters and skating, but I needed to find meaning in the one thing that I had dedicated my life to. Yes, skating is is indeed exciting. It is a test of adrenaline whenever one pushes to the furthest limits. But there is something else as well: a sublime and profoundly beautiful element that goes deep into the soul. I searched long and hard for someone who can explain to me this beauty, so I can finally be in complete harmony with myself and with my art...But my searches all ended in failure...and here I sit, contemplating where I will go next, whom I can talk to...A voice is suddenly heard: "You seek for the master who can tell you what is beautiful, what is sublime about you art? Imagine a beautiful painting that is on display in a museum. A passing viewer of a painting finds it beautiful by appreciating the overall images and their metaphorical representations. Another individual notes the techniques and appreciates the smoothness of the strokes, the detailed lines, the blending of various colors to give the perfect shades and contrasts. It has been said that a characteristic of a masterpiece is that it has so many elements to appreciate. Some elements may be manifested immediately after a quick glance; while others may be revealed only after a closer and more scrupulous look. But realize that, you who seek meaning and beauty in your art...realize that the collective elements that you find beautiful may not be shared completely by another individual - hence beauty is a subjective phenomenon relative to each individual..."

Your skating is an art. Like a beautiful painting that hangs in an art gallery, skating has so many elements to be appreciated...old school, new school, vert, street, freestyle, downhill, and so on. Each individual may find all, some, or just one of the elements beautiful. But remember, you who seek meaning in your art, remember that you should never look down on something that you may not love or appreciate, because that something is part of the collective beauty that is appreciated by someone else. Furthermore, remember, you who seek beauty in your art, remember that no one can ever explain to you what constitutes beauty in your art. No masters, no philosophers, not even the professionals who has been idolized for many years...You seek for the master who can enlighten you about your skating? You seek for the master who can explain to you what is beautiful about your skating? Seek within yourself..."

So spoke the master within myself...

25 Life Lesson Skateboarding Taught Me

I have now been skateboarding, on and off, for close to 30 years. It has taught me valuable life lessons. These are the most important ones. 

(1) You will fall. A lot. Get up. Try again. Many people speak of this as a life-metaphor. For skaters this is reality. You actually fall. You actually have to get up. You actually have to try again.

(2) In order to progress, you must fall/fail. If you don’t, you are not trying to tap your potential.

(3) You will get hurt. Often.

 By the thing you love most.

(4) Failure to fully commit can often result in a much more serious injury. You can’t “half-try” (a handrail). Confidence is a must. Self-doubt will kill you.

(5) Potential is everywhere. You just have to “see” it. Skateboarding fundamentally changes the way you see your environment. A curb is not just a curb. A ledge is not just a ledge. Once your “vision” has been changed, you see the potential to reappropriate and reevaluate the face value of everything in life.

(6) To see the potential (above) also requires creativity. The more creative you are, the more opportunity you will find. The way in which you interact with your environment is an art.

(7) There will always be people who are much, much better than you. There will always be others who will never be as skilled as you are. Do not be ashamed of your ability, or envious, around those who are better. Ascertain what you can learn from them. Do not be egotistical, or entitled, around those of lesser ability. Ascertain what you can teach. In both situations, you can flourish.

(8) Rolling down the street, or at skate park, you have unlimited number of tricks to choose from; how to do them, what ramp to try them on, how fast to go, what to link them with, etc. Life is full of choices of how to respond to obstacles/environment around you. Some choices can be timid and inconsequential. Other can be brash, and reckless. The difference between them can be very subtle. The daily line you draw between those risks is up to you.

(9) People will judge you. Be it “cool kid,” total menace, or super freak. Neither should be any of concern. Follow your path, not theirs.

(10) People who push themselves, and fall hard, and often, get more peer respect than those who put in no effort.

(11) Things get harder as you get older. You also learn to enjoy the simpler things.

(12) With time, dedication, and real conviction, you can do things that you once thought impossible. You will have to fall, many times, in the process.

(13) Fun can be had anywhere. It is a choice.

