Monday, December 28, 2020

The Clarity Self-Deception Can Bring (was: Revisiting Thunders & a 14.5" Wheelbase on Transition)

[NOTE: Much of what I wrote below was based on self-deception. Clarity is revealed in the post-script at the end.]

I believe that one should occasionally (re)test their assumptions, if only to prove that they still hold true.

My standard set-up for mini ramps is:

•    8.25” DLX shape (14.38” wb)
•    Indy titanium 149s, with Indy 92a cylinder bushings (the blue aftermarket ones)
•    Spitfire F4 Classics, 54mm/101a
•    Swiss 6
•   Jessup

I recently decided to give Thunders another try on transition. I despise Thunders on street (they don’t turn, they are too low, and they have that stupid baseplate issue), but some of the exact reasons I hate them on street might be benefits on transition. I ride my trucks tighter on ramp, so the fact that Thunders “don’t turn” might be good. Thunders have a longer wheelbase than Indys, and they are also lower. This would provide for a bit more stability—also something beneficial. However, a longer wheelbase would make things respond a tad more sluggishly. Also, a lower height gives a little less wiggle room on anything where your nose/tail may touch the coping or ramp (this could both be negative and positive). The baseplate issue is not a real factor on transition because of the (larger) coping size. Last, Thunders are not an NHS product, and avoiding NHS is always a good thing in my book. So, at least on paper, Thunders appear to be a mixed bag, but they lean a bit more towards the positive side. How would this play-out in the real world? 

In the past there was a time when I rode Thunders on ramp and Indys on street. But I later switched back over to Indy on tranny, too. Time to retest those (Indy) transition assumptions, again. I had a pair of 149 Team Thunders (the slightly taller ones) kicking around in my closet. I threw on them on my transition board, and skated them for the last week at my local mini ramp.

There were a few things I liked about them, and a few things I didn’t. First, the positives. I really like the lower-to-the-ground feel of Thunders, both for just riding on the ramp itself, and on all truck-based lip tricks (e.g. pivots, grinds, feeble to fakie, etc.). Everything felt a little less squirrelly than on my Indys. I am not sure if this was the result of the longer wheelbase, that Thunders “don’t turn,” or the lowered truck height (or all three). In any event, I liked it, mostly. But I'll come back to this it at the very end.

I noticed one subtle difference with the longer wheelbase, which had both a positive and negative impact. On the positive, I noticed with any grind I could keep my weight a little further back on the board. This helped “push” through grinds, and it felt really nice. It also seemed like on any rail/lipslide/disaster/etc. there was a bit more wheel clearance (because wheels were further away from potential points of contact on platform or transition). The opposite side of this is that there was a fraction more of lag time required to “clear” the trucks/wheels on any given reentry (e.g. have to fakie manual a tad longer to clear front trucks on a pivot to fakie, etc.). This was a little unnerving at times, because I kept thinking I was going to hang-up. Last any kind of revert trick (nose stall revert, ollie to tail to revert, disaster revert, etc.), or anything where you 180’d into or out of a trick (1/2-Cab to railslide, disasters, rock n rolls, etc.) ALL took more effort to “swing around,” and the “swing” went slower when it did. I had some real trouble with nose/tail stall reverts on the Thunders because I wasn't getting them all the way around. This was pure function of a longer wheelbase, and I was not a fan. There was also this one other weird thing that happened a few times. On several occasions when I was in the middle of the flat, and setting up for some type nose/tail trick (nose pick, nose stall, fakie to tail stall, fakie to smith, etc.), I ended up shifting my weight too far to the extreme end of the board (in the direction I was going), and this resulted in slightly lifting up the wheels/trucks at the opposite end of the board (and that can get REAL sketchy, REAL quick). I am not sure what this was about—but it never once happened before on my Indys, but it did happen several times on the Thunders. I assume this is probably just needing to make some minor adjustments to the different wheelbases. 

Last, is that one issue I said I'd come back to at the very end. Despite all the positives, there was this one thing about Thunders that I just couldn't quantify--and it was a negative. Despite the fact they felt a bit more controlled than Indys, and less squirrelly, they always felt...stiff, and as if something was lacking (soul?) that prevented them from being truly...enjoyable. I felt a bit more like a technician skating Thunders, and a tad more like Chris Miller with my Indys. Ironic, because Miller rides for Thunder these days.    

Final Result: I definitely did not hate the Thunders—I could absolutely ride them on transition with only a few complaints. The question at this point is just which of the two do I like better and/or is more enjoyable to ride? Tomorrow I am going to throw my Indys back on, and see how that goes. I will add a post-script once I’ve done that.

