Skateboarding is unique in one way because it lacks the mainstream acceptance that other activities have. Almost every other physical activity is more common than skateboarding. You don’t learn how to skateboard in schools like you learn other sports and games, and there aren’t skateboard rinks like roller rinks where you can rent out your equipment. Everyone knows the cliche of the little kid getting a tricycle, and then a bike with training wheels, maybe a bmx, and then it’s cool to ride a mountain bike all the way into old age.
Most physical activities using an outside object, are first discovered by understanding the mechanics, learning the rules, and then participating in an organized activity. Skateboarding is odd because in most cases there are no rules to learn; no winning, losing, teams, or even “goals.” The mechanics seem straightforward at first just rolling around, but when you see someone fly in the air flipping the board around and catching it with their feet just right so that they roll away gracefully (as seen below by Ryan Cedro), you understand it is not as easy as learning how to throw a ball.
Since skating isn’t as overexposed to us as other activities when we are younger, most skateboarders remember those first moments discovering the board vividly. The first memories are usually the simple things like seeing a friend or brother skating, rolling down the driveway, learning ollies, or just falling off the board. Those moments may seem random and stupid, but when looked at closer they show appreciation for awe, perseverance, accomplishment, and most importantly, fun!
I guess my story started in ’87 when my Mom, Dad, and their friends were hanging out skating a couple ramps in Iowa City. One of them was a trashy scrap-wood mini-ramp run by some hippies, and the other was a big backyard vert ramp – a metal monstrosity twenty feet wide and ten feet tall with twelve foot extensions. Between each lip it made the unique loud noise that only metal makes.
My Dad was pumping around, doing some rocks, getting his grind on, and even pulling some early-grab airs. I was at the side of the ramp hanging out inside my Mom’s womb, absorbing the deep thunder of the speeding skateboard followed by the grind or weightless pause at the top of the lip. My Mom got sick on the drive back home and had to lay down in the back of the truck. I like to imagine I was practicing my frontside air style while floating in the amniotic fluid and that made her nauseous.
It was many years until I experienced skateboarding again, and when I did it was with the same board my Dad was riding before I was born. Amazingly it is still alive today and I can skate it after nearly 25 years with only one replaced part. It’s a wonderful 80’s setup before the nose of the board turned up, a ten inch wide Tony Hawk Skull deck equipped with Independent trucks, Bullet wheels, half-inch thick risers, and of course no 80’s deck would be complete without rails on the side. It has lasted so long because there is some sort of composite or fiberglass ply layers in between the soggy wood. It is a heavy boat of a board, but it is a beast that won’t die.
My first memories on that board were as a child before I knew anything about the possibility of tricks. I remember having fun sitting down pushing with my arms to roll. I also used it as a vehicle for my action figures, pretending it was all sorts of stuff like a tank and a spaceship.
Around the age of five and six, before I ever learned how to ride the board on two legs, I would imagine I was a half-robot superhero, and one of my devices was a hoverboard. I imagined it was the same shape and size as my Dad’s board and it would fold up telescopically (like all good futuristic gear) so it could easily fit in a harness on my back. I probably did my best boarding in my imagination flying around in epic battles, saving people, and escaping from super villains. All before I knew what an ollie was.
It’s weird that the hoverboard became essential to my character because I was into riding my bicycle at the time and didn’t skateboard yet. Somewhere deep within I already knew I wanted to move in the way skateboarding provided. I kept flying on my hoverboard in my imagination, but the real board didn’t catch my attention for years and sat around as a rarely used toy.
When I was nine we lived in a neighborhood with a long and tall black gravelly hill. My friends and I would race down it on our bikes and try to go as fast as we could without using the breaks or freaking out. One summer day my friend Ian and I pulled the skateboard out to goof around on, and my Dad must have caught the fun bug. He threw down his old tank of a deck after not riding it for years and amazingly it still rolled good enough for him to feel it. After a little warm up he looked at the hill and was ready to give it a shot.
My Dad went straight to the top and Ian and I were shocked because the most we had ever done was butt-board down the hill, and even then we never went to the top. We waited at the bottom and watched anxiously as he bombed down the middle of the road without hesitation. He blasted down it but as he got to the end of the hill something didn’t look right. The board suddenly wobbled and he ran out barely catching himself while the board shot out off the side of the road. Ian and I were stoked, but my Dad knew something was wrong with the board. It was obvious when he picked it up and the truck fell off. My first setup died by broken kingpin before I ever truly got to skate it, and for some reason we didn’t resurrect it for years so it sat and gathered more dust. After that, I didn’t touch a board for around four years.