(14) A small, unforeseen, pebble in the road can cause you to come crashing down. Be circumspect.

(15) Things you could once do, you will, at some point, no longer be able to. Skate spots, also, come and go. Life is fluid. Do not be attached. Enjoy what is here, now.

(16) Skin grows back.

(17) No one will tell you what tricks to do. How you do them, in what order, etc. is of your own making. Be an unabashed, unapologetic, individual.

(18) Everyone is trying to figure out something new. Everyone falls. Everyone has their own battle, and scars.

(19) No one can skate for you. Failure, and success, are yours, and yours alone. 

(20) If you do the same tricks over and over, you will become very proficient at them. You will also quickly grow bored. Diversity is essential to keep life interesting. 

(21) You will be treated as a lesser person, who participates in a lesser activity. In many places your very existence is criminalized. Just carrying a skateboard may make you a suspect class. This is a window into how other marginalized people experience life. Have compassion.

(22) The police can be assholes.

(23) Some tricks will be naturally easier to you. Others will be harder. No one is perfectly well-rounded at everything. Know your strengths, and your weaknesses.  

(24) The first time anyone sees an “ollie,” they think they have just witnessed magic, that the laws of physics have just fallen apart. Always remember the wonder of life.

(25) Find what you love. And let it kill you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wisdom From the Acient Masters of Alt.Skate-Board

In the early and mid-90s the Internet was just forming within the public sphere. The concept of modern web "forums" was non-existent. Instead, Usenet and the various alt.___ groups were the initial glue of "internet communities." IRC chat rooms added to this. One such group, the precursor to all modern skateboard internet presence, was alt.skate-board on Usenet and #skate on IRC.

The regular contributors to these two entities actually had a bigger impact on than most would imagine. For instance, prior to becoming a pop icon, Nancy Whang was a regular (I take credit for introducing her to the band Big Black). Richard Wang formed Blair Mag, one of the first popular "web zines" that both celebrated and lambasted pop culture. It is still hilarious in 2015. Rick V. and others went on to form Journal Magazine (now defunct). Lucas Wisenthal went on to become the editor-in-chief or The Ride Chanel. These are just to name a select few people/things that came from the community of alt.skate-board.

I was in my middle/late teens during this time period. Remnants of that cyber-skate culture are still with me today. One of the most memorable components was the writing of Thoai Tran. He wrote a number of brilliant posts on alt.skate-board called Zen and Skateboarding. These were later archived on Dansworld. In the world of modern skateboarding and the Internet, Thoai's writing can easily be lost to time, and more contemporary web sites than Dansworld. Unless of course, you were there when Thaoi first posted his articles, like I was. His writing always stuck with me, like skateboarding, because it is so...pure. Rereading his teachings on Zen and Skating in 2015 illuminates how real wisdom is timeless. His observations are as relevant today as they were in the mid-1990s. Maybe even more so. If you are a skateboarder, then you will immediately see the brilliance that is Thaoi Tran. He wrote 14 installments of Zen and Skateboarding, over the course of a few years. I will eventually post all of them on this blog. For now, I give you the one that started it all off...



A Note from the author

I know.. I know. Call me the biggest Schmuck or geek or loser for trying to correlate skating to life with metaphors and stories. Those of you who may have read some of my writings might have noticed that I am notorious for this... But to many of us (including myself), skating is is the nourishment that keeps my soul fresh and fulfilled..It makes me happy when my days are mediocre and sad. It makes me happier even on my better days. It provides the fulfilment that goes beyond anything this apathetic world can offer.

I will be posting a series of articles, collectively called "Zen," in which I will *attempt* to describe this profound beauty, this harmony with oneself and with the universe whenever I step on that board. Please forgive me if I sound like the biggest loser (I am!) for contributing such writings here, but I hope that you will find my some of my ideas enjoyable to read...and if you enjoy them, drop me a line or few. Ideas or constructive criticisms are always welcome too.

