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.