Ballance doesn’t have two lls. How do you spell l?
I sit here to write this and my back is wracked. I fell on the middle of my back with a prominent thud, on the sand. I’m fine, thanks. What did I fall from? I fell from a balancing apparatus; a length of telephone pole balanced across a driftwood beam, upon which I was teetering and walking while holding my daughter’s hand to help her balance on another beam next to me while my son attempted to knock me off by shaking the end of the pole back and forth.
Something about this reminds me of skateboarding, with which I am obsessed.
Most beginners will approach riding a skateboard with great caution and ride it tight and straight-legged and bust their ass or elbow or knee on the asphalt or concrete.
An advanced skateboarder will dance upon the deck while rolling at speed through transition and air and the drifty in-between. Understand it. Ride it. Love it.
A skateboard has two rolling fulcrums. We call them trucks. A fulcrum is a wobbly back and forth place, like on a seesaw. A seesaw? Teeter-totter? Me comprendes? See above description of rolling telephone pole incident.
A seesaw is a beam creating two levers over a balancing point, or fulcrum. The longer lever is stronger, providing more leverage. A heavier weight gives more leverage. You shift your weight and you shift your position. That’s the game. Play with balance. Most people sit on a seesaw. Most people don’t stand on them. Most people don’t ride a skateboard.
A skateboard has two wiggly and wobbly twisting rolling fulcrums, called trucks.
A modern skateboard has two kicks, tail kick, and nose kick. A skateboard tips up on one side, down on the other. When you shift your weight to one foot past the trucks, that foot goes down and the other foot goes up. If you don’t want this to happen, stand between the trucks.
How to ride a skateboard.
First you put your front foot on the deck, toes forward, foot parallel with the length of the board.
For those of you who go by the name Mongo, see appendix*.
Where you put your foot on your skateboard makes a hell of a difference.
Where you put your skateboard when you are about to step on it is also of great importance.
On the carpet at home? Good choice. At the top of Virginia fixin’ to bomb it? Good choice if you are Andrew Harth or Cliff Coleman or some other veteran hill bomber who can bust a stopping slide at speed in their lane behind the white line.
Place your front foot on the board with your toes just behind the front wheels, on top of the front trucks.
If your front foot goes in front of your front trucks you will have activated the front rolling fulcrum and the board may tip forward. The back wheels may leave the ground! Woooohooo! Nose wheelie. Nose slide. At speed? Hell yes, if you are Sergio Yupi.
When you step on your skateboard put your arms out to your side, chest and head facing forward, eyes looking where you are going.
Stand on your front foot and balance, lifting your other foot off the ground. Bend your standing knee into a partial squat. Push off the ground with your other foot. Roll, balancing on one foot, arms out to your sides. Get comfortable in this position. Push again. Feel the shift of your weight from standing foot to pushing foot.
Now. In one fluid movement pivot on the ball of your standing foot, while you twist at the waist, swinging your arms and back leg around until you are standing with both feet perpendicular across the deck, knees bent, feet on top of the trucks, arms still out to your sides for balance. You can try this move first while standing on the ground before you try it while rolling on a skateboard.
Do this move in reverse to use your shoe to stop. Foot Drag.
If you are new to skateboarding draw a white line across your deck at the mounting screws furthest apart. The white zone is for loading and unloading.
If you stand on your board with your feet on top of the trucks between the white lines, you will have de-activated both rolling fulcrums. You will feel stable. You will feel relatively balanced.
A skateboard has two pivoting rolling fulcrums. A good distribution of weight both in parallel and in perpendicular to the axles will make you safe at any speed.
Balance. Mass. Movement.
When you lean on a skateboard the trucks pivot toward each other on the lean side and away from each other on the opposite side.
Wait. It’s a sideways teeter totter too? Yep. It’s a sideways see-saw and a front to back rolling teeter totter.
The lean-side trucks pivot toward each other around the axis of the their kingpins, defining an arc. The board turns as you lean. The more you lean, the quicker it turns. Lean according to speed.
A skateboard is a lean to turn vehicle. When you stand with your feet perpendicular across the deck, your heels are on one side and your toes are on the opposite side, toe-side and heel-side. Shift your weight to your heels and the skateboard turns heel-side. Shift your weight to your toes and the board turns toe-side. Left and right respectively. Unless you are Goofy Foot, then it’s the opposite. That’s why we say heel-side and toe-side.
The faster you are going the more you can and must lean in order to turn. You are opposing the force of your forward momentum which is pulling you off your board and down the hill. So if you are turning fast you better hang your ass out wide. How wide? Balance.
Remember, while skateboarding you must pay attention. No spacing out. Maintain balance and scan for road obstacles constantly.
In movement we shift our mass or weight continually, from one foot to the other as well as heel to toe. Have you ever walked off a curb without noticing and jammed your knee or back or hip when you fell only 6 inches? Your mass crashed down on itself without flexing your muscles for support. Ouch.
