Skate or Be Judged

How a judgmental article on shaped boards made this 34 year old feel like I was being picked on by the cool kids in high school again. Originally posted on my website www.khairilmbahar.com

As some of you may know, this year I started skateboarding regularly again, something I hadn’t done for about ten years.

Sure, I always had a deck and would sometimes cruise around, maybe head out to the nearby shops on my Krooked Zig Zagger to grab cigs and a drink, but I didn’t skate as regularly as I used to ten years ago. I got my first job and stopped skating in the day, then rarely stopped skating at night because I was too tired from my day job and before I knew it I had been off my board for almost a year and working life somehow took over.

One of the only bits of video footage of me skating ten years ago.

A part of me thought maybe it was for the best — I was getting older and even at 21 I felt like others thought I was too old to be skating and constantly spraining my ankles and scraping myself all over.

What others thought of me skating. Remember that. It’s a theme that’s gonna pop up quite a bit on this post.

However, after seeing how sedentary my lifestyle had become I knew I needed to do something active again. I spent about 80% of 2013 sat in front of a computer editing. I got incredibly unhealthy. I needed to do something.

But there aren’t many sports I enjoy. And I hate gyms. For someone with a less-than-appealing body shape, walking into a gym feels like being the nerd in high school again — all eyes are on you, judging you.

(What others thought of me. Told you it would keep popping up.)

And then there was skating. No rules. No teams. No divisions. Just skate. And even though my body isn’t what it used to be and everything feels creaky and heavy and the fear of falling and breaking something in your thirties is a lot more than when you’re younger, it’s still fun.

Sometimes.

I tend to go to the skatepark on weekdays in the daytime more now, even though the sun is insanely hot. I want to keep skating and re-learn what I know I could do and learn things that I couldn’t do before. Nothing crazy, just enough to have more fun on my board. But I go in the day more now in the hope that there’s less people. A part of it is so that I can skate where I want to skate without everyone hitting it. But another part of it is because I don’t want too many people seeing me learn.

Because I don’t want to feel judged.

Sure, a lot of times that’s not the case. Most of the people that skate there are really friendly and cool. But there are other times when I feel like a complete outsider. Sometimes I feel like people are looking at me and thinking, “why’s he even on a board?”, “how old is he?”, “fucking poseur”, etc.

A lot of this is in my head, I know. But I can’t help but think it sometimes. It’s why I made that t-shirt design “Too Old To Roll”. It both represents what I think others think of me when I skate and a reminder that you’re never too old to roll.

Sometimes, I need reminding.

There’s a nice, shallow bowl in Shah Alam that I like to skate in. I don’t drop-in because I don’t feel confident enough yet so I push from the bottom and pump my way around. I don’t feel confident about much on my board right now, even though I’ve been skating for quite a few months.

There was one time I went to skate and a bunch of guys were hitting it non-stop, one after the other, with no room for anyone else to skate it. Nothing major (though they were pretty good skaters), just messing around on it, but not really letting anyone else mess around too. This was a closed shop, go somewhere else. Others came, waited for a bit, realized they weren’t gonna give up the spot and just left. Some tried to ask if they could skate it but before they got halfway through the sentence those guys were already bailing out of the trick they were trying and the next guy was already rolling in. If they didn’t know you, you didn’t exist.

I managed to roll around once when they were distracted. After that one run, they didn’t get distracted anymore.

I sat and waited patiently, hoping I could roll around for a bit more than just once but after 45 minutes I knew it wasn’t happening. The rest of the park was packed, every corner. I looked back at the bowl and the guys were still skating. It was then that I thought to myself, “they don’t want me to skate this”, walked to my car and drove home.

I’m pretty sure if you asked them they weren’t trying to hog the bowl, they were just having fun and didn’t realize the others around them. I’m pretty sure they meant no harm. But a part of me couldn’t help but think, “they don’t want me to skate this because they don’t think I deserve to. I’m the poseur who can’t skate for shit going through a mid-life crisis with his stupid 80's shaped board”.

I ride shaped boards — pool decks, old school reissues, ‘fun’ shapes, etc. I prefer a bigger size board. I don’t think I’ll be popping nollies or riding switch anytime soon and by the time I was skating regularly the popsicle deck was the standard, even though when I first discovered skateboarding as a kid it was in the late eighties and I always associated skateboarding with those big fish decks and huge wheels.

