I picked up skateboarding when I was 14, just before my family made the big move from Tampa, Florida to Birmingham, Alabama. My first board was a cheap purchase at Walmart; a grip-less deck with slow-moving wheels and lousy bearings. But for me – a total beginner – it did the trick.
On weekends and week nights, I’d walk the short distance from my suburban, city home to the Catholic School parking lot down the road, and then I’d struggle to move my board across its bumpy and irregular surface, learning the feeling and loving the sound of concrete underfoot. It was wonderful. I wasn’t in the habit of wearing any protective gear at the onset of my skating career, so some of my mishaps turned out looking pretty impressive. I still have the scars, and unlike most people, I love these scars.
“Don’t worry; it should go away if you put (x) on it,” a friend suggested when I took a fall that resulted in a gnarly cut.
“Okay.. then I’m not going to put ANYTHING on it,” I resolved.
My mother enrolled me in public school right around the same time that I began skateboarding, and I quickly learned that a fellow skater/student from my Spanish class — Christian, who was one year ahead of and one year older than me — lived in the same neighborhood that I did. He had also, very openly, developed a crush on me, and had been vocal about it in front of both me and my friends. There were (2) times in particular when he distinctly and unmistakably evidenced his crush to the world:
- During a Spanish class project that involved an egg and a hypothetical, future chicken. On the morning the project began, Christian walked over to my desk, got down on one knee, and raised his egg into the air with both hands, asking (incredibly loudly): “Amber Rose, will you be the mother of my chicken?” The rest of the class looked on and laughed. I quietly declined his offer, and then they continued laughing as he, very dramatically, hung his head in disappointment.
- My mother and I would, routinely, go walking through the neighborhood together in the evenings, and when Christian spotted us strolling down the street one night, he and a companion began running about wildly and cutting through neighbors’ yards, somersaulting into and out of their sprinkler systems. “Wow, he’s really putting on a show for you, Rose!” Sierra had laughed, watching them carry on while I – turning deeply red in the twilight and feeling incredibly mortified – power walked ahead of her to the end of the street.
In spite of me spurning his love time and time again, Christian still spent time skateboarding with me on the weekends, as did another neighborhood friend of mine named Lacey. She was the first girl I’d ever seen on a board, and I thought she was pretty cool because of it.
Once our family had crossed the border and pitched a tent in Alabama, skateboarding took on an even greater presence in my life.
First of all, I was very upset at my misfortune: 14 years old and living out in the country. So – to protect my reputation – skateboarding became a huge personal identifier. I was a skater. Not a country bumpkin. And a local warehouse that I discovered – The Innerchange – afforded my escape and offered me refuge.
Because it was a “christian-themed” indoor skatepark, Sierra approved of me spending weeknight hours zooming across concrete, braving the steep inclines of wooden ramps, and accelerating down – headfirst – into half-pipes. When I first began attending The Innerchange, I was met with a tough crowd.
I was 5′ 4″ and 94 pounds — boob- and ass-less — and while I basically LOOKED like a boy, my face and voice gave me away. Always.
The first time Sierra dropped me off and drove away, I felt terrified. I entered the warehouse conspicuously and stood off to the side for a few minutes, adjusting to the dim lighting, the loud noises, and my precarious surroundings. The other boys looked at me and seemed to see right through my skinny jeans and Volcom Stone hoodie to the anxiety-ridden girl awkwardly standing there.. trying to not collapse out of fear and grasping onto a deck with her sweaty left hand. They summed me up, rolled their eyes at each other and then continued skating, making an obvious effort to avoid looking at or skating anywhere near me. They likely thought that I was just another female who had stepped in to flirt, vie for their attention, and distract them from what they really wanted to do: skate. Hell to the no.
Slowly — wipeout after wipeout and bloody palm after bruised elbow, they began to realize that I was serious about the sport. Not them. And soon after they realized this, they began making eye contact with me and nodding when I entered the building. A few weeks into me coming around, they’d bring their boards from a slow roll to a halt when they reached where I was standing, just to say “hey.” Many of them even began cheering and egging me on as I tried to manual off of a 1.5 foot-tall block; the ones who watched me land it for the first time congratulated me afterwards. A small group of guys would draw together in a circle around the half-pipe every Tuesday night and scream out encouragements while I mustered the guts to drop (aka fall into) the half-pipe yet again. And one boy – who I’ll call Derek, and who was in love with me – followed me to The Innerchange weekly.. not to skate, because he didn’t really skate, but he always claimed that he was there to “watch out for” and “coach” me.
