After college it appeared I had outgrown skating, taking only a casual interest in the rare televised tournament. In our society, skating is not really encouraged into adulthood. This attitude may have its roots in skateboarding’s origins in youth culture. Admittedly, young people embraced it first. To be accurate, young people invented it—at least the version of it that has endured. Commerce also did its part in skateboarding’s nascent days to entrench in the public psyche the notion that the hobby was only for the adolescent. An early trend that lends credence to this theory, explained well in documentaries such as Dogtown and Z-Boys and Rising Son: The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi, was the tendency of skateboard manufacturers in the 1960’s to market their products as toys. Skateboarding was viewed by the general public as a fad, much like the hula hoop. Many of the early available deck models were not even made of wood. They tended to be short and narrow and molded out of artificial materials such as fiberglass or nylon, perhaps further preventing the activity from being taken seriously.
By the rise to prominence of such skaters as Christian Hosoi and Tony Hawk in the 1980’s, skateboarding had taken on a life of its own as a subculture complete with its own music and magazines, and it had moved well inland from the west coast. I can remember sitting at a friend’s house in my hometown in northwest Tennessee, listening to The Misfits and flipping through a copy of Thrasher Magazine. I marveled at the tricks chronicled in that magazine’s pages, the whole time knowing I was too afraid to try most of them. Underneath this pressure to do tricks, though, was the simple joy of riding. In retrospect, I realize that what I really outgrew was not the desire to skate but rather the desire to do complicated and possibly injurious maneuvers on concrete. As I would discover, the desire simply to ride remained strong. It was only dormant.
In my early mid-thirties, I saw a video featuring and narrated by Andy Kessler, a New York City street legend. He was riding an elongated, level deck, which looked more like a surfboard than it did the smallish, oblong trick boards I had ridden in college. The deck also was fitted with rather large wheels. This was my first true exposure to longboarding. I believe I had seen a guy here and there on a longboard, but it did not capture my imagination until I watched that video. All Kessler was doing was making his way through Manhattan at a relaxed pace, dodging pedestrians and taxicabs. It was not aggressive or rebellious, adjectives commonly associated with skaters. In fact, he almost seemed polite as he slowed when necessary or gave a group of walkers a wide berth; he even stayed in the bicycle lane much of the time. It was just a man doing something he loved. At a certain point in the video, he describes a short ride from a subway station to his destination as the best five minutes of his day. Perhaps that is when something clicked in my mind, and I began to realize how much I missed just riding. I missed the casual side-to-side carving on a sidewalk or slow street and the way things are taken in visually that you just do not get from a car window, or even from walking. The world glides languidly past, and the unity between board and rider becomes second-nature. Riding becomes like breathing. In an article about Kessler, following the skater’s untimely death from an allergic reaction to an insect sting, author Bret Anthony Johnston defines the essence of skateboarding as “the act of focusing so intensely on the body that you feel liberated from your physical form.” This comment resounded at a level untapped since undergrad school.
It began to matter less and less that I was in my thirties and having a resurgence of interest in an activity that many associate with the teenage years. It had become obvious that the logic behind that type of thinking was flawed. After all, adults still jog and ride bicycles. Those activities do not have an age limit. Neither should skateboarding. It is all a matter of perception, and I had reached a point where I was ready to trust my instincts. Soon after watching that inspirational Andy Kessler video, I put in an order for my first longboard. I have never surfed. Tennessee does not provide many opportunities for surfing. But when I am on my board, carving from curb to curb down some gently sloping street in a quiet Nashville neighborhood, I get the sense that the only real thing separating me from what a surfer does is the sound of my wheels vibrating on the pavement. This may not be accurate, but surely the meditative state achieved is similar. Surely, there is some truth to Johnston’s description of skateboarding’s essence, something to which a surfer could relate. At any rate, riding provides a genuine elation and a soul connection, a way to transcend earthly limits and tune in to the spiritual. It often has been the best part of my day.
*To see the Andy Kessler video, click here and scroll to the bottom of the article: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/the-end-of-falling/
Dogtown and Z-Boys. Dir. Stacy Peralta. Sony Pictures Classics, 2001. DVD.
Johnston, Bret Anthony. “The End of Falling.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 13 Aug. 2009. Web. 13 Aug. 2009.
Rising Son: The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi. Dir. Cesario Montano. Image Entertainment, Inc., 2006. DVD.