Thank you,
"skate to to skate"

Part One: Autumn Foliage

An impatient skater once cried out to master Ch'an..."I have skated for almost a year now, and yet I can't get any better. I cannot do a kickflip. My ollie is not as high as my friend's. I practice and practice, but I just can't do these tricks. I see all these maneuvers in magazines and videos, and it seems that everybody is doing them...except for me. All these little kids do these complex flips and make them look so easy. I see people doing crazy things down huge flight of stairs. Every other skater is getting better and better, developing more and more intricate tricks with each passing day; but not I! I am so frustrated!"

Master Ch'ian picked up an orange leaf that had fallen from a tree and said:

"This leaf that has fallen down from the autumn skies...does this leaf chose to come down whenever it wants? Why does it wait for this time of the season to change its colors, to lose its green lushness, to fall from the tree that has given it life?"

"Why do the blacknecked geese begin to make their annual migration during this time...and not during the summer or spring? Why must they wait for this exact moment; when, in fact, they have the ability to do it anytime of the year?"

"Time takes its natural course...Just as this leaf is patient to wait for fall to change into its illustrious colors, so you too must be patient when you skate. A trick will blossom into its magnificent colors as inevitably as this fall foliage when you have patience with time...when you build it slowly and perfectly. You cannot backside ollie without first learning to ollie straight...and you cannot ollie successfully if you can't roll away smoothly...Time takes its natural and inevitable course."

"Look at this leaf: it is unique, it is special. It is completely different from the other leaves that surround our feet. There is no other leaf that has the same patchwork of colors, the same patterns of vasculature, the same feel. Your skating should be like this should be special and strictly your own. No other person can dictate to you what is beautiful in skating...because beauty is within your own soul. Once you realize this, your skating will blossom as inevitably as this fall foliage."

So spoke Master Ch'ian.

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Adult Content"

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Roll For Life.... Part 1


Roll For Life.... Part 1

"This is the first of 3 posts, to be fired out in quick succession, tackling the barriers to skating, like, fo' ever brah.  This post deals with whether we exaggerate the impacts of getting older (or use it as an excuse); the next will deal with the arguably bigger issue of how the assholes in the civilian world see us - and how this reflects wider issues like class and wealth prejudice (fuck 'em); and the last post will cover attitudes within skating itself - some have changed, some stay the same.
A couple of days' back whilst on holiday in Boston Massachusetts, we heard the loud clattering of skateboarders behind us.  A group of 4-5 guys shot past, each ollieing a manhole cover with the snap, speed and confidence that shows straight away that they know what they're damn well doing.  As an afterthought, I noticed that a couple of the dudes had fully grey hair - probably in their 40s - and thought "rad, its not often you see guys that age skating street on a weekday back home." 

I'd wanted to tap out a positive post  on how more people could skate productively through their active lives -  not in a naff, self-parodying 'middle-aged shred' sense, or with the subterranean low expectations of  "I just like to cruise every now and again these days, man", but to properly skate and keep progressing.  Like runners, surfers, cyclists, skiers or rock climbers - or any other infinitely less rad activity that nonetheless becomes someone's lifetime identity.   A skate trip to Copenhagen and Malmo a month earlier and my own progress through the second half of my 30s had been gently prompting this. 

On return from the US, this piece of upper-class trolling from the Telegraph's Harry Wallop provided probable cause.  This was the second article from the Telegraph in the last few months snidely suggesting that a skateboarder over 29 was a pathetic try hard in the grip of a low-budget mid-life crisis.  The Telegraph aren't alone.  The New York Times published a cringe-inducing exposé  on this 'new' phenomena of the post-teen skateboarder a couple of years' back.  Then a torrent of unwanted opinion from the UK establishment was triggered by the opening of the House of Vans, the Long Live Southbank campaign, and the HTC One Skatepark at Selfridges.  Commentators on popular culture, from the Guardian to Marie Claire, have suggested that skateboarding is for teenaged boys alone: adult males, and women of any age, should stay the hell away.  At the same time, they suggest regular guys consider rocking a Palace t-shirt and Supreme 5-panel -  appropriating the fashion whilst scorning participation in the activity it draws from.

