I am 45 years old and I love few activities more than I love to skate longboards.
I know some young punks think that only wannabes and girls ride longboards, but honestly, I’ve reached an age that insulates me from the barbed wit of those pimply-faced nuts who think that their bones will knit back together when their stair-jumping kickflips go awry.
Truth be told, I love wasting time with my sons, watching skate videos. My sons introduced me to the Braille army, and I introduced them to the old Dog Town and Z Boys, and together, we’ve been studying the history of skate through the narratives of old skating legends and young YouTube stars.
My first introduction to skateboarding was back in the late 70’s or early 80’s, but the metal-wheeled monstrosity I first tried felt like some medieval punishment so I gave it up in favor of my purple banana-seated bicycle which I rode religiously until it was stolen by the local bully. Later, I would construct ramps and jump cheap bmx bikes with my buddies, and we learned to bunny hop and do wheelies like all good, red-blooded American kids.
One day after school, a recently transplanted Yankee boy from Maine invited me to try out the half-pipe that he and his brother had constructed from plywood lifted from a local construction site. Somehow, they convinced me to try to drop in on one of their skateboards, and when I crashed at the bottom of the ramp, I said “goodbye” to skateboards for the next 25 years.
Then, one Christmas, my son Dylan asked for a rip stick, a wild invention using two caster wheels and a pivoting deck that requires riders to mimic the tick-tack movements of old-school skaters. It was awkward learning to ride it, but I soon found that coasting around the cul-de-sac on my son’s Christmas present made me envious of those who were cool enough to know how to skate and surf.
I began researching longboards, thinking that their larger, more flexible construction would allow me the sensation of surfing while I try to keep up with my kids. When I learned that one of my cycling buddies actually owned several boards, I dared to try one out.
My first attempt at longboarding was a brief coast down a street in the historic Fairmount neighborhood of Fort Worth, TX. I may have ditched the board to avoid being hit by a harried Honda driver, and the board may or may not have dented a neighbor’s catalytic converter when I launched it under their parked car, but nevertheless, I was hooked immediately. I loved the smooth sensation of rolling on over-sized poly wheels, and the board felt nothing like the shaky little skateboards of death that the young punks use to grind rails and ollie over curbs and scrape the paint off of public buildings.
My first board was a sweet set-up that my ex wife bought me as a Father’s Day surprise. It was a used board set up as a downhill racer. Concave, stiff, and supported by heavy duty trucks, the board was super smooth, but not the flexible board made for carving and coasting like the pintails and bamboo boards I had watched countless riders use in the YouTube videos I had been using for inspiration and tutorials.
I built skate gloves for me and my boys, using plastic circles I had cut from a cutting board which I then glued to old work gloves with strips of Velcro. These allowed us to learn how to slow down by turning our hands into brake pads, and from there, we could learn to do slides, where our boards would drift around the pivoting points of our plastic-lined hands upon the pavement. Our wheels would make absurd screeching sounds much to the admiration of the neighborhood kids who watched us learn on the slight incline of the parking lot of the local playground.
Over the past few years, as my knees have grown sensitive to cycling, I have turned more and more to the boards as my way to decompress and de-stress after work. For me, it’s not about looking cool or learning the latest trick; gravity and old age are not in my favor, but it’s more about the sensation of carving down gentle hills, the exhilaration of a swift decent, and the spirituality of being in motion without pollution, of exercising out in the natural world rather than inside a foul-smelling gym. I’d rather sidewalk surf on one of my boards for miles than spend an hour watching millionaires play sports on TV, and skating has continued to grow as a great bonding activity for me and my boys.
If only I had a dollar for every time someone my age has seen me surf by and said, “Man! If I tried that I’d break my neck!” The reality is that skating longboards is only visually like skating regular boards. It isn’t for everyone, but there are many ways to skate longboards. Like most things these days, YouTube is a great teacher if you’re curious about how to get started. Avoid search terms like “Longboarding fails” and “Hall of Meat,” where some skaters glorify the carnage that occurs when man (and woman) meats asphalt. I make a point of skating no faster than I can run, hoping that if I had to hop off in an emergency, I’d at least have a chance of transitioning from Old Man Hurtling Through Space, to Old Man Going for Quick Sprint. I’ve been injured a few times, but not badly enough to scare me away from the adrenaline rush of occasionally going too fast, nor the serenity of finding the perfect rhythm and speed to help me imagine that I’m gliding smoothly down a glassy wave and not rocketing down a gravely hill of concrete.