Stepping on a skateboard again at 35 years old

Twenty years later and it all makes sense.

I started skating in the baggy cargo pants era. The time when the industry transitioned from neon gear and high-flying vert skating to baggy white tees and grimy street grinding. When it was raining out or when we finally tired, we’d pop in VHS skate tapes and watch guys 3,000 miles away do tricks we could only dream of, set to underground hip hop songs and old school Pixies riffs. Back then, there were no skate parks, no Nike-sponsored athletes, no ESPN coverage of the sport. It was just us and whatever our imaginations and balls could conjure up in the streets and parking lots.

Parents assumed we were slacker punks, rent-a-cops were our natural sworn enemies, and “Keep Out — Private Property” was like a personal invitation to us. But there was plenty more going on that outsiders just couldn’t understand. Hell, I don’t think I fully got it until recently.

“With or without competition, I skate every day. I’m never preparing for a contest, I’m always trying to prepare for skateboarding. My goal is perfecting skateboarding, which is not possible. But I approach it if I practice hard enough or try long enough, maybe one day I will. That’s what keeps me hungry. In theory, if I’m doing that, everything else should fall in place on their own.” — Paul Rodriguez

I haven’t thought much about skating over the past fifteen years or so. Maybe it’s an early-life-crisis (dramatic Gen Xer!), but I got the bug all of a sudden. “Is Zoo York still a brand?!” Yep — skateboard purchased. “Shit, I can’t skate in Lacostes!” Etnies — bought. “It’s just like riding a bike, right?” Nope-faceplanted trying a basic ollie.

It was frustrating, no doubt about it. After 45 minutes of falling, tripping, and generally fumbling about like a baby giraffe, I headed back to the apartment a bit defeated.

But then, “that skateboarding thing” happened, and I found myself grabbing my deck, getting suited up, and heading out to a local industrial area to give it another shot. It was cold as hell and I had other “adult” things to do, but getting back out there simply had to be done. I didn’t have a choice.

“The only way that you can continue to progress in skateboarding is if you have internal self-imposed pressure. Cause there’s no one else telling you to do it. There’s no one else telling you to jump down these stairs or get on this handrail or spend three hours on this manual or ledge trick. The only person that’s putting pressure on you is you.” — Paul Rodriguez

Amit Ray, a spiritual master, said, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” I’ve dabbled in the art of meditation and its many forms and the continuous thread involves relieving your busy mind by focusing on one task or action (breathing, for example). That’s skateboarding for many of us. Just you and your board, constant free flowing motion, repetitive moves that drown out the entirety of the world around you. Being alone is anything but a scary concept for the skater.

“What’s cool about skating is no one can skate for you. You’re your own team.” — Chaz Ortiz

But here’s what skating really teaches you — how to break through walls. Making progress on any level in skateboarding requires an almost manic level of determination and perseverance. It’s not unheard of for someone to spend weeks on perfecting one trick, over and over again. And a significant part of that process requires you to conquer rationale fear. Staring down your first set of stairs, every fiber of your body is telling you to pull back. But you need to retrain your mind to say FUCK THAT and just go for it. To me, that’s as useful of a mental tool in life as you’ll ever find.

“In order to get to a professional level you would’ve had to mess up and fallen and gotten hurt more times than you’ve landed tricks. It really teaches you persistence and determination. It teaches you the attitude of not really understanding failure.” — Paul Rodriguez