Muckmouth have just raged at this shit, arguing that older skateboarders have quite enough to deal with just age itself - and can do without judgment from those who don't themselves participate in a damn thing.  They're one of the internet's gems, so I don't want to step in their footprints and am anyway better equipped for more practical rambling of the what can/should change variety.  To do this, I'll address three big barriers to 'rolling 4 ever'/being a 'lifer' or whatever kids tattoo on their forearms without thinking about what that might end up meaning.

Wear, decay and maintenance

The most commonly given reason why someone becomes, or is forced to become, an 'ex-skater', is the idea - and eventual reality - that our bodies become less able to do the things we want after passing a given physical 'peak'.  But the science suggests that the body falls apart later and more slowly than we tend to assume, especially if we invest in general fitness (mitigating the downside of getting older, rather than complaining about it).

Sports scientists place the peak for most sports between the ages of 25 and 35 - the period usually defined by demographers as 'young adulthood'.  This is older than you'd expect if exposed to a couple of decades of skate journalism speculating that so-and-so is probably past it at 26 (although, along with injuries, professional skate 'careers' hinge on other factors, such as how long you can exist on sub-welfare incomes).  After this peak, deterioration is very gradual - unless you have a serious injury or illness: in normally healthy adults, the key indicators of oxygen intake and heart efficiency, muscle strength and flexibility decrease by small amounts each year.  Studies show that athletes perform at or close to their personal best from their late 30s to their early 40s - with gradual deterioration of around 2% per year after this, with changes only perceptible to the individual over the decade.  Have a look here for more detail.

What changes more rapidly is actual levels of participation in physical activity.  Essentially, from the late-30s/early-40s the average Western adult becomes very significantly less active, and their metabolism slows - together leading to weight gain, further decreasing activity.  Our image of someone in their 30s may not be that different from a 20-something, but when you conjure up an image of an average guy in their 40s, you may picture the dude wandering around the super market after his wife and kids, beer belly, pigeon chest, stooped posture - prodding listlessly at his mobile phone.   Imagine that guy on a skateboard, arf arf.

Researchers suspect a chicken-and-egg situation, with lifestyle factors (family, work, etc.) and social attitudes (more on that in Part 2) leading to reduced physical activity, rather than an inherent human tendency to reduce activity in itself.  This in turn may cause metabolism to slow when it does, and accelerate deterioration in the other key indicators.  The above link to the Journal of Sport Science includes evidence showing that active people aged 60+ outperform inactive 20-somethings across most indicators.  So there's empirical evidence behind that Jay Adams quote.
So we start to deteriorate later than you may have expected, and at a more gradual rate - with the more depressing, rapid changes due to behavioural and societal factors, rather than additional years on the planet per se.  The modern adult world pressures us to pile out, bro. 

The easy conclusion would be to say 'just keep skating' - you'll be more active than the average civilian, pile out less and live longer.  But we also tend to argue that skating is way more destructive than  other activities, leading to an earlier end point.  But unless you're jumping down stair sets and big rails on the regular - is it really?  People run long distances competitively well past 60, and that's super high impact: I ran my first half marathon earlier this year and my legs felt way more shagged than from 3 days hard skating (and I've run moderate distances for as long as I've skated, so its not a case of muscles being worked in unfamiliar ways).  Perhaps more significant, is the idea of older people skating (more on that in Part 3) - picturing ol' chubby 'rad dad' in a Quicksilver t-shirt.  But without entering into some Gwyneth Paltrow-style life advice, none of us are going to be that guy if we keep skating.  Dudes from Ronnie Creager to Lance Mountain don't look ridiculous -  skating should enable us to be the wiry old bastards that look like they live in the woods and would survive nuclear war.

