Posted on June 22, 2015
After what was essentially a twenty-year hiatus, in the summer of 2012, at the age of 38, I began skateboarding again. Much like as with quitting, there is no easy answer as to why I decided to start again. I had not forgotten about skateboarding. The roar of wheels on the street (or the clack clack clack on the sidewalk) still instantly grabbed my attention. I still saw skate spots everywhere I went and I still watched skate videos online. During the latter half of the 2000s, that video viewing increased. If I had to choose one thing that inspired this, I would say it was the John Cardiel Epicly Later’d episodes. These came out in 2008 and were my first exposure to the series. Cardiel had been Thrasher’s Skater of the Year in 1992, the year I quit skateboarding, so it seems especially fitting that his story is what pulled me back in. Epicly Later’d led, more or less directly, to me immersing myself in skateboarding culture again. Yet, while I lurked on skate forums and visited Thrasher’s website with increasing frequency, I had never planned to start skateboarding again. For years, friends and acquaintances had suggested I try and I always blew off the idea. “I ride bikes now.” “I’m too old.” In fact, I had felt too old since my late 20s but at 38, despite being in probably the best physical shape of my life, I was well in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I was bored with my hobbies, unhappy in my marriage and frustrated by my job. I was very acutely aware that I was running out of time, time to be happy, time to still be young and vital, time to try to live my life on my own terms. I tried making art but that caused more frustration than anything else. Reaching blindly for other things that I used to enjoy, I seized on skateboarding. In an impulse purchase, I bought a blank deck, trucks, wheels, grip and hardware off of Amazon. I was too embarrassed to go to the local skate shop. I didn’t have any real plan; I just wanted to see if I could still do it and possibly film my failures, for comedy’s sake. Little did I know that skating would soon start to consume my life again.
I had followed my girlfriend (and future wife) to Brooklyn in the fall of 2003. During my post college years in Philadelphia, all I had really done was drink and play video games. Of course, I had a girlfriend and a job, all of the normal things, but I hadn’t been physically active in years. I had always been a bike commuter but my commute in Philly was very short. I had started to ride longer distances, for exercise, during my final year there and after moving to Brooklyn my cycling increased. For the first several months in New York, after applying for jobs in the morning I would then go ride laps in Prospect Park. Over the following years, as I got more involved in cycling, I began doing longer weekend rides out of the city and up the Hudson River, but Prospect Park laps remained a standard. Since New York does not have the endless smooth empty parking lots of the suburbia of my youth, when I decided to give skateboarding a try again, the park was where I chose to go.
I put my new board together last week but between work and excuses I didn’t get the chance to ride it and then was out of town this past weekend. After work today I went to an out of the way corner of park and gave it a shot.
I jumped on and felt fine, pushed and felt a little clumsy. Then, without even thinking, I tried to slide it backside 180 and fell on my ass. So I spent a bit of time first turning 180 frontside and backside off of my nose while rolling and then re-learning to slide them around.
I went to the grass and instantly popped a pretty good ollie. Doing them while moving took a bit longer but I got them down. They are slow and small but stable, though I am occasionally landing a bit weird. I then worked on frontside 180 ollies until I could get them. Those aren’t always so smooth but they will come, I can feel that. I didn’t feel confident enough to try backside 180s yet.
I did a bunch of front side ollies to axle stalls on a small curb but couldn’t get ollies to tail down. I balked a few times at trying to ollie to axle stall on a bigger ledge, and decided to put that off. Instead I worked on more fluid stuff, like ollieing up a small curb at an angle rolling along and 180ing off again, until I could do that consistently. I also did some manuals but couldn’t ollie into a manual without dragging the tail.
Finally, I tried some four-wheel slides and probably because the road was rough and I was being cautious and going slow, I could only slide the rear out 90 degrees, not get the front wheels sliding as well.
All told, I spent about an hour and am now probably as good as I was when I was 12. The muscle memory is amazing, simple things you don’t even think about you can still do out of instinct.
I skated for about two hours but didn’t learn any new tricks. After a brief “I think I forgot everything I learned” period I got comfortable again and focused on getting my “line” smoother and faster than I was on Monday. I got video of it.