One other thought that came out of this experiment: What if what I liked better about the Thunders was the longer wheelbase? Would a slightly longer wheelbase with Indys be some new epiphany? We shall soon find out. I ordered a DLX 8.25” Full deck (basically same shape as my current 8.25”, but with a 14.5” wheelbase) that should be here in a week or so. I am curious to see what my take on that is (with Indys). I’ve tried 14.5” wheelbases on mini ramps before, and didn’t like it—but that was looong before I broke my leg. The way I skate is a bit different now, and different equipment might reflect that in a more enjoyable way. Plus, I just like trying out different skate stuff. In the post-leg break world, I think now is a good time revisit many of my equipment assumptions (if only to prove they still hold correct). More certainly to come.   


POST-SCRIPT: Well, a rather dramatic bit of information was discovered yesterday which turns much of what I stated above on its head. What is that bit of information?  Forged baseplate Indys (what I ride) have the SAME wheelbase as Thunder Team trucks (the Thunders I have most often ridden). This is huge.

How did I discover this? I was tinkering with my equipment two days ago on a rainy night. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what the actual difference in wheelbase was between my Indys and Thunders. So, I mounted them on a deck and measured axle to axle. I was shocked at what I was seeing. There was less than 1/16th of an inch difference between the two. This could not be true! I remembered measuring Thunders Lights a long time ago, and they were about .25” longer than Indys. What the hell was going on here? I need a second opinion.

There is a super nerdy thread over at the SLAP Forums about a way to compare/measure/determine the relative wheelbase of any given truck in relation to any other truck. I am not going to explain how take those measurements in this post. You can read it in the SLAP thread. Anyway, I wanted to re-measure my Indys & Thunders via SLAP method as to means verify what I had discovered. I had not looked at that SLAP thread in a long time, and I wanted to verify the exact measuring methodology. So, I headed over to SLAP to look-up the info. That thread is also continually updated with the wheelbase tech specs of any given truck as people measure them (and others provide independent confirmation). When I looked at the thread, I noticed some new updates to the truck spec list since the last time I had been there. Two entries immediately jumped out at me:

Independent 149 forged hollow (8.5" axle): + 3.1875"

Thunder 149 team edition (8.5" axle): + 3.1875"

This CONFIRMED what I discovered. I then re-measured my Indys and Thunders with the SLAP method. I confirmed my own previous results. My Indys and Thunders had the exact same wheelbase.  MIND. FUCKING. BLOWN.

One other SLAP member made this comment, “I'm pretty blow away as I am sure most are. We've always dumped them into 'Indy' or 'Thunder' wheelbase. It also explains why Indy forged have always felt fine to me when going back and forth to Thunder cast. In that scenario it was no wonder only turn was bugging me on the decks I was riding. Who knew?

To be fair, regular Thunders do have a longer wheelbase than Indys by about .25” (as per my memory, and confirmed on that SLAP thread), but not the ones I was riding. So, what is the fallout from this discovery? A few things immediately jump out.

First, and most obvious, is that everything I attributed above to a difference between in Indys and Thunder wheelbase was now demonstrably FALSE. Those differences were clearly just in my head. Remember that 14.5” deck I ordered, to try a longer wheelbase with Indys? Yeah. Well, that was based off bogus “information” (Yes, I’m still going to try it when it arrives…but now I am far less curious about it).

Second, this means everything I liked and disliked about Thunders came solely from the height difference (Thunders are indeed a bit lower than Indys) and the overall Thunder turning geometry. This also means that the geometry on Thunder Teams is even more atrocious than I first thought. I always thought one of the reasons Thunder Teams didn’t turn as well as Indys was because Thunders have a longer wheelbase. Well, same wheelbase as Indy, and your shit still can get a decent turn? Ok, guys. Nice trucks. I'm out. This game is over.

Third, like person I quoted above, it also explains why I didn’t hate Thunders as much this time around (last time I had the longer wheelbase version), and why I found it relatively easy to switch back and forth between the two without any MAJOR complaints.

Last, (and this probably the biggest “shift” to come out of this “discovery”) it has made me concretely aware that the source of perceived nuance differences in equipment may simply just be me waaaay over-thinking things (surprise, surprise). That said, when Equipment X rides different than Equipment Y, the “scientist” in me wants to know why, and, what the source of those differences is. This, of course, can open up a wormhole that one may not want to go down. I think from this point forward I am going to drop the measuring tape, calipers, and scales when it comes to skateboard equipment. I am going to stop looking for the “scientific” explanation as to why something performs the way it does. I am going to stop the tinkering with minutia. Instead, my only criteria is just going to be the existential question, “Does this just feel good to ride?” If the answer is yes, then the game over. If no, then try something different. This is just to say that I am going to let pure experience be my soul guide, and not get too caught up in tiny measurable differences. It’s time to close the wormhole.  

