Just after sunset one recent Sunday evening, there were a handful of 20-somethings at the Kalama Skate Park in Kihei. While one guy with iPod buds in his ears skated the bowl, a shirtless skater with a lit cigarette in his hand rolled up and over the yellow wooden ramps across the skatepark. That he was even on a board was amazing, since five minutes before he’d taken a nasty spill while jumping a dirt bike off one of the ramps. Later, another guy on a bike told his friend, “I had a successful day; I haven’t fallen once,” shortly before nearly riding into a fourth skateboarder riding off another ramp.
Spills and near-misses aside, all of the riders were clearly young, talented and (with the exception of the smoking) cool. They were cool in ways I never was when I was their age, and never could be again. Their skills were light years beyond anything I was capable of, and yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, there was this crazy notion that they and I weren’t so different after all.
Guess that’s what happens when you buy a skateboard.
A few months ago, after a lifetime of not skating, of not paying any attention whatsoever to skateboards or what we think of as the skateboard culture or even seeing any skateboard videos or films like Lords of Dogtown, I decided that I needed to own a skateboard. And not just any skateboard, but one designed and built on Maui. One that was of Maui, and said it was from Maui. And not only own it, but I needed to learn to ride it.
Why this suddenly happened, I can’t say. I never had a skateboard as a kid. In fact, I don’t recall ever even wanting one. Most of my friends had one, but getting atop one and then riding down the street and grinding a curb just never appealed to me.
Maybe my newfound fascination with skateboards had something to do with me seeing a photo, released by the Defense Department and posted on Wikimedia Commons, showing a United States Marine in full battle gear, with rifle and pack and helmet, holding a scuffed green “experimental urban combat skateboard” during a 1999 military exercise. Maybe it was the issues of Transworld Skateboarding that mysteriously started appearing in my mailbox (addressed to someone else, sure, but who am I to refuse a magazine that keeps coming, month after month?). Or, possibly, it had something to do with me turning 40 in April.
In any case, I knew what I was contemplating was somewhat controversial. Ok, very controversial.
“I believe that when you turn 30, you should get off the board for good, and leave skateboarding to others,” Garrison Frost wrote on the blog The Aesthetic in April 2006. “By the time you’re 30, you should own a car, live under a different roof than your parents, have had at least one meaningful relationship, have a job that doesn’t involve working a cash register, own a suit, have a more rational relationship to your parents, not need to get drunk to have fun and be able to hold your own in conversations about real things. When you ride a skateboard at that age, you communicate to others that you renounce these things, that you wish they did not apply to you. In short, you look like a 30-year-old who wishes he was an 11-year-old.”
And he was talking about guys who turned 30. But 40?
It didn’t matter. I was getting my board. I went online, discovering fairly quickly that Hi-Tech in Kahului is pretty much the only retailer of locally-designed skateboards. I was there soon after, standing awkwardly in the cave-like skateboard room way in the back of the store with Davey Delong, the store’s skate buyer and team manager. About my height and age, he’s been with Hi-Tech about a decade. He’s organized local skateboard contests in the past, and he looked like he came right from Central Casting: dark t-shirt and shorts, arms covered in tats, a long dreadlocked ponytail hanging down his back.
The shop was small, but intimidating. There were boards of all shapes and sizes and colors. There were aggressive longboards for downhill runs, and tiny retro boards that looked like neon plastic toys. Over in one corner stood a massive board; tall as a man, it was a like someone had bolted giant trucks onto a wooden surfboard, which is pretty much what it was. It looked like a novelty, but Delong said it could be ridden. It wasn’t easy, because riders had to walk all over it like old surf guys on their longboards, but it could do amazing things.
Browsing among the myriad decks mounted on the walls, I found exactly what I was looking for: a wide modern board with the underside painted glossy black. And in the center between the truck mounting holes was a giant anchor beneath the Hawaiian Islands, surrounded by the words “Hi-Tech Boardshop” and “Maui Hawaii.” I picked up the deck. It was heavier than I had imagined it would be.
“I love this board,” I told Delong.
“Thanks,” he said. “I designed it.”
Delong asked me what I wanted to do with the board. I told him nothing special–no skateparks, no pools, no fancy tricks. I just wanted to ride, straight and smooth. He looked thoughtful, nodded, then got to work attaching grip tape, risers, trucks and black wheels made for street riding. About 20 minutes and $130 later, I was carrying my own skateboard out to my truck.
Delong told me later he’s also in his 40s, but he’s been skating non-stop since he was a kid. He too has heard people saying skateboarding was only for kids, and no “serious” adult would get near one, but he’s watched more and more older guys walking into his shop.