I look less sketchy than I thought but definitely slow. It’s amazing how out of breath I was after just doing a few little things. I thought I was in shape from the cycling but this is different. My pushing leg hip and knee are sore.
I purposely chose one of the interior roads of the park that I knew was not heavily trafficked. I was intensely self-conscious and I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in public as much as I could. None of the random joggers who passed me by had the slightest interest in what I was doing, though I did meet a trio of young kids with skateboards, who were not quite sure what to make of me. I hid there, in Prospect Park, for two more weeks. I only went out for an hour or so once or twice a week but that was enough time to relearn the basic flat ground tricks, frontside and backside ollies, half cab and shuv-it variations. Each time I went to skate there was initially a feeling of dread, a feeling that I had forgotten everything that I knew. It didn’t feel natural. I didn’t feel comfortable on the board and while some things came back fast, other things didn’t at all. I could have spent months slowly building back up my repertoire of tricks, but flat is not what I wanted to skate. I wanted to skate transition and that meant going to a skate park.
The skate park I chose to go to first I also knew about from cycling. I participated in the Five Boro Bike Tour my first year in New York. That ride is something I would recommend that any person who enjoys cycling and is new to New York do at least once. While a bit of a clusterfuck, with over 30,000 cyclists clogging up the roads, it is worth it just for the chance to ride on the BQE and over the Verrazano Bridge alone. It was during this ride, while on Shore Parkway and heading towards the Verrazano, that I first saw the park at Owl’s Head. The skate park sits right off the parkway and, built in 2001, would have only been two years old at the time. I was dumbfounded that here, in an out of the way part of south Brooklyn, was an amazing looking park, the type I had always wanted to skate. It had a deep and shallow bowl, with the shallow end opening into a more squared, spined mini ramp style size section as well as an adjacent “pit”, with steep transition and banked walls and a spine, a three sided quarter and hubba box in the middle. Most importantly, it was empty. That amazed me, that something so incredible looking was not being used. That is the major reasons I chose Owl’s Head as my first park. I didn’t want an audience.
I went to the skate park at Owl’s Head today. I had it pretty much to myself and holy shit was it humbling. I could barely pump or kick turn in the bowl. I was so unsteady on the board I was afraid to try to “street” part, which is actually pretty steep and burly itself.
Today pretty much trashed any confidence I was developing.
Thinking back on it, I got discouraged way too easily. I’m more pissed at myself now than anything else. I just gave up today. In hindsight, I should have messed around on the smaller ramps in the street section instead of trying to dive right in to the bowl. I should have flown down the banks and just popped over the little box and gone and practiced dropping in and axle stalling on the bigger box and spine, but I felt so out of my element I was… well honestly, I was afraid.
I’ve vowed to go back next weekend and get my revenge.
I killed the Owl’s Head today!
By killed I mean I bounced over the box and did some ollies and carved some walls and didn’t look like an idiot. This is about all that I set out to do I think, so any further progress I make it is just icing.
That first day was soul crushing. I left in complete defeat. I was afraid to even roll down the steeper banks. I slammed pump fakieing in the bowl. All I did were kick turns and carve a corner while some kids on scooters laughed at me before I slunk away and left in disgrace. The following weekend made up for it. I ignored the bowl and just focused on rolling down banks and kick turning on the walls. I didn’t do anything but I could skate it and that alone felt great. I wasn’t good but I wasn’t embarrassed either. I skated there two more times before they closed it for the season. Owl’s Head is one of only two of the NYC parks manned by the Parks Department. It and the metal ramp park of Riverside have helmet and/or pads rules and are only officially open from around Memorial Day to Labor Day. The rest of the parks are open year round, weather depending of course. All the kids break in or jump the fence at Owl’s Head in the off-season but I was still too new to skateboarding to feel comfortable doing that. While I was disappointed it was closing I didn’t really push myself to learn anything new those last two weekends either, though I did make sure to drop in on the bigger section of the pit the final day. My objective was not so much to learn tricks but to just get more comfortable on the skateboard. During those few weekends at Owl’s Head, I had met a few other skaters and asked their opinions on where I should skate. They all recommended Chelsea but I was still too intimidated to go to one of the big, popular Manhattan parks so I picked a small ball court at a Park Slope school as my place to skate next.