One afternoon, while we were sitting side by side on a torn leather seat and the school bus was carrying us along the rough country roads that led to home, he laughingly offered: “You know, Ashley asked if you were my girlfriend at lunch today. I laughed at her and said ‘I WISH.'”
I laughed too. “Yeah.. that’s funny.”
He never formally asked me, and I never gave him any intimation that he should. We were great friends. My mom always found it remarkable that I wasn’t eager to date boys in middle and high school. Makes a hell of a lot of sense now, doesn’t it?
I had a close friend (and fellow skater) who lived less than a mile down the road from me when my family resided in McCalla. I’ll refer to him as Josh. His story is interesting.
Josh was a troubled boy. When I started the 8th grade in Alabama, we ended up riding the bus to school together; I would sit down next to him simply because every seat was occupied by someone and he was – unlike most of the other children – approachable and quiet. I talked to him intermittently, in-between my religious studies, and slowly, I drew him out of his shell. I could tell that he began to look forward to our bus rides to and from school together, as he would stuff the latest copy of CCS magazine into his backpack before he left home in the mornings so we could leaf through its pages together during the ride, eyeing skateboards and skate shoes, coveting stickers and backpacks and key chains. “If I could have ANYTHING in this magazine,” I’d say after we’d reviewed each page, “I’d want THAT pair of brown Vans.” I was consistently in favor of simplistic-looking Vans, and he always preferred, and chose, thick, bright, and flashy pairs of Etnies.
We skateboarded in the neighborhood together often, in the evenings and on weekends. He said things, during our short conversations, that led me to believe that his father was abusive towards him.. either verbally, or physically, and possibly even both. As an uninformed, inexperienced and mostly sheltered kid, I didn’t really know what to do with that information or my suspicion. He never said, outright, that anything was happening, but it was a feeling that I got. Hard to explain.
The last year I knew him, we spent less and less time together until our friendship tapered off, but he walked across the lawn and climbed the steps to my front porch one evening when I was strumming the guitar, and we spoke for a good half hour, catching up. I can’t remember what we talked about, exactly; I can only remember carefully setting the guitar down onto the floor, walking over to the gate that enclosed the porch, leaning my body against it, and then talking with and watching him as he gestured and spoke from the other side. He seemed lonely. But then again, he had always seemed lonely. He walked away from me and headed home, eventually, and about a week later, everyone at school was talking about it.
“What happened to him?!”
“JOSH KILLED HIM.”
I couldn’t believe it. The story was leaking everywhere; you heard details stemming from all sources, rumors bubbling up in each classroom, and every lunch hour conversation seemed to center around it. The story is that Josh shot his father when he arrived home from work one night, and that his mother, learning of it, attempted to cover the murder up in an effort to protect her son. Josh had been withdrawn from the school. The last I heard, even his girlfriend wasn’t able to keep up communication with him.
My family and I moved back to Florida very shortly after it happened. I never spoke with Josh again.
Do I think the rumors were true? That Josh killed his father? Absolutely. I do. I think that a child who had been abused for years and who was, quite possibly, about to be abused again that evening made a sudden decision to stick up for himself in the only way that he could imagine doing. I’m not condoning the murder.. at all; I don’t think that anyone should be murdered for any reason. I only wish that I could have intervened before it happened. And I wish I could get in touch with Josh now. I’ve searched for his name over the years — on Google, through social media — but he’s nowhere to be found. It’s like he never even existed. Maybe he changed his name, like I did, but for different reasons. Regardless, I miss him.
A few months before he (purportedly) killed his father, and before that final conversation we shared on the steps of my front porch, I gave him my pro board: a Birdhouse deck that my parents had purchased for me at a skate shop downtown. I knew that Josh took skateboarding more seriously than I did and that he’d get way more use out of it than I would. He experimented — pushing himself to the limit, breaking down old boundaries and then testing out new ones while I tended to play things extremely safe. An inferior board would suffice for my simple endeavors.
“Here.. you give me YOUR board,” I offered one day, gesturing towards his crappy, beat-up deck, “and you can have mine.” I remember watching his eyes light up with excitement as we made the exchange. It’s a swap I would never wish to take back.
