Better Life

A Guide to Skateboarding in Your 40s

Should a man—a man who is not Tony Hawk—continue to thrash in middle age?

The answer is no. Definitely not. It would be a very bad idea. The probability of appearing ridiculous is quite high. The chance of pulling off a heroic trick is, with agreeable symmetry, rather low. Bodily harm is guaranteed.

But what if a man does it anyway?

Well, to start with, he should probably stretch. Vitamins are a good idea. Fueling up on carbs and protein is recommended. A few shots of espresso for added focus. Pain reliever as a preemptive strike against cuts, scrapes and bruises.

◊ Random Rule: If you don’t come home with at least one minor injury, you’re not doing it right.

This is what’s going through my mind when my two younger girls ask me to take them skateboarding. Kate’s 12 and Grace is 5. They don’t know how to ride, not really. They can stand up and coast down the sidewalk, maybe even pop the curb, but that’s about it. I’ll have to demonstrate.

I didn’t do much skating for 20 years. In my late 30s we lived in the Middle East. My oldest daughter, Annie, got a board. She was 11. We rode in the cul-de-sac outside our house. It was like I’d never stopped riding. I didn’t try anything too complicated, but whatever I did try was fairly successful. The locals looked at me funny, though. Why is the crazy American playing with toys?

Kate rounded up pads and helmets. Grace got her Princess scooter. We hopped in the car and drove to the skate park.

What was I wearing? Thanks for asking. I went with the clothes I already had on: jeans, an old t-shirt, dilapidated high-top Converse. If you plan to shred in your 40s, don’t buy a new Thrasher t-shirt and try to fit in. It’s not going to happen. Go with whatever’s comfortable. My navy blue Chucks were identical to the ones I wore in 1982, the first time I rode a halfpipe. They’re the worst shoe for almost any activity. They offer no comfort or support (although the rivets in the quarter panel do offer superior aeration). But for skateboarding, there’s no better footwear. Leave the running shoes and cowboy boots at home.

◊ Random Rule: Save your skinny jeans for the nightclub.

The skate park was at a county rec center. There were several halfpipes, a vert ramp, quarterpipe, rails, concrete obstacles. There was a Gatorade machine, a water fountain, a parks dept. employee with a green polo tucked into efficient khaki shorts. Something wasn’t right.

In fact, everything was wrong. Back in ‘82, an older friend drove me to the infamous A-town ramp in Annandale, Virginia. I heard the music from several blocks away. Circle Jerks. Angry Samoans. Agent Orange. The Faction. Suicidal Tendencies. JFA. The ramp was deep in the woods. The kids were pale and scrawny. Shaved heads, mohawks, safety pins, flipped birds, smoking, drinking, friendly violence, brutal language. The halfpipe would shake and creak if you caught too much air, which I did not. Everyone laughed when someone got hurt or a runaway deck smacked someone’s head. A guy named Ian MacKaye used to come by with his band, Minor Threat. I had no idea who they were. Later, little Davey Grohl would pop by. He went to my school but I never saw him skate.

◊ Random Rule: Think twice about getting a Skate & Destroy! neck tattoo.

The county skate park was completely different. Well groomed and safe. No drinking, smoking or naughty language. The parks dept. guy gently scolded a teenage boy for opening his water bottle too close to the vert ramp. The atmosphere wasn’t hardcore. It was suburban shopping mall.

“Can we start?” Grace asked.
“Sure, let’s go.” Well, I thought, this isn’t such a bad place if you have kids.

Which is definitely the way to do it. If a man in his 40s hangs out at the skate park on his own, it can lead to questions. But if you’re teaching your kids how to kick-flip, no explanation is needed.

◊ Random Rule: Don’t talk to the other kids. Don’t ask them what music they’re listening to these days or what kind of “trucks they rock.”

We found a quiet spot away from the others and their runaway boards. It’s not quite as funny when the person getting concussed is your own daughter. I gave Kate a few pointers. She aimed for a small quarterpipe, went halfway up, screamed, fell off. Grace did the same thing, though I think she took a dive because she crashed before getting anywhere near the ramp.

“Here, let me show you.”

I pushed off, bent my knees, cruised up a small ramp, turned around, adjusted my body weight, came back down. Nothing to it. I pushed off and headed for an empty halfpipe, made it most of the way up, ollied, hit the other wall, came back down. It was like being 16 all over again. With better skin and worse hair. I might be old, I thought, but yoga and mountain biking have kept me in shape. Of course, sometimes I pull a muscle just…reaching for stuff. But still. Skating isn’t dangerous. Jogging is dangerous.

◊ Random Rule: Don’t throw around a lot of skateboarding vernacular—vintage or contemporary—no matter how on-point. It will not sound “rad.”

Eventually, Grace harnessed her chi. She pushed off with her right foot, coasted down a gentle slope, rode across the flat, hit a small triangular ramp—six inches tall, two feet wide, three feet long—pulled a 180°, and rode back down. How she managed such a dope trick I don’t know. “Grace!” I yelled. “That was totally gnarly!”

Kate and I shared the skateboard. She managed to roll up and down the halfpipe without getting injured. I wanted to try a handplant but, remembering how bad my wrists are, decided against it. I approached the ramps like I was surfing a set of mellow waves. Keep moving, flow, pop-off the walls, no big tricks. Perhaps not getting hurt was the benchmark of a successful day. My body was already devastated by years of abuse, like a worn-out action figure whose floppy limbs are just barely hanging on.

I thought about the days when we’d sneak into empty pools, drive a few hours for a new halfpipe, get up to 30 mph on big downhill runs. I considered getting a new deck and becoming a real skater again, but no. Better to watch my kids and let them get injured. That was the responsible move.

At the end of the day we piled back into the car and drove home. The sweat, aches, bruises and skinned knees were just like the old days. Grace asked for a juice box, which sort of ruined the mood, but I put Black Flag in the CD player and cranked it all the way up. “Kids,” I began, “let me tell you a little about Henry Rollins. He grew up just a few miles from here…”