The key is maintenance.  For those of us who started skating in the 90s this is hard to accept.  Stretching still seems lame - and the solution to a tweaked ankle back then was JD, weed and refusal to go to the doctor.  The younger generation seem much keener to borrow from mainstream sport and fitness (in this month's Sidewalk nice-guy-Will Golding has followed Korahn Gayle and...  yeah, Gino...  in professing time spent in the gym for cardio fitness, leg strength and flexibility at the tender age of 22 - foresight and discipline that I lacked at that age).  In 1996 this would have gotten you labelled as a 'jock' and way too serious.  I remember housemates and I hating on Reese Forbes because we incorrectly had him down as a serious sports guy.  But then hardly anyone knew people older than 25 in our skate scene.  Borrowing the useful stuff from regular sports isn't a bad thing, even if you're Magenta as hell and reckon 95% of 'performance' orientated skating sucks (this interview with Soy Panday and Vivien Feil on the thinking behind Magenta is amazing, btw).

To keep up the 'childish' act of skating at a level that is satisfying, one has to embrace some elements of normal guy fitness. That can either be depressing or motivating.  In any given office environment, you'll hear civilians carping on about "having" to go to the gym as they've eaten x amount of cake and crisps today, purely for vanity's sakes.  That shit sleeve of quasi-tribal tats will look shitter if matey piles out: no roll up sleeve, deep-v shirts for you, bruv.  But as a skateboarder, the shere dumb love of going skating is the ultimate motivator for swimming, cycling, running, yoga - whatever you choose.  Freddy Gall pulls off being a full-time pile whilst being amazing at skating, but his is probably not a recommended life trajectory for anyone else.  I'd much rather be that tedious older guy that goes running before work/at lunch - and can skate all weekend - than the regular fella moving from couch to work to pub and back again.  Although there's nothing wrong with that.  Each to their own.
The final point is the fallacy of applying the expiration date for 'peak' performance in professional competitive sports to normal skateboarders.  In mainstream competitive sports, even a 2% decrease in a given performance indicator loses you the edge on your competitors - career ending in light of the miniscule strength and speed differences between top athletes.  From their early to mid-30s, top footballers struggle to outrun their younger counterparts, pick up injuries faster and thus retire.  But you and I are not in a race, skateboarding does not require infinitesimal degrees of 'better' - and craft (judgement, aesthetics, trick and spot selection...  style) can increase with time, even if power fades a little.  My favourite bit of Cherry is the Brian Anderson line with the flat ground switch 360 flip, because I really like what he does with his shoulders... craft, son.

But professional, competitive athletics holds a powerful sway on how we talk about and evaluate skating, even if you subscribe to the 'its totally an art, dude' school of thought.  Just read any skate mag, and see how those valuations creep in, with skate 'careers' described in a similar trajectory to football or basketball, even if the dude in question is working an alternate job the whole way through.  This affects us as normal punters, consciously or otherwise feeling 'past it' when mainstream athletes our own age start retiring, even though they exist under a totally different set of circumstances.

But, I strongly believe nothing affects our feeling of when we can and can't skate than the perceptions of others...  the assholes: the subject of the next post."

Monday, August 3, 2015

Skating: Often Akin to Greek Tragedy

Was at the skate park today. Only about 6 or 7 skaters there. Only this one other kid, and myself, were really skating. Others were just kind of hanging out, or dorking around a bit. OtherKid was trying this one trick. Over and over.  Doesn’t matter which one. Could by any. He tried them over, and over, for at least an hour. He never pulled one. He only even came close less than 5 times. Over. And over. Never made one. He eventually said, “I give up,” and walked away.  

I remember sitting at Copley Sq. in Boston, years ago. Some non-skater civilian tourist type was near me, watching people skate. I wasn’t skating. Just sitting. Watching. He eventually said to me, “How can that be enjoyable?” “What?” I responded. “That,” he said. “Just trying things over and over, and not doing it.” I laughed. I asked him if he knew anything about Greek mythology. H claimed that he did not. I gave him a quick version of the Myth of Sisyphus, and explained that skating is often akin to Greek tragedy. The boulder never stays at the top of the mountain. You always fall again. There is always one more stair to ollie down. A longer rail to slide. A higher air to do. No matter how much you eat or drink, you always get hungry and thirsty again. No matter how much you sleep, exhaustion always returns. Skateboarding is no more absurd than life itself.

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” –Albert Camus