“Skateboarding was ‘outlaw’ back in the ‘80s, but now it’s cool again,” he said. “I’ve heard people saying that people our age shouldn’t be skating, but they’re so far removed, they’re not ever going to get it. But I run into lots of people who may have skated in their youth, back in the ‘80s, and now they want to get back into it. Some guys are getting boards–what they always wanted back when they were kids, that they can put on the wall, and then another one that they’ll actually ride. They typically go for old school pool boards, but longboards are another huge market that’s blown up.”
With new skateparks opening in Lahaina and Hana, there are more places on Maui for people to skate legally, without concern of violating county ordinance 10-52-150 (“No person upon skateboards or similar devices shall go upon any roadway except while crossing such roadway within a crosswalk”) than ever before. They’re also larger, more fun and safer than ever.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I bought that board from Delong to ride down the street, not fly off the lip of a bowl. And while it looked badass leaning against the wall of my apartment, I didn’t buy it to be a decoration.
Not knowing anyone offhand who could teach me how to ride (my good friend Chris, who’s a year old than me, still skateboards, but he’s currently stationed with the US Army in Japan, and isn’t really available to give lessons), I went online. There I found Learntorideaskateboard.com, which offers a free download of Learn to Ride a Skateboard, a ridiculously comprehensive and easy to understand video by Eric Muss-Barnes that should be mandatory viewing for anyone contemplating touching a board.
Within minutes of clicking play on my laptop, I was standing on my board in the kitchen, moving myself back and forth along the counter, trying to figure out whether I was regular or goofy-footed. Oddly, leading with either my left or right foot seemed to feel the same (ie, weird), so I just decided I was regular footed and stuck with it.
Now I normally wear slippers wherever I go, and while I’ve seen plenty of kids (and adults) riding skateboards in Locals or Surfahs, the thought of my board’s brand new black polyurethane wheels crunching over my toes was enough to get me to lace up sneakers.
“Good luck,” my girlfriend Angie told me as I picked up my board one early Saturday morning and headed for the door.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t be long.”
Moments later I was standing in the parking lot, the board resting on the seed pod-covered asphalt in front of me. It wasn’t the best place to learn to ride, I know, but carrying my board across the complex to a sidewalk seemed lame. After making sure there were no moving cars around me (and no one walking nearby who might witness a humiliating fall), I gingerly placed my left foot over the trucks near the nose, took a breath and then pushed off.
The board, with me balanced precariously atop it, rolled across the pavement, into the slight gutter depression that ran down the center of the parking lot’s traffic lane, and then back up onto the rockier asphalt. When I came up to a row of parked cars I dropped my right foot back to the ground, and came to a quick stop. I stood there a moment, amazed that I’d somehow ridden the board 20 feet without any kind of mishap, then remembering that kids who aren’t yet 10 can skateboard well, I moved the board around and got on again.
I was only out about 15 minutes that first morning, riding wobbly but mostly straight lines from one row of parked cars to another. It took me a while to stop reminding myself to keep my knees bent, but eventually I calmed down and just rode. A friend of mine who makes a living teaching people to surf once told me it’s hard to teach analysts to surf because they’re always thinking, and surfing (and, I presume, skateboarding) works only when you stop thinking about what you’re doing.
After buying a cheap skate key and tightening the bushings on the trucks (Delong had warned me that they were pretty loose when I left Hi-Tech), I started riding again and again. Sometimes in the early evening hours after work, sometimes on weekend mornings. Each time I rode further and longer. I practiced “carving,” and can pretty much turn either left or right with some degree of confidence, but kick-turns still elude me. Eventually I grew so bold I ventured out of the complex and onto sidewalks that took me into the surrounding residential neighborhood. Angie also decided to get into act and bought a pair roller skates, and sometimes we head out together, her on skates and me rolling alongside, just standing on my board while the world rolls past.
When I told one friend I still haven’t fallen, he said it was because I was doing it wrong, and there’s some truth to that. Falling comes from taking risks, from pushing yourself to try new moves and tricks. But that’s not why I got the board.
Maybe I am going through a midlife crisis. Maybe I am trying to relive a youth I never had in the first place. But I’ll tell you a secret: by definition, no one who rides a skateboard is old. No matter your age, if you’re on a skateboard, you’re not old. Period.
Angie and I learned this during one recent skating trip. We were a few streets over from our complex, just riding up and down an empty cul de sac. It was about an hour before the sunset when two young girls, maybe eight and 11, rode up to us on inline skates. The four of us skated together in the cul de sac, laughing and having a blast. The younger girl asked to borrow my skateboard, and I let her (after removing her skates, she rode the board barefoot with more skill than I’ve yet mustered). But after getting off, she suddenly looked at Angie.
“How old are you?” the girl asked suspiciously.
“How old do you think I am?” Angie said.
The girl thought a moment. “Twenty.”
“How old do you think I am?” I asked impetuously.
The girl thought again. “Twenty-nine,” she said.
Angie and I looked at each other. No question about it, we’d be skating again and again.
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