To that end, we now come full circle (albeit via a path of self-deception about wheelbase that I never could have foreseen happening). I have ridden enough stuff to know that the set-up listed at the very top of this post is one I really enjoy riding. I am no longer going to make attempts at minor improvements to that.

“I believe that one should occasionally (re)test their assumptions, if only to prove that they still hold true.” I like my Indys. I learned that’s all I really need. Assumption confirmed.    

POST POST-SCRIPT: The 14.5" wheelbase deck arrived. I set it up, and skated it today. Within three tricks on the ramp, I knew I didn't like it, for every reason I previously didn't like it. I skated it for awhile longer, just to be sure, and I was.  Assumption confirmed, again.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Popsicles v. Shaped-Decks

 
This article was written by someone who religiously rode shaped boards, and then decided to give popsicles a try. His analysis is below. It is worth a read.


[I did not write this article, Kyle DuVall did. I wanted to link his blog post to someone on Facebook, but it seems something has gone askew with the Blogger formatting on Kyle's post (I see white typeface on a white background when I view it). Hence, I copied and pasted the text here for easy reading.]

The Popsicle Experiment
December 7, 2015
By Kyle DuVall


For the last two years I have been one of the thousands of skaters who has embraced alternate skate deck shapes. I've ridden shovel heads, punk points, curvaceous, wide bodied hybrids like the Street Plant Street axe, and I’ve had custom shapes made to my own specs, The whole time I've been pretty vocal about how these shapes can be more than just nostalgic, stylistic affectations.

About 3 months ago, for the first time in 2 years, I set up my first popsicle deck. It was my attempt to come full circle with all my experimentations, and see how my perceived preferences stood up against the baseline of modern skateboarding.

Even in light of all of my shape advocacy, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t notice immediate advantages with the popsicle. There are good reasons to ride a standard shape, just as there are good reasons to ride a well-designed alternate shape. Teasing out what advantages come from the actual popsicle shape and which come from other factors like a shift in wheelbase size and width is a more subtle matter.

For my return to the standard shape, I doubled down and went with a Chinese-produced, mass manufactured deck: an Almost Chris Haslam resin 7 model with a 8.38” width with a 14.25” wheelbase. I picked Almost because a friend of mine, who has a tendency to snap decks as if they were the proverbial popsicles of the shape’s name, has been extremely lucky with their wood, and the dimensions and slightly blunter contours on Haslam’s model seemed ideal.

At the heart of my popsicle experience was a healthy drop in the length of the wheelbase I was riding.

A number of designers, brands and retailers have created their own recommendations for matching wheelbase sizes with riders, recommendations I have, in true skate anarchist fashion, usually ignored (I’M NOT GONNA LET THE MAN TELL ME WHAT WHEELBASE I SHOULD RIDE!!). I have been riding 14.75” to 15’ wheelbases for the last couple of years. The Haslam’s 14.25 wheelbase size actually lines up with the wheelbase I am ‘supposed” to be riding according to most of these recommendations.

Knocking half an inch off the WB changed the whole dynamic of how my front foot slid and how my back leg compressed in an ollie. When I ollied the Haslam, the tail of the board sucked right up against my feet as my rear knees bent, giving a very controlled, very level and snappy ollie. This effect improved my ollie even more once I altered my front foot slide to actually scrape beyond the front bolts and partially into the nose, a technique a lot of guys who learned to ollie on the tiny-nosed decks of the 80s, have neglected to learn. All in all, the shorter wheelbase (in combination with a shorter and more rounded tail, more on that later) had me popping ollies higher, in a shorter arc. The advantage on ledges and in popping off skatepark banks was dramatic.

Of course, you could put a short wheelbase on a shaped deck and gain some of these advantages, but very few brands offer shapes in the smaller wheelbases. Finding a stock 14.25” shaped deck is almost impossible and 14.5” is very rare. If there is one thing I have learned from my switch up it is that a lot of guys who love riding the shapes may be ill-served by the long wheelbases that come with them, especially if they are street skating. Brands might do well to branch out with their shaped deck designs.

The shape and the dimensions of my popsicle’s tail also played a role in that new snappier pop. The Almost Haslam had a 6.5” inch tail with the standard rounded shape. I’ve been riding 6.75 and 7 tails. The shorter tail definitely let me channel more power straight down much easier, this combined with the short wheelbase meant I could place my front foot farther up the board and still pop a good ollie. On a small wheelbase with a short tail, you can pop an ollie with the edge of your front foot practically touching the mounting bolts. This translates to much more stability setting up for a trick, and it makes it much easier to set up for the next ollie in a line. In a park setting it means there is a lot less sliding your foot around to adjust from pumping down a transition and popping an ollie on a pyramid or to a ledge. On the street course at the skatepark, the popsicle, or at least, the snappy tail and reduced wheelbase of that popsicle, was supreme.