This is what happens when you get older and don’t have to beg your parents for a new board or save up your allowance.

Nowadays I actually earn a decent amount of money and there’s been a resurgence of reissues. I wasn’t stuck with just a popsicle deck anymore and I had the money to build up a collection of decks as opposed to wearing one down to the bone before saving up for another. Some of these decks I haven’t even ridden yet. Trying to find old school shaped decks isn’t the easiest here in Malaysia and a lot of times they sell out pretty quick, so when I see one I like and I can afford it I usually just grab it before I walk into the shop another day and see it’s not there anymore. Some of these decks I hardly ever skate, some even go up on my wall. Some I ride regularly.

Sometimes kids at the park ask me what kind of a skateboard am I riding — is it a cruiser? A longboard? Why is it shaped like that? I’ve kinda run out of answers. All I know is I really enjoy riding shaped decks.

However, apparently my enjoyment doesn’t matter. Because according to Rob Ridge and David Lewis at theridechannel.com, one of the 20 things everyone thinks about skating but no one says is that riding a shaped board is just an excuse to suck at skating.

You’ve got my number, Ride Channel. I do suck. And I’m glad to know that my love for shaped decks are a nice, big badge to warn everyone of how much I suck before they have to witness my hilarious attempts to do a backside grind properly. Thank you so very much.

The entire article feels like it’s judging me out loud in my face, telling me that I’m not worthy to be on a skateboard. It feels more judgmental than an article I read a while back about how people over 30 shouldn’t ride skateboards. It hurts a lot more to read this because it’s from a website about skateboarding.

I first heard about this when @tonupmcqueen on Instagram posted it and I went and read the whole article and the whole thing just stung. So many of these 20 things that everyone apparently thinks about skating felt incredibly one-sided, opinionated, ridiculous and unnecessary.

Like number 6 — Parental involvement is ruining skateboarding. So I guess Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi’s dad’s should’ve never supported them in what they do? Number 11 — no one needs a cruiser board. So what? No one needs a blowjob either, but it’s nice to have one. Number 1 — most skate art sucks. Most art, in fact any art, sucks and rocks in equal measures, depending on the opinions and tastes of the person looking at it.

Number 18 really hit me home the most, though. Especially the last line in the paragraph to prove the writers point:

If you can’t nollie flip and you’re thinking about setting up a weird-shaped deck, save yourself the trouble and get a longboard instead.

Back when I was skating regularly ten years ago on the mass-approved popsicle decks I couldn’t nollie flip. I don’t even want to learn how to now. And sorry to disappoint but I’m not a fan of riding longboards. Believe me, I’ve tried. Not a fan.

What upsets me most about this article the most is that it’s flat out telling you how you should skate. The writer attacks skating with style more than once. He attacks the shape and size of whatever boards you may like if they are not the one true board. He states what you should be able to do if you want to consider yourselves one among the brethren. Your shaped board is not welcome here. Why? According to the writer:

Because boards with weird shapes don’t skate any better; they just make you look different.

And being different, kids, is WRONG. So very, very wrong. After all, according to number 13,

Being a skateboarder doesn’t make you “different”. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. So fall the fuck in line. Otherwise you cannot join the elite. You cannot be a friend to the fraternity of skaters. You are a poseur who wishes to be one of us, but can never step through the hallowed gates of skaterdom until you have mastered every flip trick regular, switch and off a nollie.

Fuck you.

Being a skateboarder doesn’t make you different — being you makes you different by default. If riding a shaped board tells everyone I’m different then it’s telling the truth. And if riding a shaped board tells everyone I suck at skating it’s not lying in that respect either. Because every time I step on that board I fall…

And fall…

And fall again.

But every once in a while, I don’t.

And it’s the best feeling in the world.

I go and skate every other day, whenever I can. The long stretches that I don’t are due to the monsoon rains. If the weather’s good, I go out and skate and nowadays a lot of that time is spent alone. I ride a board with a weird shape, I’m over 30, and I can’t do the repertoire of tricks that are expected of a skater. I go to the shallowest bowl in Shah Alam and skate it alone under a hot sun because I don’t want to skate around people that think the way this writer does.

I don’t want to be shamed out of doing something that I enjoy.

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