As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Vicarious Middle-Aged Skateboarding Adventures in the City

Cities have rules to make sure people get along. And cities have young people who live outside those rules. Grafiti artists elude police to tag buildings and subway cars with their self expression. And skaters stay one step in front of security guards to jump off the smooth stone stairs of fancy corporate buildings and slide on their skateboards down those rails. Cities can stand rigidly against transgessors and punish grafitti with lashes like in Singapore. Or cities can bend a little and build public skateparks like the one I saw today in Toronto.
When I got there all the skaters were congregating at one side about to hit the ramps. I asked if I could photograph them and was pleased with their responses which ranged from a helpful and friendly “sure whatever” to a surly but still accommodating “sure whatever”. It was all about the skating. I sussed out the action for a couple of moments to see which jumps saw the skaters catching the most air. I wanted the pictures to reflect the speed, precision, and art of their movements.
I got to talking about skateboarding in the early days with Duncan, a tall fair-haired skater who told me that there would be an official opening of a new skatepark on Queen St. E this Saturday as well. I told him that when I was skating nearly thirty five years ago we didn’t have free skateparks. Me and my crew of skaters found our own skateparks in drained pools, handicapped ramps, and many other places where the poetry of our movements on our skateboards often wasn’t appreciated.
One of the skaters suggested that it’s never too late to get back into it and that its great exercise. His words gave me a flashback of one night out drinking with the buddies when I stopped a kid I saw with a skateboard and told him I used to be a great skater. I promised him that I’d show him some old school moves. It was a catastrophe. Somehow I had become my father trying my skateboard when I was a kid. He had stepped on it the wrong way so it went flying towards the wall and barely missed breaking my prized aquarium. After checking briefly to see that my dad was still alive I gathered up my wounded board with a promise to myself never to repeat THAT experiment. As I lay on my back on the street that day in a suit and tie I saw the same look in the young dudes eyes.
The skater today who suggested I try it gave a few examples of famous skateboarders who still ride well into their forties and fifties. I was impressed. When I told him that I kept flexible with daily stretching and semi-regular yoga he was even more enthusiastic. “Its like riding a bike” he said “you never lose it”. I’m still not convinced. I would love to have the physical capacity to ride at my age but I fear that the nature of my flexibility has changed. Where in my youth I was like rubber, in middle age I am more like plasticine. I bend slowly but don’t bounce back.
But in the end I know that when my son starts to ride his skateboard that eventually I’ll get on it to see what I can still do. I hope that by then the effects of the yoga and the terms of my extended health plan will both have fully kicked in.
There is only one free way to get high.

There is only one free way to get high.

Living Outside Rules

Cities like Toronto have rules to make sure people get along. And cities inevitably have young people who live outside those rules. Grafiti artists elude police to tag buildings and subway cars with their self expression. And skateboarders stay one step in front of security guards to jump off the stairs of corporate buildings and slide on their skateboards down those rails. How ironic that the most prestigious buildings have the smoothest stone and the best rails which attract that counter culture element the strongest. It’s like catnip to the unruly.

Toronto’s Response

Cities can stand rigidly against transgessors and punish grafitti with lashes like in Singapore. Or cities can bend a little and build public skateparks like the one I saw today in Toronto.

When I got there all the skaters were congregating at one side about to hit the various ramps, rails, and other obstacles. I asked the loose congregation if I could photograph them. I was pleased with their responses which ranged from a helpful and friendly “sure whatever” to a surly but still accommodating “sure whatever”. For them it was all about the skating. But given the green light I proceeded to suss out the action for a couple of moments to see which jumps saw the skaters catching the most air. I wanted the pictures to reflect the speed, precision, and art of their movements.

The Ettiquette of Waiting

Step one.

Step one.

Two

Step two.

Step three.

Step three.

Step four

Step four

Step five.

Step five.

Sometimes Everything Works

Sometimes everything works

Talking Smack About Back in the Day

I got to talking about skateboarding in the early days with Duncan, a tall fair-haired skater who told me that there would be an official opening of a new skatepark on Queen St. E this Saturday as well. I told him that when I was skating nearly thirty five years ago we didn’t have free skateparks. Me and my crew of skaters found our own skateparks in drained pools, handicapped ramps, and many other places where our skateboarding often wasn’t appreciated. But even though we were marginalized and chased away, and both our skills and our boards would be considered old school today … our movements were still poetry.

Never Too Old

One of the skaters suggested that it’s never too late to get back into it and that its great exercise. His words gave me a flashback of one night many years ago when I was out drinking with the buddies. I stopped a kid I saw with a skateboard and telling him I used to be a great skater I promised that I’d show him some old school moves. It was a catastrophe. Somehow I had become my father trying my skateboard when I was a kid. He had stepped on it the wrong way so it went flying towards the wall and barely missed breaking my prized aquarium. After checking BRIEFLY to see that my dad was still alive I carefully and gingerly gathered up my wounded board with a promise to myself never to repeat THAT experiment. As I lay on my back on the street that night in a suit and tie I saw the  look in the young dudes eyes. I must have looked at my dad the same way after he tried my own skateboard a generation ago. It was the look you give old guys. At that moment I knew my skateboarding career was over.

It’s Like Riding a Bike

The skater today who suggested I try it gave a few examples of famous skateboarders who still ride well into their forties and fifties. I was impressed. When I told him that I kept flexible with daily stretching and semi-regular yoga he was even more enthusiastic. “Its like riding a bike” he said “you never lose it”. I’m still not convinced. I would love to have the physical capacity to ride at my age but I fear that the nature of my flexibility has changed. Where in my youth I was like rubber, in middle age I am more like plasticine. I bend slowly but don’t bounce back.

Why launch yourself into the air while connected to your board only by the difference in momentum between it and your body? Because you can.

Why launch yourself into the air while connected to your board only by the difference in momentum between it and your body? Because you can

When everything goes right you grind.

When everything goes right you grind.

The Inevitable

But in the end I know that when my son starts to ride his skateboard that eventually I’ll get on it to see what I can still do. I hope that by then the beneficial effects of the yoga and the extra coverage of my extended health plan will both have fully kicked in.

Links

Skateboarding is a strange sport that brings together the young who skate and the old who sit in the parks and watch them suspiciously … wondering whether they are getting up to no good. If you are either of these or even somewhere in between then you can find more about public skateboarding in Toronto at the following links.

http://www.toronto.ca/parks/parks_gardens/cummer.htm

http://www.x-village.com/skateshop/parks.html

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2 comments on “Vicarious Middle-Aged Skateboarding Adventures in the City

  1. Old school skater from early 90's here too and I resisted getting back on the board….scars just aren't as cool now as they used to be. :)

    [Reply]

    Admin Reply:

    True that! All good sense seems to urge me to stick to watching. Let’s see if good sense prevails. Thanks for the comment Greg.

    [Reply]

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