The signature round shape of the tail can be a mixed blessing. The round tail design of the modern popsicle is designed for instability. Applying pressure to the rounded corners will essentially tip your board sideways, a motion at the heart of a lot of flip tricks. In fact, on the modern popsicle, the rotation of a kickflip or 360 flip comes just as much from the pressure of the back foot as it does the flick of the front foot. In the case of the modern 360 flip, the back foot “scoop” is often doing most of the real work. Once again, a lot of guys who struggled to nail kickflips and tre flips on the long-flat tailed decks of the late eighties find themselves stymied when it comes to getting the proper rotation on a popsicle. That's because, on those old tanks, the front foot was the engine that drove the flip. Apply the that technique to modern pop and chances are you will never get enough leverage in your pop to get off the ground, or at best, you will get a clumsily executed “rocket” flip. Kickflips on a popsicle are essentially a completely different trick than the flips we learned on fat boards in the 1980s.

Since the popsicle tail is basically built to tip, it means to get the most stability and pop on a plain old run of the mill ollie, foot placement on the tail must be more precise. If your foot is not well balanced and centered on the tail, the deck is going to pull sideways in one direction and tip a bit, meaning you will lose a lot of the power you are trying to put in your ollie and lose a lot of control as well. A flat, square-cornered tail shape, however, means you can apply pressure out of the “sweet spot” in the tail and still get a fairly solid, stable ollie.

Of course, even on a square tail you are going to pop better when you apply pressure to just the right spot in the center of the tail. One advantage of the rounded popsicle tail is that it essentially forces you to make sure you are always centered in your pop. It is a sort of conditioning tool in a way. You may start out less consistent on a popsicle tail, but the ollies you do will be cleaner and higher. The difference is a matter of consistency and on-demand stability versus versatility, improved vertical pop and the potential for cleaner flip tricks. There really is no “better” option. It's your call in accordance with your own style.

Another point of contention with modern decks is their durability. Veteran skaters often swear up and down that “they don’t make 'em like they used to” and single out Chinese production decks as especially suspect. On the whole, my Chinese popsicle took a pretty good beating and maintained a pretty good bit of elasticity and pop right up until the end. In terms of the longevity of aforementioned pop, the Almost Haslam certainly couldn’t compare with the eternal stiff snap of a workshop board like a Fickle deck, but it certainly stayed snappy up to the point where tail wear and other factors made a deck change necessary anyway.

The final verdict on this experiment: mixed.

I am definitely dropping my wheelbase from now on. Although the 14.25” size was definitely not optimal for bowl riding, splitting the difference and bumping up to a 14.5” wheelbase might work out well. A shorter tail than the 6.75” I have been riding is definitely better for me, although I’m thinking a squared 6.5” tail may be my best strategy. It's possible a square shape with a short length will mediate stability with the increased power the better leverage of the shortened tail gives me. The popsicle experience has certainly made me more wary of “punk point” noses. Nothing beats having a full sized nose, not just for nose slides and other ledge tricks, but also for ollies and, yes, even slappies. Cutting a 3rd of the real estate off your nose off just to get a “punk” look to your shape is not worth it. I’ll look more “punk” locking better backside slappies and more properly tweaked ollies. I think the Grosso-style “shovel’ nose is the way to go for me.

The big take-away from it all: ride what you like, but don’t write anything off you haven’t tried in a while. “Just because everyone else does” is no reason to ride a standard shape. Then again, it's no reason NOT to ride one either.

[Now that you've read about modern technology with decks, here is another article about wheels and deck height!]


Friday, November 27, 2020

The Secret "defect" of Thunder Trucks (and why your nose/tailslides may be suffereing)

 

(I apologize for some weird font/text formatting issues on this post, and for the misspelling of "axle" in the first photo!)

What you are about to read may forever change the way you view Thunder trucks. Depending on who you ask Thunder trucks may, or may not, have a "serious design flaw." Moreover, this flaw may impact your nose and tail slides. If you ride Thunders and you read the rest of this blog post, from this point forward, any time you “catch” on a nose or tailslide, you might forever be doubting your equipment. Once you “see” this design "flaw," it cannot be unseen.
 
If you ask me, I say there absolutely IS a design flaw. Just what is this flaw? It is related to the length of the base plate that sticks out beyond the outer most mounting holes/bolts (and the position of the axle in relation to that). And yes, that simple little issue may be fucking-up your nose/tails slides, but more on that later. While this design issue is commonly known among hardcore skate tech nerds, it isn’t as common knowledge among those who aren’t super fussy about their equipment. However, that does not mean the "problem" goes away if you are unaware of it.
 
For starters, let’s look at this tracing of an Independent and Thunder baseplate.

