Recollections of a Mediocre Skateboarder

10 02 2010

Just because you are not terribly good at skateboarding (despite many years of solid effort) doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything from it.

And, even you don’t read the rest of the post, you should at least check out this sweet video.

I have often said to people that I have never tried so hard or put forward so much effort into a single goal as attempting to become adept at skateboarding. Not a pro, not spectacular, just decent, passable even, but my legs steadfastly refused to adopt the skills with which I tried to infuse them. Yet, for the better part of five years I sunk time, money and sweat into the sport/hobby/activity and produced very little relative to the outpouring of effort.

The point here, however, is not to bemoan my lack of fantastic-trick-pulling capabilities or the failure of my (loosely defined) skills to impress a girl, but to reflect on the fact that you don’t have to be good at something to have good memories of it.

Whilst other high schoolers were discovering the existence of such fun diversions as alcohol and sex, I was happily toiling away in a parking garage in downtown Decatur, a home away from home for several summers. For my two fellow skating friends and I, it was an oasis, a haven, a place only occasionally occupied by cops or other skaters.

Mostly, we used it as our own proving ground, and I can recall the exact way the different sections of pavement felt on my feet, how they sounded on the board’s wheels. I knew its grooves and dips, the places most likely to be dry after rain or ice. I set up routines and challenges and to this day, there is has never been a feeling that has quite replaced the satisfaction of a trick well performed – of jumping the T-gap and landing clean or pulling off the rare smooth grind on the ground-down concrete lips.

In most people’s minds, skateboarding is an activity associated with punk rock music and juvenile delinquents, but to me it has all the poetry of well-choreographed ballet. Like any sport, there is something captivating about watching a person make an act of extreme technical difficulty and coordination appear effortless and easy.

This liquid smooth separation of wheels from pavement looked more like a fifth-grade musical when I attempted tricks, if we stick with the above metaphor. I could never quite reach anything approaching grace. My feet moved jagged, lurching, the board sagging from too many hard landings and not enough free flight.

Now, we arrive at another of the many life lessons taught to me in my failed bid to acquire skill in skateboarding — having a clear idea of what you want is not necessarily an assurance of achieving said thing. There’s always a gap between what we see ourselves as and what we really are, something we would all do well to remember.

As time went on, my high school buddies moved away from skateboarding but I persisted so that by the time I arrived at college, it had become an intensely personal activity. Columbia had a nice skate park, which I frequented, but I still felt most at home on the roofs of empty parking garages. I loved the open space, the chance to disappear into my own world ruled by the decrees of skateboarding and my own long-established habits.

To this day, I can watch skate videos and explain to you in detail the tricks performed and their respective difficulty. A little used skill, but it exists still.

To be sure, as my skateboarding career tailed off, there were plenty of bitter, frustrating days. The lack of apparent progress eventually become a burden amplified by the fact that I usually skated alone. I admit, the coping mechanism I often resorted to in my frustration (throwing boards, cursing, breaking my deck with just the force of my foot) are probably not the most healthy. Yet, I had learned another lesson concerning the surprisingly strong correlation between what’s sweet and what’s sour.

Perhaps I am delving a little too philosophically deep here, but so often in our lives I feel like we struggle to fit things into one category. We seek “right” and “wrong,” separate good decisions from bad ones. In this manner, the way I think about skateboarding is indicative of my overall take. For me, the sport and my pursuit of it held things that reached across a spectrum. This post is an attempt to sample some of that, to show how our experiences are never monolithic, but that the way our brains process information often splits along multiple flows instead of channeling it into a single river.

I have often said to people that I have never tried so hard or put forward so much effort into a single goal as attempting to become adept at skateboarding. Not a pro, not spectacular, just decent, passable even, but my legs steadfastly refused to adopt the skills with which I tried to infuse them. Yet, for the better part of five years I sunk time, money and sweat into the sport/hobby/activity and produced very little relative to the outpouring of effort.

