Monday, August 10, 2015

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."

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