 


There are two significant things to note here. First, is that Thunder baseplates sit further inward on your deck than Indys. Conversely, Indy baseplates stick further outward towards the nose/tail than Thunders do. See that “Note this difference” arrow? That is distance that Thunders are “shorter” than Indys. The second significant thing to note is where the axle sits in relationship to the baseplate. The red lines marked “center of axle” are (duh) where the center of the axle (on the hanger) sits over the baseplate. Note that Indy axles are closer to the center of the board than Thunders. Nothing of surprise here. Indys have a shorter wheelbase than Thunders, so it makes sense that Indys would have an axle closer to the center of the deck (and Thunders would be further out). Now, where all of this gets interesting is what happens when put wheels on your trucks...and then try doing a nose/tailslide.
 
Let’s start with Indys. When you do a nose or tailslide with Indys, the outermost end of the baseplate “grinds” along the vertical edge of what you are sliding, and the wheels do not come in contact with that same vertical edge. The reason the wheels do not contact the edge is because the baseplate sticks out further than the wheels do. I think you may now see where all this is leading to. With Thunders the opposite is true. Thunders have a “shorter” baseplate than Indys. Moreover, the axle (and thus the wheels) sits further toward the end of that baseplate. So, when you do a nose/tail slide with Thunders, the baseplate often never touches the vertical edge you are sliding on, but the wheels do. These two photos will help visualize the difference (both trucks have the same set of 53mm Spitfires on them).
 
Indys. The baseplate touches the “ledge,” but the wheels are free and clear.

 

 

Thunders. The baseplate does NOT touch the "ledge," but the wheels rub against it


Thus, there is a much greater chance to “stick” when doing nose/tail slides on Thunders because the wheels will “catch.” Ben Degros also often mentions this issue on his (fantastic) YouTube channel when talking about Thunder trucks (as can be seen in this video around the 2:47min mark). It's also commonly discussed on the SLAP Forum. Now, this is not to say that nose/tailslides are impossible with Thunder trucks. Clearly such a claim would be demonstrably false. But what it does mean is that (a) you probably need a lot more wax to compensate for “catching wheels” if you’re running Thunder trucks, and (b) your margin of error is much thinner. Next time you are at a park, and you see someone over-waxing the fuck out of a ledge for nose/tail slides, look what trucks they have. Usually it is Thunder skaters that are doing this, and the reason why should now be obvious. Of course, the secondary problem with this is getting too much wax residue on your wheels (sketchy landings), and pissing everyone else off at the park who doesn’t want turboclown amounts of wax on a ledge to compensate for a poorly designed truck (e.g. Thunders). Further, Thunders are the only truck on the market (that I am aware of) that have this “problem.” Indy, Ace, Venture, Krux, etc. all have baseplates that stick-out beyond the wheels. Only Thunder has “catching wheel syndrome.” When something is designed radically different than every other product on the market, that often says something. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's bad. Here, I side with the latter.   
 

All of this I find very disheartening. I hate NHS. The company that used to punk as fuck is now selling shit with Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles on it. What. The. Hell. Happened. I would like nothing more than to be rid of every NHS product, but I’ve yet to find a truck that suits my needs as well as Indys. Aces have too short of a wheelbase, and they are heavier than Indys. Ventures don’t turn (very long wheel base). Thunders, are well, now you know what is wrong with them. Deluxe is such a rad company. I just wish they could make trucks as good as everything else they do.* Until then, I am stuck on Indys…they nose slide great!

 

*For some reason DLX can not figure out how to make a proper baseplates. Everything else they do is top-notch. Their baseplates, however, leave me utterly confused. The Thunder problem is explained above. Ventures have that inane design where the outer most mounting holes are so far under the hanger that it is next to impossible to get anything but a combination wrench on the mounting hardware. Absurd. What is going over at DLX that they can rule at everything else, but are still producing nearly XR-2 level baseplates?

 

POST-SCRIPT: Here is another example that shows how much of an "outlier" Thunder baseplates are. Here is a Thunder truck, and an industry standard shock-pad. Look at how much the shock pad sticks out beyond the baseplate when the holes are lined-up. This does not happen on any other truck, only Thunders. Any other truck, and the end of the baseplate and the shock pad (or riser) would be almost flush. 






Thursday, November 12, 2020

Knee Gasket Reviews: Killer 187 & Old Bones Therapy

Killer 187 & Old Bones Therapy Knee Gasket Review

This post is a review of both Old Bones Therapy and Killer 187 knee gaskets. 

Disclaimer: I am not associated with either of these companies in any way, shape, or manner.

First, why would one want a knee gasket? They basically serve five purposes. First, is to add some compression support to the knee area. Second, is to add a touch of padding to prevent against simple abrasion if don’t want to wear full-on kneepads. Third, if worn with kneepads, they can help prevent the pads from slipping down during knee slides. Fourth, if worn with kneepads, they can add a bit more padding around the kneecap area. Last, when worn with kneepads, gaskets help keep the pads from getting too nasty because the (easily washable) gasket will soak-up most of your sweat, rather it going directly into your pads. I wear my gaskets (with kneepads) for reasons three (3) through five (5). 

