I am a mature adult woman. I drive a car successfully. I eat healthy meals that often include kale (which I really think has come along to replace water, the previous healthy and great thing to do). I know how to speak and listen; I send condolence cards (or Facebook posts). All this said, I think the most excellent and mature decision of my adult life was to start skateboarding at 36 years old.
A woman I know, formerly a friend, called me one day to tell me she had started skateboarding with another nurse on their lunch break, in the parking lot of the ER where they worked. Would I like to try? I met her at the top of Bernal Hill in San Francisco, where there is a stretch of flat sidewalk. We rolled up and down the pavement, me on the board, gripping the nurse’s arms. I had no natural balance. I’m a swimmer. My athletics are predicated on needing an outside entity to buoy my body.
But a week later, I bought a skateboard at FTC in the Haight. Five adult-woman new skateboarders came with me for support, which is more than I’ve ever had at any crucial juncture in my life, including when my brother died. I bought a shop board (8” wide) with a Muni F train drawn on the bottom. Indy trucks (139s), soft wheels. I started pushing around on long journeys down the Embarcadero, broken in the middle by a giant cup of coffee. My trucks were super tight, my legs were stiff, my heart was full of terror and excitement.
Years ago my dad said, “Your mother and brother have natural athleticism, but you and I will do anything forever.” So I persisted. I fell a lot. Bruised my knees, hit my forehead, scarred my elbows, rubbed some skin off my hipbones. I fell completely in love with the flow, challenge, cool air in my beautiful hair, and freedom. I am now 39 years old. I have been dating someone I met at the skate park for five months now. She is an adult, interested in exploring the world and having fun on its crazy blue surface. She has an excellent brain, and participates in adult living at all the crucial intervals, including rent, work and feeding a neighbor’s cat cans of wet food by hand. Most importantly, we skate together.
Most people’s version of adulthood is moving away from risk and physical harm (not looking at you, muay thai fighters and rock climbers sawing their arms out of boulder pinches). I would argue we make substantial gains from running toward risk. The amount of physical and spiritual acuity it takes to place the tail of a skateboard on some coping (the edge of a bowl or pool, usually covered in metal or cement), let your nose hang over the void and choose to extend your foot and drop in on four small wheels makes it clear that skateboarders possess a secret Buddha within. A person could say a lot of flowery things here about the emotional chances we take as adults, maybe even reference children and marriage. Those risks are real, but I do not wish to conflate them with throwing your muffin top and whatever else you have for a body onto an eight-foot transition on a small board in front of a gaggle of tourists wishing to witness the Soul of California (at least that’s what I imagine they are looking for, but it could also be that they are just fans of sweaty dudes), much as you might at the Venice Beach skate park.
There are other risks that have come with choosing to take up skateboarding. Like, I don’t know if I should have bought Pabst tall boys for those teen skaters in Ukiah. And I definitely don't think my (over-40) friends and I be should have been turning the back of a VW van into a Dutch café whilst blazing down the highway and leaving the sliding door open in the rain. But nothing would putrefy my mental/emotional waters like calcifying into a sedentary and neutered adult focused on safe choices.
The friends I’ve made through skateboarding are some of my nearest and dearest. Racially, gender-wise and economically, they are a complete mix. If I had to pinpoint a missing demographic (and who gets to do THAT enough outside focus groups and watching "Girls" on HBO?), it would be gay men. Maybe also straight women, you crazy horned owls. But not really, I mean, how long will it take for the applause to die down regarding Lyn-z Adams-Hawkins marrying Travis Pastrana? If you catch my hands flapping in her honor, it is solely because she was the first woman to land a McTwist. For this reason, my respect lingers on.
Last year, I had a series of Life Blunders with drug addict landlords, relentlessly drunk housemates, people dying and having my physical safety threatened. You know who was the first to step in and offer me a room in their home? My friend Bob, whom I met at the Pacifica, California skate park and his honorable wife, Jen. When my friends who don’t know them asked about our connection, I felt acutely aware of how insane it sounded to say I was moving in with someone I met at a skate park. Yet nothing made more sense: Of course a skater and his wife bought a big, dilapidated house and chose to fix it up themselves. That’s the kind of person who skates.
You can’t be a helium-heeled pillow queen and skate, because nothing comes easily and everything requires a nonsensical level of persistence toward a goal, through substantial risk and repeated physical harm. The glory and elation when you hit your trick is unparalleled, and you know the high is worth it, and never lessens in magnitude (in yo’ FACE, heroin). Bob and Jen provided a home that was (emotionally) warm, healing, accepting and without a departure date.
I’ve moved to Los Angeles. There are new parks to skate, a new crew to build, and a new job to find. Skateboarding has helped me feel braver than ever. I learned to take chances and believe in myself.
Enough people have joked about adult skateboarders to indicate that they believe the sport belongs to children. But it is an adult’s sport as well, and one many people would benefit from including in their routine. Of course we, as a society, need to invest in our youth. Their education and empowerment creates a livelier, more productive and healthier society (seriously quote me on that. No really, I’m totally at my top smartest so take note and then share it.). But we must just as enthusiastically invest in our adult and elder population, so the youth have people to look up to and drive them around. For this reason, I suggest skateboarding. It’s not for everyone. But for some people, I guarantee it is salvation.