Paying the Piper
Posted on April 28, 2016
I had high hopes for the spring of 2016.
I didn’t skate for most of the winter of 2013-14. Due to frequent snow and frigid temperatures, the roads were icy and the parks were buried until mid March. We took two trips that February to Garden Sk8, a now closed indoor park in New Jersey, but that was about it. The first time back skating Chelsea that spring was amazing, everyone was so happy to be outside. Those months off took their toll though. I was so unsteady on the board I slammed a few times just doing basic things and I lost a few tricks that winter that I have yet to get back.
During the winter of 2014-15, thanks to the indoor bowls at 2nd Nature and Black Bear Bar, I managed to skate just enough to not really lose anything. I picked up right where I had left off in March of 2015 and had enjoyed slow and steady progress since. It was the 2nd Nature bowl that helped me learn figure 8 lines, which greatly improved my skating in the bigger bowls at Chelsea and Owls Head. Then, last summer, we started skating the micro mini ramp in Hoboken and I began to relearn a number of lip tricks I had not done since the ‘90s.
Unlike the previous few years, this past winter in New York was surprisingly mild. We fortuitously had planned a two night Woodward trip for the weekend of the blizzard and then skated the indoor park at 2nd Nature on another freezing weekend. Otherwise, I managed to skate outdoors the rest of the weekends. Chelsea was snowed in for a while after the blizzard but the Owls Head locals shoveled out parts of that park almost immediately. Last fall and this past winter I had been skating Owls Head much more. Chelsea had lost some of its luster for me. It felt kind of sterile. Owls Head, not officially open but unlocked this year, had a Wild West feel to it. It reminded me of Lansdowne. During the off season, it is dirty, has no rules and the skaters take care of it. It is also never crowded and slightly smaller all around than Chelsea so it was the ideal place to work on taking the tricks I had learned at Hoboken to bigger transition.
So I was looking forward to this spring, where, instead of spending a month just remembering how to skateboard again, I could continue to improve. Instead, at the end of February, I broke my wrist.
It happened in the stupidest way possible. I had met a few friends at Owls Head on a Sunday morning. After they left a crew of guys I knew in passing showed up and they spent almost an hour sweeping out the bowls. We had just started a fun bowl session when I fell. I was warmed up and skating near the top of my ability. I was working on the following line, drop in, backside carve the deep, short 50-50 in the shallow, frontside carve the deep and then rock ‘n’ roll in the shallow. I didn’t have anything after that because I was stuck on that rock ‘n’ roll. Even though they are automatic for me on things four foot and under, on bigger transition I hit a mental block. I’d tried that rock a few times before I made it. I was squirrely but still balanced when I hit a wood chip going back in to the deep end and was thrown forward.
The vast majority of the time that fall would have just been a tweaked or sprained wrist. Instead I broke two bones in my left wrist and needed surgery. I didn’t immediately realize something was wrong. I picked up the wood chip and threw it out of anger and then picked up my board and climbed out of the bowl. One of the guys asked me if I had hurt my shoulder and I said, “No, it’s my wrist.” I then looked at it, noticed it was crooked and knew I had to go to the emergency room. I sat on the bench and smoked a cigarette until the nausea passed and then had one of the guys drive me to the nearby hospital. I don’t know if any of them read this but I would like to thank them again for all of their help.
By the time this is posted it will have been about two months since my injury. After the emergency room it was one week until surgery, one week post surgery, two weeks in a cast, and a month in a removable brace. The bone is still not fully healed and my doctor has advised another month before I can play “sports”, so I’m looking at June before I can really start skating again. That is three months off of the board. I’m not waiting that long though. I skated the day before I posted this, the first time in two months. I was surprisingly not sketchy. I met my friends at Hoboken and kick turned on the larger ramp and did all of my basic tricks on the smaller one. I had to seriously restrain myself from trying anything and from skating for too long. My plan is to put on my wrist guard and skate gently an hour or so a week for the next month. I just can’t risk another stupid little fall. I can’t risk re-breaking it. Just this minor (in the scheme of things) injury took a toll on me, not only physically but personally, professionally and financially.
I’d seen the cycle of injury move through my group of friends and acquaintances. Ed broke his wrist his first day skating again. Ray horrifically broke his arm on the bigger Hoboken mini. This woman Kathy broke her wrist the same way as mine when someone dropped in on her in the old House of Vans bowl. Andrew broke his elbow at Chelsea. Steve broke his wrist. There were also a myriad of other less dramatic muscle, tendon and ligament injuries that were just as debilitating. The kids heal fast. The adults… sometimes they will be gone for almost a year.
In some ways it was inevitable that this would happen to me but I never thought it would. Despite not wearing pads I skated “safely”. I “stayed within my limits”. I slowly worked tricks from tiny to medium sized and never tried anything complicated on anything big. I never tried tricks that I couldn’t bail out of. I never committed to something that didn’t feel 100%. In fact, some of my friends joked that they never saw me fall. That is an exaggeration but I normally only took one tumble a session, if that. My worries were that I was going to pull something in my knee or lower back, something that would make skating uncomfortable and force me to stretch and do yoga or other exercises. I never thought I would break something. I never even broke anything as a kid, jumping down stairs.
So now I feel that it is my duty to warn all of the people reading this blog, all of the other old men that I may be or may have “pied pipered” in to skating again, that you will get hurt. The piper will have to be paid. It may be minor but it may be something major, something that at our age could limit you physically for the rest of your life. I couldn’t help but think of Ed Templeton. We are almost the same age and I used a teenage picture of him as a surrogate for me in one of my earliest blog posts. He retired from skateboarding when he broke his leg. If that had happened to me I think I may have quit too. I don’t believe in living my life in fear, of not taking any risks. In fact I believe the opposite. I feel that it is especially important to put myself out there at this age, because I don’t have that many more years left that I can. One of the first things I said when I broke my wrist was “see you guys in two months.” If it had been something more serious… I may have had to move on. Its not a comfortable thought, being made to confront the reality of aging, but at some point I know I am not going to be able to do this any longer.
Skateboarding has its claws deep in me. I’ve missed it terribly the past two months. For my 42nd birthday I treated myself to a cheap HD camcorder, fish eye lens and handle and started doing some filming, but that is a pale substitute for the real thing. I lay in bed at night imagining all the tricks I want to learn when I can start skating again. Yet, this is tempered by reality and I am not sure what to expect going forward. Will I have lost a bunch of tricks? Will it all come back and I will continue to improve? Will I be afraid and much more cautious? Will I make the switch into fully padded old man bowl skating? Will I just mess around on small obstacles and skate street more? That all remains to be seen. Which means there will be at least one more blog post coming.