Note: Lots of pics at the very end of this post. 

Killer 187s

 I’ll start the review(s) with the Killer 187 gaskets. I’ve had these much longer than my Old Bones, so I have a longer-term perspective with this product. Killer 187s make the following claims about their gaskets;

 - Curved ergonomic design 
- Thick padding surrounds the patella 
- Two layers of neoprene encase 
- Super absorbent EVA foam 
- Ventilated mesh sewn in for breathability on back of knee 
- Non-irritating side seams for comfort 
- Top and bottom stitching for durability

All of these claims hold true. Additional comments are that these gaskets are thick (but not too thick), and they have a good amount of padding around the kneecap area, including the patella tendon area. They fit snuggly (and neoprene can be rather warm/hot, esp. in summer). Some many not like the snug fit as much, other might (esp. if you’re going for compression support). That said, no knee gasket should fit loosely, as that would defeat almost any reason for wearing one.

I have found two drawbacks to my 187s. First, they seem a little “short.” By that, I mean that I’d like the overall length of the sleeve to be a bit longer. They certainly cover the entire contact-area of my kneepad, but just barely, and  a tad longer would be better. Second, and this might be a big one for some people, is the stitching on the back of the gasket that connects the neoprene and the ventilated mesh. On mine, that stitching started to fail not longer after I got them. This might have been because, when I first got them, I was pulling them up from the top when putting them on, which is the incorrect method. I should have been “rolling” them a bit more. In any event, I reinforced these areas (sewing them up with waxed dental floss). I have not had any problem since. Would this problem have happened if I had been properly putting the gaskets on? Who knows. We’ll find out if/when I get my next pair.

In the end, the 187s are a good product. I’ve had mine for a few years now. They’ve gotten good use, and have otherwise help up. They definitely make my kneepads feel a bit beefier, they have never slipped down, and they do a great job keeping sweat out of my pads due to the thick-ish neoprene. $40.00 for a set

 Old Bones Therapy

Next, we move on Old Bones Therapy (OBT). This company seems to have a very dedicated (almost cult-ish??) following. I had some money to burn, and I love trying out new skate gear, so I decided to give these a-go to see what all the hype was about. The owner(???) often posts on social media circles I run in, and he even offered a standing discount code to one of the groups I’m in. That is really cool. Direct involvement with the community is a big plus in my book. Their products are targeted at the older crowd, which is also, well, “my people,” so that resonates, too. To these ends, Old Bones had some “pluses” going for me before I ever even had product in my hand. 

Let’s take a look at some of the claims made by OBT on their web site about their knee gasket. I am not going to cut and paste all of it here. You can read that material on the product description page, which can be found here.

The OBT gasket is notably different from the 187s on several fronts. First, it’s a bit longer than the 187s. That was a big bonus for me (see comments above about 187 length above). Second, the OBTs are not made of neoprene. They are made of some type of  “breathable knitted fabric.” The OBTs are thinner, and more “light weight” than the 187s. These don’t feel quite as “snug” or “tight” as the 187s, and that’s a good thing (for me). I am curious to see how the fabric holds-up over time. Will it loose its stretch? Will it wear out? I’ve not heard of anyone reporting this happening. Time will tell. I’m also curious to see how the OBTs do with keeping sweat away from my kneepads. I got mt OBTs in Fall 2020, so I won’t be able to really test that one out until summer 2021 (when it’s really hot again). OBTs also have these really cool anti-slip “nobs” at the top of the gaskets to help keep them in place. The OBTs do not have as much padding around the side area of the kneecap as 187s do. They also do not have any padding directly over the center of the kneecap (187s have a small layer of padding over this spot, but not much). This is the one drawback of OBTs for me. I wish they added a bit more padding in these spots. The one other “drawback” of the OBTs is that since they are made of fabric, if it gets near Velcro (which is common on others skate pads), the OBT fabric can get “stuck” to the Velcro. As soon as I realized this was an issue, I’ve been careful to keep the OBTs away from the Velcro on my other pads. I don’t want to find out if repeated “separations” will cause any structural integrity issues to the OBT fabric (as is often the case when fabric gets repeatedly stuck to Velcro). Speaking of structural integrity, I certainly did not have to sew/reinforce any seams on the OBTs like I did on the 187s.

So far, I really like the OBTs a lot. I just wish they had that extra bit of padding over/around the kneecap area. Once I have put substantial, heavy, long-term use on the OBTs, I will post a follow-up about their longer-term durability.  $25 each (or $45 for both).