What if your mass crashes down from 6 feet at 30 miles per hour and encounters asphalt, or an immovable object, like a parked car? Ooooh. Or a car going the other way at 40 miles per hour? It happens. But it doesn’t have to happen to you. The mass I’m talking about is your head.
So let’s review. Your head hits a car at 70 miles per hour and the car doesn’t deflect much. Your head, crunch, brain all gooey. No, not for me. Balance.
When we walk and jump and run and dance we are constantly shifting and pivoting our feet in order to maintain balance. In order to maintain balance on a skateboard you are going to have to step and shift and pivot your feet.
On the board? While it is rolling? Yep.
Push hands is a balance game in Tai Chi. Two people stand facing each other touching at the wrists. Both hands and arms have to maintain contact between the two players. No grasping. Feet flat on the ground. The first one to break contact or move their feet loses. Pushing and balancing. It’s hard. It would be so much easier to not fall over if I could just move my feet!
On a skateboard you are playing push hands with centrifugal force and gravity.
Move your feet! A little.
I like to stand with my front foot at a slight angle from perpendicular, with my toes at about the middle of my front wheels. I usually place my back foot on the tail, but I sometimes ride with my back foot on top of the back trucks or in the bend of the tail.
Where you put your feet will depend on the type of deck you are riding.
Shortboards have truck mounting holes approximately 14 inches apart, giving an axle to axle distance of around 18 inches, not a very wide stance but with feet over both axles, stable enough. On a shortboard riders usually have their back foot on the tail widening their stance by another 6 inches.
Step down on your tail and lighten the weight of your front foot and the board teeters on the back truck. Wheeeliee! Sorry, manual.
With your foot on the tail front trucks in the air the board leans to turn in tight little carves or slide it! Hell yeah, it’s a two wheeler! Oh no, a crack! Jump the back foot up, let the board pop up to you, Crack Hop! Yikes, a bigger gap! As you lift your front foot, step down hard on back foot. Snap! Front foot going up and forward ankle rolled, let the back foot follow the progression of the front foot, both knees bent, both feet up. Fly Ollie, fly!
In martial arts you widen your stance to enhance your balance and power. Shortboards are good training for tight stance balance.
A longboard might have mounting holes 20 inches and longer apart yielding axle to axle distances, the true wheelbase, of 26 to 36 inches. Nice and stable but not so nimble from the tail. You gotta walk back to it on some. Longer wheelbase is more stable at speed. Lower, wider stance is more balanced. Less side to side leverage over the trucks because longboarders stand with feet in between the trucks.
That’s the long and short of it. Longboarding and trickboarding.
But I ride something a little different yet the same. I call it a skateboard. Cheeky, I know. It’s something in the middle, downhill, Berkeley style. Sir Coleman showed us the way. Reverse kingpin trucks and big soft downhill wheels that will hold a high speed turn or drifty hands-down carve. A mid-length board. Ride on the trucks. Ride on the tail. Do a fakey reverse pendulum slide. Not a tippy little park board or flat kickless plank. Thirty six inch stiff decks with 17 to 20 inches between the inner bolt holes. Big decks, but not longboards. Medium concave, double kicks. Big and rock solid, the steeds of the Men of Middle Earth bomb, slide, and carve these hills and mountains. So much fun.
Cliff Coleman and Andrew Harth taught me these fundamentals of skating downhill:
First. If you can’t stop, skateboarding down a mountain is extremely dangerous.
Second. Eyes where you are going, and its corollary, you will go where you look. So look downhill at the open road ahead of you, not at the parked car next to you, or the ground, or the telephone pole you don’t want to hit. You choose the line you follow.
Third. Get low! A smack down from six feet or a slide-out like a high-speed motorcycle crash? You choose. Wear a helmet, ride with feet parallel, feet flat, get your ass down low, hands out for balance.
Fourth. Get to your hands. Wear leather gloves with ultra high density polyethylene glued or taped or stuck on. With these you can touch the road the way a surfer touches a wave or a speed skater the ice. With these you become a Jesus bug, skimming over concrete and asphalt. Place your palm on the road, finders up and pointing down hill, close to your hip.
Fifth. The hardest trick is riding it out, stay calm in acceleration, know the velocity of the hill, and breathe.
Sixth. Buttboard it. Yeah, on your ass, grommet. If the hill is too big or too fast, buttboard it. Sit on your board just behind the front trucks. Balance here on your sit bones, feet wide, soles flat, floating an inch or two above the roadway. Engage your abdominals, do the crunch and curve your spine, palms to your side on the road. Lean to turn by rolling your ankles left and right, engaging the edges of your skate shoes like skis. Use your feet to stop by doing a sit up and pressing your feet into the road.
In conclusion, to those who don’t ride them, a skateboard is a tipsy topsy teetering catastrophe.
To those who do, the world is a fast moving ocean. I’m sidewalk surfing with a big shit-eating grin the size of Texas.
*Mongo is the name given to a skater who stands with their foot over the back trucks while pushing with the other leg. This arrangement is sketchy at speed and makes it more difficult to foot drag to stop.