The point here, however, is not to bemoan my lack of fantastic-trick-pulling capabilities or the failure of my (loosely defined) skills to impress a girl, but to reflect on the fact that you don’t have to be good at something to have good memories of it.

Whilst other high schoolers were discovering the existence of such fun diversions as alcohol and sex, I was happily toiling away in a parking garage in downtown Decatur, a home away from home for several summers. For my two fellow skating friends and I, it was an oasis, a haven, a place only occasionally occupied by cops or other skaters.

Mostly, we used it as our own proving ground, and I can recall the exact way the different sections of pavement felt on my feet, how they sounded on the board’s wheels. I knew its grooves and dips, the places most likely to be dry after rain or ice. I set up routines and challenges and to this day, there is has never been a feeling that has quite replaced the satisfaction of a trick well performed – of jumping the t-gap and landing clean or pulling off the rare smooth grind on the ground-down concrete lips.

In most people’s minds, skateboarding is an active associated with punk rock music and juvenile delinquents, but to me it has all the poetry of well-choreographed ballet. Like any sport, there is something captivating about watching a person make an act of extreme technical difficulty and coordination appear effortless and easy.

This liquid smooth separation of wheels from pavement looked more like a fifth-grade musical when I attempted tricks, if we stick with the above metaphor. I could never quite reach anything approaching grace. My feet moved jagged, lurching, the board sagging from too many hard landings and not enough free flight.

Now, we arrive at another of the many life lessons taught to me in my failed bid to acquire skill in skateboarding. Just because you know what you want doesn’t mean you possess the will, ability or means to get it. There’s always a gap between what we see ourselves as and what we really are, something we would all do well to remember.

As time went on, my high school buddies moved away from skateboarding but I persisted so that by the time I arrived at college, it had become an intensely personal activity. Columbia had a nice skate park, which I frequented, but I still felt most at home on the roofs of empty parking garages. I loved the open space, the chance to disappear into my own world ruled by the decrees of skateboarding and my own long-established habits.

To this day, I can watch skate videos and explain to you in detail the tricks performed and their respective difficult. A little used skill, but it exists still.

To be sure, as my skateboarding career tailed off, there were plenty of bitter, frustrating days. The lack of apparent progress eventually become a burden amplified by the fact that I usually skated alone. I admit, the coping mechanism I often resorted to in my frustration (throwing boards, cursing, breaking my deck with just the force of my foot) are probably not the most healthy. Yet, I had learned another lesson, knew that the price for pleasure is often pain.

Perhaps I am delving a little too philosophically deep here, but so often in our lives I feel like we struggle to fit things into one category. We seek “right” and “wrong,” separate good decisions from bad ones. In this manner, the way I think about skateboarding is indicative of my overall take. For me, the sport and my pursuit of it held things that reached across a spectrum. This post is an attempt to sample some of that, to show how our experiences are never monolithic, but that the way our brains process information often splits along multiple flows instead of channeling it into a single river.

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4 responses

11 02 2010
Colin Reed

Funny, I literally JUST recounted the story to someone at an art show (that I was in, I know, weird, right?) I was at how we talked about skating in Sydney for weeks before leaving to study abroad…and you somehow managed to FORGET to bring your skateboard. Words still escape me to to explain how you pulled THAT off. :/…FAIL. Ha. 😀

This was a really good post, on many levels. Can discuss them later via Skype/phone call. To tired to type all here. Oh, and besides the Rob Dyrdek security (pre-Rob & Big) and trick segment, plus the Lakai “Fully Flared” intro, this is still my favorite skate vid foorage:

Hope bourbon country is treating you well, good sir.

11 02 2010
Becky

That was exactly what I needed to read today. I especially like the line, “there’s always a gap between what we see ourselves as and what we really are.”

16 02 2010
Chico

i like the fact that you still do skate despite feeling like you suck at it.

5 03 2010
Jackson

Dude sweet video. love the article

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