So, which is a better product? That depends on what you are looking for. Want a gasket that adds some padding? Go for 187s. Want a gasket that provides compression support to a larger area of your leg, is lighter, has an awesome fit, and is from a company that has great community outreach? Then OBT is your clear choice. Also, if you’re just looking for general knee support, with long wear times, you’re better off with the OBT, because they are bit more breathable, comfortable, and cover a larger area. 

And very last, and this probably a bit petty in the grand scheme of things...the OBTs are just really bad-ass looking. Great color scheme and design. They did a great job with these things. Oh, OBT comes with cool stickers, too. Who doesn’t like stickers?!?


As you can see, the OBT gaskets are much longer than the 187s.


Back side of them.


ALL of the gray area on the 187 (right) is padded.




Knee padding when gaskets turned inside-out.

The anti-slip part of the OBT gasket.

The stitching I had to redo on the 187s.

Here you can see the 187 gasket just barely extends beyond my PD knee pads.


The OBT gasket covers a bit more of the leg above and below my knee pad.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

"...didn’t think I skated ‘hard’ enough..."

Three things happened in the last week that have me reassessing some basic assumptions about pads/safety gear. Moreover, they all played directly into my existential fears of an older skater who wants to ride this train as long as I can.

First, is this clip of my friend Chad. Nollie bigspin to disaster.  A trick he has on lock. But things occasionally go wrong, as they did here.  

WOW. Imagine what would have happened without that helmet. That type of slam is my second most feared slam on transition (my MOST feared transition slam is the type that broke my leg).

So, I often skate a 4’ tall mini ramp. Before I broke my leg, I wore knee/elbow pads about 75% of the time when skating it. Post-injury I wear pads 100% of time on it, esp. because now I can’t “run out” as well as I could before the leg break). However, I never wore a helmet there because the ramp seemed too small to merit a helmet (more on this below). Well, those days are now over. Seeing Chad’s bail has prompted me to now ALWAYS wear a helmet on that 4’ ramp. Head injury is kind of like cancer, or covid, or a bad car accident--freak occurrences don't seem real until they happen to you, or someone you know. Seeing this happen to someone I know made it a lot more real to me.

The second and third things that happened are intertwined. First, I was skating the aforementioned 4’ mini ramp three days ago. The session was winding down, and I headed over to the street area for some more laid-back skating. I was considering taking my kneepads off, but was feeling a bit lazy, so I didn’t. About 10 min later I did one of those things were you run with your board a bit before hopping-on (to gain speed). It ended badly. I am not totally sure what happened when I finally stepped on my board. Front wheels might have hit a rock. I might have gotten wheel bite. I might have misplaced my foot. Not totally sure. What I am sure about it is that I suddenly went down HARD as soon as my board hit the ground. My forward momentum sent me directly onto my forward knee (and hands). Pad slipped down (don’t think gasket did), and I got a pretty bad abrasion on my kneecap, which also swelled up a bit. Hands got chewed-up, too. Now, a knee abrasion is no big deal. I’m not concerned about that at all. What DID freak me out was thinking about what would have happened to my kneecap if I did NOT have pads on when I fell. That could have been very bad. This fear was greatly exacerbated 24 hours later…    

...because the next day I saw a post from “Dan” on Instagram about his…recently shattered kneecap.
 

“Dan” has been skating for 30 years. He did a lipslide on a small ¼-pipe. Something went wrong on reentry, and he went straight to his knee...and fractured his kneecap (no pads on). He made one comment about it that really hit home, “I broke it doing something I thought I had in the bag. I didn’t think I skated ‘hard’ enough (to get a serious injury, or to need pads).” If that last sentence doesn’t ring true to many of us, I don’t know what does (e.g. see my comment above about the 4’ ramp being “too small” for a helmet).

So, all of this stuff, especially Dan’s comment above (and my diminished ankle capacity), now has me really re-considering some of my basic assumptions about when I wear gear (and when I don’t). And this is coming from someone who already wears gear more than most probably do. I’m not sure where all of this is going to land me, but I'm taking a hard look at some of the choices I make.  

Am I just being reactionary to a few freak accidents? 

Maybe. 
Probably. 
Most definitely. 

But tell the guy, who who badly broke his leg doing a set-up trick he's done 1000s of times before, not to worry about freak accidents. Oh, right. That guy is ME
 
UPDATE: I made this little railslide bar that fits exactly in the back of my car. Last night I went out to skate it, and before I left I had this common mental debate with myself, "It's just a mellow street session, I don't really need pads." But I decided to bring them. Well, check out this switch stance frontside railslide to fakie...I am pretty sure I would have shatter my elbow cap without an elbow pad on. Turn the sound up, and hear how hard that hit. Note that after I got up, I tapped my elbow pad and gave the "thumbs-up" symbol. I instantly knew it had just saved my ass. To reiterate the point: you do not need to be skating "hard" to get a serious injury. That is something all of us know, but sometimes it is easy to forget, and I've just had uncanny amount of reminders this week.  
 