I married at the age of 18 and immediately began working full time, and when these two things happened, I just naturally stopped skating. It wasn’t something that happened intentionally; it wasn’t even something that I stopped to consider. Skateboarding just faded quietly and slipped peaceably into the background as more pressing matters – like finances and college and who’s cooking what for dinner – strolled confidently onto the stage and entered proudly into the foreground. But last year, after five lazy, skate-less years, I suddenly remembered skateboarding — that it existed, and that I used to be somewhat good at it — and I asked myself: “Why did I ever stop? And WHEN, exactly, did I stop?” I couldn’t find reasonable, conclusive answers to either question. It puzzled me. Does “becoming” an adult necessarily mean that you must cast off fun and “childish” things.. like skateboarding and dinosaurs and dreams of outer space? If so, do you discard these things partially, wholly, or not at all? Why would you need to nix them? Should you ever have to? These were new questions.
I briefly mentioned my idea of resuming skateboarding to family members. They cautioned me not to: “You work a full-time job now, Rose! You’re an adult! What if you fall and break something and have to call out of work for an extended period of time because of it? You have a house payment, utility bills, and gas and grocery and insurance expenses to consider. Skateboarding isn’t really something that a grown adult should be doing, anyways.”
Those are legitimate concerns, I agreed with them. Yeah.. I was kind of already thinking the same thing.
But friends and co-workers urged me to get back into the sport.
“Baby,” one co-worker began, removing her headset one afternoon, sighing with exasperation, and looking me square in the face. She wasn’t smiling.
“Now YOU listen to ME. Okay? You are HOW OLD?”
“23,” I answered her promptly.
“Okay. TWENTY-THREE. So you ARE NOT too old to skateboard.” She paused to let the statement sink in and then shrugged at the air dramatically, waiting for me to protest. I didn’t. “Now you go out,” she continued, reaching for her headset, “you buy you a skateboard, and you GO HAVE FUN.”
I watched as she reapplied and then adjusted her headset; she continued to make eye contact with me while doing so and tried her best to look severe.
I laughed at her. “Yes ma’am.”
This same lady — a co-worker and friend — also encouraged me, last year, to do something else that I had been wanting to do but was scared to do.. and that was piercing my right ear. I finally ended up mustering the guts and visiting a piercing parlor last April, and I have her to thank for it.
Back to skateboarding..
Chris (my ex-husband and, more importantly and accurately, current and eternal best friend) had, at this same time, been sharing with a co-worker that I wanted to re-enter the skating arena, and this co-worker of his – who happens to be an AMAZING skateboarder – offered to give me one of his old decks. Chris brought the deck home unexpectedly one afternoon; I’m pretty sure I cried.
We took the board to Faith Skate Supply that same week and decked it out (get it?) with colorful new trucks and bearings. Here’s a picture that was taken on the first day I hopped back onto the board as an adult: May 30th, 2015 (nearly a whole year ago!). I’m also including the Facebook caption that I posted along with the picture that day.
And that’s just one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: to reclaim a fun and invigorating part of my childhood and, along with it, a missing piece of myself.
To share the good and the bad: I wiped out really badly last year while I was skating in a subdivision located a few miles down the road from my house (I liked skating in this particular subdivision because of how new, smooth, and finely-groomed the concrete was). Here’s what happened: I started rolling down a hill while I was on the board and thought to myself: “Ehhh, this is a pretty mild hill; no big deal. I’ll just pace myself.” I began carving, directing the board, in a soft, gentle, and rhythmic roll, left and then right, and I wasn’t too worried about it. It really was a mild hill, but it was also an unexpectedly long and steady one. My board continued to gain speed and, as it did, it began shaking violently from left to right and wavering dangerously underneath my feet; the bearings couldn’t handle it, and I knew it. Well shit.
I started to panic. I can either jump off of the board RIGHT NOW and suffer definite damages, or I can try to make it to the bottom of the hill and possibly suffer WORSE damages IF I fail to make it. My intuition piped up immediately with its two cents, instructing me that I needed to act now. Accordingly, without giving the matter another thought, I sucked in a quick breath and jumped off of the board, entering into a mad, 20 MPH running-motion, and then tripped, falling forward – face and palms first – into the concrete. Hard. My board kamikazed into a ditch 10-15 yards away from me.
An elderly couple passed by me, slowly, in a white SUV as I was groggily pushing myself up off of the road. I raised myself into a standing position carefully, cautiously checking to see if my knees and elbows were still functioning properly. As I trudged over to where my board had parked itself, I looked up and saw the same white SUV returning in the opposite lane of the road and approaching me; further down the street, the old woman, who I had identified, a moment ago, as sitting in the passenger’s seat, was hobbling up the driveway towards her mailbox and craning her neck to look at me.
