Life via Skateboard
“… I’ve seen Jesse go through five boards in an afternoon, fighting off demons with his skating. Seeing someone that committed and pissed off was inspiring. Hearing people say shit like ‘I skate for fun; if it isn’t fun I won’t do it.’ has always sounded kind of simple and ridiculous to me.” -Julien Stranger
People like to say that skateboarding is fun and if you’re not having fun, why bother. I even try to believe this myself but if I’m completely honest, I’ve never been convinced that skateboarding can be reduced to mere ‘fun.’ Of course, there is always a danger of over-analyzing and over-intellectualizing skateboarding, by suggesting a political interpretation where often, there is none.
In recent years, I’ve certainly been guilty of championing by-gone eras of skateboarding as purer, more ‘punk,’ more anarchic than the last decade of Xgames, Dew Tours and Life of Ryan but I now accept that skateboarding has always had participants who were involved in it for a variety of reasons and with them, people lurking on the sidelines trying to figure out how to cash in on it all, just like any other youth subculture.
When Ricardo asked if I wanted to write a little something about how ‘skateboarding shaped my values as a youth,’ I finally understood that’s all I can do. Skateboarding is the medium I used to travel through the world and the platform from which I chose to view it. Here’s what I have seen.
My introduction to skateboarding was pure enough. I lived on a main thoroughfare from Langland Bay, the surf capital of Wales, to the village of Mumbles. As a child playing in my front garden in 46 Overland Road, I’d see various older surfy types coming back from the beach. By the time, I was six, my life ambitions were to surf, ride a bike with no hands and tic-tac a skateboard. At eight years old I got a newspaper-round. Sometimes, I used to peek at the magazines I was supposed to deliver and one time found an ad with a page full skateboards. And there it was a skull with a snake crawling out of its vacant eye-socket on a blood red background. ‘Brand X’- it said. Mum, I want a Brand X skateboard for Christmas. Well, the brand X board was a too-expensive at sixty quid, so mum got me a relic from the 70s for twenty quid from Dave Friar’s surf shop.
Soon after I was removed from my Mumbles, a place I regarded as Paradise and ended up, an expatriate Welsh kid living on a tiny Islamic Emirate of Bahrain but I took my skateboard. The early years were just pure joy, an indulgence in sensation. Pushing hard, bombing hills, turning and carving driveways, launching off little drops, no tricks, just feel. No worries about the larger world of skateboarding and what other people were doing. All day everyday. No internet, no cable/ satellite television, no skate magazines or videos. We were just a steadily growing crew of expatriate skate kids and even a few Arab kids. Slowly snippets from the wider world found their way to us. People would visit home and ollie back and eventually came the inevitable Thrasher Mag subscription. Skateboarding soon became something to ‘practice’ and focus on. There were things to learn, standards to meet but this was mostly positive. It certainly attracted those of us who could not focus on much else. While I enjoyed organized sports I was always just waiting to be done with rugby, running or hockey to get back on my skateboard. In the classroom, my mind wafted out the window to the freedom of the streets. Ultimately, I think skateboarding helped with my ADHD and helped me find focus even when I didn’t want to.
By the time my crew and I were teens, we began to understand the abstract anarchic implications of dedication to the four-wheeled plank of joy. We thrived on the lack of rules, breaking the law, defying parents, teachers, any and all authority figures. We began searching further and further from home for good places to skate. When the distance was too far to skate, we’d pack our switchblades in our back pockets and hitch hike into the city.
I can still vividly recall, skating on hot Arabian nights, drenched in sweat at 2am, attacking marble ledges in the deserted streets. Or pushing through rush hour traffic, the Islamic call to prayer echoing through the souq, crazed and dirty white boys determined to go nowhere as fast as we could. It was situations such as these that helped me understand that life on a board was not a typical approach to living. We were seeing and experiencing the urban realm in quite a different light to our peers. Fighting security guards who tried to confiscate our boards, spending hours in police cells, running for lives after offending devout Muslims after trying to skate their mosque, breaking bones, getting knocked out- essentially putting ourselves in insanely ridiculous situations that I would never want my child to put herself through but of course it had to be done to make us who we are. Hopefully, she’ll find something like it and not tell me until she’s twenty-five.
As most of my friends left skateboarding behind, I began to wonder if I should also. It certainly wasn’t helping me with girls or school or so I thought. There were times, I’d run into a teacher or girl from school while I was out and about and cringe that I had to walk past them, covered in dirt and carrying a useless wooden toy. But I couldn’t give up.
Ultimately, skateboarding taught me not to give a fuck about how people viewed me. Skateboarding taught me perseverance, pain management, concentration, and creativity. It didn’t teach me to fight but it I could handle a beating because of it. It kept me fit and alert. It took me to hidden corners of the city, introduced me to street life and those that live it. It also introduced me to the DIY ethic. My first publication was a one-page skate zine called ‘Notes From The Underground,’ while bearing little resemblance to Dostoyevsky, it was my first literary pursuit and was incredibly empowering.
To this day, I continue to reap the benefits of twenty-five years of skateboarding. From my taste in art and music, to my politics, to my reading of the city and architecture, skateboarding provides the lens from which to view the world. And no amount of commercial skatexploitation can take that away from me.• Category: pete, skateboarding