A Few Updates from the Personal World

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted any personal updates. That is a good sign—it means I’ve been skating. So, here is what’s been going in my world.

I.  Ankle Recovery: It ain’t what it used to be, that’s for sure. Sometimes it hurts when I walk. Sometimes I don’t really notice. It’s still weaker than it was, and I don’t fully trust it. I still haven’t tried any serious running yet, but I feel like that might be coming soon. All this said, I able to do everything I did pre-break in a diminished, but at least meaningful, way. That is all I could really ask for. 

II.  Skateboarding: Last sentence in the previous paragraph really sums it up. I am skating mini ramps again (but keeping it in the 4’ - 5’ range). There is still a lot of tricks I haven’t yet attempted again. Some of that is certainly residual physical limitation from the injury, but I am sure a lot of it is mental, too. That will be an on-going battle. I am making slow but steady progress. But most of all, I am having fun, and skating in a way that is meaningful to me. Again, that is all I could really ask for. 

III.  Skate Equipment Stuff:

(1) Old Bones Therapy: This week I got a set of Old Bones knee gaskets. My old Killer 187 gaskets were getting a bit spent, and Old Bones seems to have a very devoted (cultish??) following, so I decided to give them a shot. In depth product review coming in the near future.

(2) A Bigger Set-Up: I rode a friend’s board last week that was much bigger than my usual set-up. I was having some real fun with it. So, I ordered a bigger deck, and threw some old Indy 159s on it. Rain this week, so I won’t be able to really skate it for a bit. I’ve been down this road before, and I have ALWAYS ended up back on my regular set-up, and giving away whatever new/different equipment I am trying. Will this time be any different? Doubtful, but it’s always good to challenge your basic assumptions from time to time (if only to reaffirm them). I’ll probably post an update on this after I’ve skated the deck a bit.  

(3) Rail Slide Bar: I built this little railslide bar about 2-3 weeks ago. It was built to fit exactly in my car. I wish it was about 12"-18" longer, but it's good enough.  I haven't been able to spend serious time on it yet, but it's certainly going to be a lot of fun. 

 

 



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, wrist guards, and helmets are all touched-upon, but not as extensively as knee pads.

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. These tend to run a tad on the small size. Look at 187s sizing guidelines, but considering ordering a size larger. 

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. 

JUNE 2021 UPDATE / Boneless Pads: I recently got a set of Boneless Pro Slim knee pads. THEY. ARE. AWESOME. I'll post a longer review in the near future, but just want to get something included here for now. Much lower profile/smaller than my PDs, but offer great protection for mini ramp and street. Not sure I'd want to bail a 6' air on a full-sized half-pipe with them, but for mere mortal skating, these are worth a hard look.  

Knee-Gaskets: I recently reviewed Old Bones and Killer 187 knee-gaskets. That review can be found here.

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 wholly prevent a 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. Personally, I hardly ever wear wrist guards, but every older skater should own a set. Why? Because if you hurt/sprain your wrist (and you will), wearing a wrist guard will help prevent it from getting worse (of course, you may not have gotten that injury in the first place if you had been wearing wrist guards). Fortunately I don’t do this that often, but when I do, having wrist guards available is a god-send. With these, there is no debate; Pro-Designed makes the best ones. Period. End of story. Nothing better. 

 
HELMETS

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 all come in vastly different shapes and sizes. What fits me well, might be a nightmare for you. So, if you want a helmet, you are strongly encouraged to go try them on somewhere (if possible). 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.

https://helmets.org/skatepam.htm 

https://helmets.org/dualcert.htm

https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/sports-fitness-and-recreation-bicycles/which-helmet-which-activity

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.

Weight

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.    

FINAL VERDICT   

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 may 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. (UPDATE: My ankle is now doing much better. I no longer collapse on simple run-outs. It’s still weaker/less flexible, but much better than when I first wrote this. That said, my mental game has not fully recovered, and there is still a lot of doubt on some things.)

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 it is as basic as just 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.  However, you can also overdo it. Sometimes it is good to take a break, and allow your mind to reset. You'll have to experiment and find which path, at what times, works for you. 

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.  
 
Envision Success: Hesitation and doubt can lead to problems when trying a trick. Going into a trick while thinking, "Oh, man, I really hope I don't bail this" is a bad approach. It assumes failure. Go into any trick (including something you've never tried before, or something you've already been trying for 15 minutes) thinking, "I will/can land this." Thinking about slams can often lead to slamming. So, envision yourself landing it and rolling away. This will put you a better mental place, and a more confident one at that, too. Confidence is our goal.

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.