The old man rolled down his window. “I just dropped my wife off,” he explained, pointing behind him. “We saw you wreck on your skateboard and she wants to help you. I can take you back to the house, if you’re comfortable doing so, and she can bandage those wounds up for you.”
I looked down to see what he was talking about; blood was dripping down my knees and trickling out of my elbow. Looking a little closer, I saw that tiny little pieces of rock seemed to be wedged into my knee. Gross. All I could feel right now was an intense and heated burning sensation.
“Thank you SO MUCH for offering,” I replied to the man, smiling at him through this weird discomfort, “but my husband and I live just down the road; I actually called him a second ago and he’s on his way to get me.” And he’s furious, I kept to myself.
“Are you sure?” he asked uncertainly, squinting and taking another candid look at my fucked-up knees. His wife was still motioning, from her spot beside the mailbox, for me to come over.
I smiled again and waved at her. “You are both so kind. But I’m sure.”
I turned around and began walking home, but while doing so, I thought to myself: If I don’t get back on the board RIGHT NOW, I’m not going to ever want to again, so I cautiously stepped onto the board and began pumping, goofy (it’s a style of skating), back up the hill. Once I’d arrived at the top, I spotted Chris’s black SUV speeding down the street towards me. It came to a screeching halt beside me, and once I had opened the passenger door and tossed the skateboard inside, I looked over at him and smiled weakly.
He was gripping the steering wheel tightly and frowning. “I should take that skateboard from you, right here and now, and never let you use it again,” he shook his head in disbelief.
Back at the house, he cleaned my wounds in silence and then started to bandage them.
“WHY ON EARTH weren’t you wearing your GEAR?” he suddenly demanded.
“Because I was just skating in the neighborhood!” I answered him defensively. “It’s not like I was going up or down RAMPS or anything crazy like that.”
“I don’t care!” he shook his head dramatically, tossing bloody napkins into a trash can. “We didn’t get the elbow pads and the knee pads so you could just HAVE them. You’re supposed to WEAR them.”
I didn’t even bother responding.
“And you were wearing those stupid, short shorts,” I heard him mumbling to himself as he left the room.
Before going to bed, I decided to change out the bandages, because they had already become fully soaked in blood and the blood, which was continuing to ooze, had begun to stain my pajama pants. I also figured that I might as well clean the wounds, too, in the process of re-bandaging them (in order to prevent infection). I didn’t want to bother Chris with all of this again, so I grabbed a handful of paper towels, a bottle of rubbing alcohol (which is what I BELIEVED he had used earlier on in the afternoon to clean my wounds; it had burned a little, yeah, but it wasn’t.. you know.. EXCRUCIATING), and a small roll of gauze. I rolled up the legs on my pajama pants, removed the icky bandages, and uncapped the bottle of alcohol.
“This is going to stiiiiiiiiiiing,” I mumbled/sang to myself, tilting the bottle of ALCOHOL over one of the injured knees and positively dousing the wounded area with it.
I started screaming. Crying. Weeping. I closed my eyes and I saw the color white. I fell down into the bath tub, writhing in pain.
“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Chris’s voice yelled in my direction; I heard the sound of running feet.
“OH MY GOD I’M DYING!!!!!” I called back, hiccuping between tears. “IT DIDN’T HURT LIKE THIS EARLIER!”
He appeared in the bathroom and took in the scene of me, weeping in the bathtub, and the upturned bottle of alcohol on the bathroom floor.
“My god,” he whispered. “I used Peroxide.”
I’ve faithfully worn gear since “the incident.” Because I learned my lesson. But what’s funny is, actually, I DIDN’T learn my lesson, and I HAVEN’T always worn my gear since the incident. That was all a lie. Because after Chris and I divorced, I thought to myself: “HA. Now, I answer to NO ONE. I don’t have to wear gear if I don’t want to.” Such a child.
My friend and I had made plans to grab coffee, skateboard (me)/bike (her) and take pictures downtown together one Saturday, and as we embarked on our little journey early on in the morning, I smiled proudly and reveled in the fact that I was skateboarding sans gear. Like a total cool guy. It feels so good to be free, I remember thinking to myself as I flew smoothly and expertly down the pavement.
At one point during our trip, we were biking/skateboarding up a bridge. Then, we were biking/skateboarding across the bridge. Long at last, we were going down the bridge together.. me in the front, on my skateboard, and her in the back, on a rented bike. There were little ridges in the pavement, here and there, at regular intervals.. ridges that my skateboard could take easily with enough speed and some light manualing maneuvers. But I forgot to manual when I hit one of these ridges and, in a rude interruption of this otherwise smooth descent, the board went FLYING OUT from underneath me. Boom. In mere seconds, I had both torn my jeans and skinned my bloody knees. You are such a cool guy, Jace.
