Down by the Charles river on the Cambridge side, I was attempting to push down on the back side of the skateboard with such a firmness and quickness creating a popping sensation, whilst guiding the length of the board with my other foot towards the heavens, causing the board to lift off the ground and align itself parallel with the ground, where the board was mine to do with as I please. Do I flip it? If so, which way? And how many times? Who’s watching? Unfortunately these decisions are not easily resolved and physics gives me little time to draw a logic chart. Well, let’s just see if I can land the damn thing. Feet separated above each truck base and I brace myself for impact. A slight miscalculation and the board shoots out from under me and my ass meets cement. A couple of tweens approach me and begin the shakedown: Where do you skate? Who do you know? What can you do? Can you grind this? Can you buy me some cigs? Their final verdict: “Pussy.” I was 18 years old.
I had so many skating videos from Shorty’s, Zoo York, Coliseum, etc. I love skating videos. A bunch of bros, hanging out, doing their own thing, filming it, putting out their own tapes, being mildly antagonistic, hassling private security forces, listening to a wide variety of ‘cool’ music that wasn’t even cool but the fact they skated to it made it cool (fusion jazz?). It seemed like the perfect answer to suburban doldrums. All you need is a board, and some friends. And some drugs. And charisma. And little regard for bodily harm, yourself or your peers. The trick was to start doing this before your brain realized how fragile your body is.
It seems like a hard thing for an 18-year old body, particularly as stocky as mine, to calibrate itself to moving on a single plank of wood. Pre-teens have gangly, horrible bodies that are all out of proportion but make for fine stock when it comes to reassessing how you’re going to move around this new and crazy world. Their underdeveloped minds can mute a threat (such as parents, gravity, and sobriety) in search of a higher thrill (making the board go in the air). Their rejection of common morality I was able to achieve in one instance where the board ejected from under my feet and knocked a skateboard-shaped hole in my neighbor’s garage door, a crime scene left best to forensics I said, as I hadn’t the slightest. I think I was channeling the etnies crew.
But skating wasn’t a team-building exercise, nor a goal-oriented framework, nor something that will make your parents proud and show tapes of you trying to rail the curb outside Dairy Queen for the 27th time to your relatives during Thanksgiving. It is a thankless sport, maybe a “gnarly” here or a “not bad for a fag” there, a slight social redemption long forgotten before the pot wore off. It is fundamentally a solitary endeavor, you had to be in it for you, because there are no assists or Hail Marys. The sole takeaway of the sport is “Look where you’re going”.
Everyone was into skating at some level, whether it was SoCal frat-rock, Larry Clark disease bags in NYC, and whatever Bam Margera is. Sk8r Bois, Warped Tours, Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater, Jackass & The Big Brother crew, Stoked: the anarchic loner mantra of the skater reached critical mass, a subculture like so many mined for the very angst that birthed it for commercial appeal. Let’s cut out the drug-use and antisocial behavior synonymous with skater culture, and repackage it as a scent called “Nollie” at PacSun. This isn’t news, and romanticizing being young, bored, and high with a bunch of other latchkey kids skating around an empty LA pool isn’t either, but I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t sound cool as shit.