Best. Day. Yet.
Last weekend I got a late start and went to check out both small court parks near my house and they were already too crowded so I just bailed on the idea and just skated around the streets.
I felt really sketchy skating street since I’d just been skating transition at Owl’s Head for the last couple of weeks. I didn’t want to try anything and make a fool of myself. I’ve got to get over this self-conscious thing.
Today I got up early and went to the Gowanus park near me and there was an 8:30am basketball game going on, so I went to the other one in Park Slope and it was empty.
Today was the first day I felt like I could actually skate. I got little ollies up and down the small box, board slides on it and the curving rail, landed a bunch of backside 180s and actual pop shuv-its and, since that court slopes downhill, flat ground ollies, frontside 180s, four wheel slides, half cabs and stuff like that at a decent speed.
I even left some skin on the ground thanks to an acorn.
I skated this little park for the next two weeks, getting back some more basic ledge tricks like FS 50-50s, tail slides and board slides. Without any real forethought, I had followed a fairly rational path of progression. A few weeks skating flat, a few weeks getting comfortable on transition again and then a few weeks skating small obstacles. It was at this little park where I first started to hang out with other skaters as well. I met a few young teenagers that ignored me at first and then began encouraging me to try different tricks. I met several people more in my age range, of various levels of ability, including one former ‘90s pro who really made me push my comfort level. My confidence was increasing and I was finally getting up the courage to try Chelsea when Hurricane Sandy hit.
Sandy caused quite a bit of flooding and damage along the coastal and lower lying areas of the city, but my section of Brooklyn was almost completely untouched. The main impact the storm had on me was that since most of lower Manhattan was without power, I was off work for a week. I used that free time to skate. While most of the people I had met had suggested Chelsea as where I should skate, several people had also mentioned Canarsie as a great beginner’s park and it had a glowing review on Quartersnacks as well. Being so far away, it was not a logical choice, but now, with a week worth of unexpected free time, I decided to check it out.
I’m off work thanks to the hurricane and decided to ride down and check out the park in Canarsie because I’m sure Chelsea is flooded since it is on a pier.
It was another big progress day!
It was empty when I got there. A few trees were down over on one side and there was a lot of debris so I mainly skated the curving small quarter. I got normal and fakie rock n roll, some 50 50s, slash grinds and some FS ollies on it.
Then some kids showed up with a broom and we cleared a lot of the rest of the area and I got ollies up the little euro gap and backside 180s off the little kicker.
Cleared of debris this place is going to be SO much fun, the back path is alternating curved banks and quarter pipes, so it would be a sick fast snake run kind of thing without sticks and fallen trees blocking the way.
I skated Canarsie twice more that week; it was the ideal next step. Almost everything there is small and mellow, even the handrails were tempting, though I wisely decided not to try them. The one larger, deck-less “half pipe” was too big for me to mess with but the tiny clamshell of a quarter pipe was a perfect size for me to work on relearning my basic lip tricks. Besides being a great place to learn in, skating at Canarsie was also important in that it helped me finally get over my self-consciousness. I had been skating now for several months, but only actually skated less than twenty times. That is the curse of being an adult skateboarder, between work and social obligations, it is impossible to “skate every damn day”. While mentally I was a becoming a skateboarder again, physically I was still an awkward beginner in many ways and I was acutely aware of that fact. I was also a 38-year-old white man in a largely black neighborhood and the other skaters were all young black teenagers. Yet we got along fine. While I may have been the “weird old guy”, I was also just barely good enough to be accepted as a “real” skater again and not some random kook. From here on out, I wasn’t so worried anymore about what other people thought of me. I wasn’t so self-conscious. I was skating. I was a skater. I may not have been good but I no longer felt like an interloper or a tourist. I was finally ready to stop hiding and go to Chelsea.