So I learned my lesson again.
At the beginning of this post, I was 14. It’s ten years later now, I’m 24, and guess what? I’m still skating.
Last week, I was working up in Huntsville, Alabama. I clocked out a little after 5:30, changed into my cool, 14-year-old-boy street clothes, and drove two miles down the road to Insanity Skatepark. I signed a release form at the front counter and paid $5 to skate for an hour, and then, as I soberly applied each piece of gear to my head and all of my appendages, I visually scouted out the place. It was ENORMOUS.
What will I actually be able to do here? I wondered to myself as I scanned the park, left to right.. quickly registering and gauging risk levels and assigning “beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced” labels to certain areas. “Advanced” areas were totally zoned off; “intermediate” areas were attractive and electrifying, but also slightly dangerous. “Beginner” meant that you could skate AROUND everything, and I knew that I could definitely handle that.
It was a skater’s paradise, for sure, but on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being novice and 10 being pro), I’m like.. a 3. Maybe a 4 when I’m feeling real daredevil-like.
I started out by warming up in the middle of the half-pipe, pumping and rolling my board up one side, carefully back down, across the length of the pipe and and then up and down the other side, gaining speed and height as I increased the amount of pressure I exerted onto the board. As soon as I acclimated to the motion, I became bored with it.
Me 1: I wonder if I can still turn the board 180 degrees while in motion?
Me 2: Good question. I don’t have an answer for you.
Later, I set my sights onto a ramp that led you directly onto another ramp which led to yet ANOTHER ramp.
It would be cool if I could do that, I thought to myself wistfully.
That would be cool, I agreed.
And then there was this over-sized quarter pipe with a roundish mound intercepting the run. The idea was to pump hard enough that you made it OVER the mound (which, I knew, would give you a startling boost in speed) and then up the other side of the pipe.
Now that would just be crazy, I shook my head doubtfully, but I #2 was already imagining how impressive it would be to achieve it.
These were three things that I knew I could do (#intermediate), but that I was also really scared to do.
“You might break your back!” I heard Sierra’s voice warning me from the back of my head. “Or knock a tooth out,” I #2 added, “and then you’d look stupid forever!”
“Baby,” the rippling image of my friend shook her head at me, exasperated, “get on that board and SKATE. That’s what you’re here for, ISN’T IT?”
Sierra, my friend and I #2 floated about the scene for a few minutes and offered their commentary while I deliberated; board in hand, cautiously surveying the scene. I looked up at one point and saw that the employee on “skate disaster patrol” (a 15-year old blonde boy wearing Converse) was staring at me blankly from his post.. obviously waiting for me to do something.
Sigh; no pressure.
I knew that I’d hate myself if I left the skatepark without attempting to do at least one of these things.. so I tried doing all three, and I succeeded at doing all three. I was extremely surprised and proud of myself.. not even so much for succeeding with my attempts as for trying in the first place. There are precious few feelings that are as profound as the feeling you get when you face a fear head on, with a golf club in your hand, and realize that the monster hiding under the bed is really just a misplaced, rolled-up sock. Or maybe it was a monster and you just totally obliterated it. Either way. The fear was real, and you took action. Wow. You’re such a cool guy/girl.
The point(s) of all of this:
- Do what you enjoy doing, and make time to do it. It’s very easy to find excuses.. especially ones like: “I’m an adult and I’m busy/physically falling apart.” Yes, you might be an adult, but you can’t be THAT busy, and you probably AREN’T falling apart. Don’t put off embarking on new adventures or pursuing happiness until your schedule is perfectly clear, because that will – likely – never happen.
- Don’t be subservient to your fears; rise above them. Befriend them when you can, and face them with formidable and unwavering courage when you can’t — again and again and again if you have to. Some fears never really leave us.
- When you are doing what you enjoy doing or battling a rolled-up sock monster that’s been hiding under the bed, don’t do it with the intention of trying to please or impress or relieve anyone but yourself. You’re cool, you’re beautiful, you’re lovable, you’re brave, and you’re heroic; do it for you! Enjoy it/defeat it for YOUR benefit, for YOUR delight, and for YOUR peace of mind. Doing it for anyone or anything else just doesn’t make sense. Think about it.
wheel-y cool/ sk8er boi/ rolling with it,