by Devin Donovan

Across the street, Herb’s late dad’s blue RAV4 is gone – to the bar at Fuzzy’s Taco shop, I’m guessing – and Patrick’s tractor is quiet. The driveway next door is empty and the front lawn is short which means Christine probably won’t be back for a couple days. I don’t see Robert and Ella’s minivan, so I won’t wake up Robin or Walter if they’re napping, plus it’s almost dinner time and sometimes they like to come down the street to watch me skate. I walk into the middle of the road and look both ways. I flip my board down, plant my foot, and push up to speed.

I shift my eyes from the board to a section of the curb that is dark and slick with lacquer and wax. Just before collision, I transfer my weight and turn my hips until I feel my metal trucks dragging over the rough concrete edge. It sounds like a garbage disposal grinding itself into nothingness.

I worry about the noise I make. Even when I’m just riding around, the rattling hum of hard urethane wheels on rough street asphalt reverberates up the bones of my feet and legs, and echoes into the spaces in my head where sounds and sights and worries go to get amplified. I am not used to announcing my presence to the world in such a loud way.

I am, at thirty-nine, by the standards of a sport practiced on a child’s toy, an old(er) skateboarder. The drawbacks are obvious enough, but there are benefits too. I don’t have to wait for my birthday to get a new deck. I can drive myself to the skatepark. I am pretty good about wearing sunscreen on hot summer days.

One of the features that cuts both ways, though, is the conscientiousness that has come with age. I am aware of, and almost always concerned about, my impact on others. Part of me wishes I could rip through a crowd of pedestrians without care. Grind up newly constructed ledges without thinking of the people who worked hard to make a spot look beautiful and so perfect for shredding. The more mature part of me is glad, of course, that I can keep these people and their experiences in mind without seeing or knowing them. This is imaginative empathy. This is invisible connection. But there are times when I want to ignore this connection, when I want to be selfish. Or maybe it’s more that I want them to know me, too, to hear my sound—the scrape of metal on rough concrete—without asking if it sounds as beautiful in their ears as it does jangling around in my bones.

The Slappy 50/50 grind is an old-school, old-person trick. It does not require an ollie. I can take one down without stretching my back or warming up my knees for a half hour. At its most basic, it looks like a skater just slams into a curb with some speed. But it’s more graceful than that. It’s actually a sharp carve turn at just the right moment, when the subtle shift of weight allows the board to translate momentum from the approach angle to the curb’s line; from wheel on asphalt to metal on concrete; from a low, guttural growl to a high-pitched, metallic snarl. The communication between the set up for this trick and its landing is a matter of precisely timed weightlessness.

It is this weightlessness that has hooked me. Skateboard progression might be described as trying to do more and more in that short window where muscle and bone move my body into the arc of being there and not being there. I know I am not floating, or flying. I know that I still weigh the same in some abstract notion of physics. But with my arms up and out like bird wings, and the board free to move in ways that my weight and gravity would otherwise not allow, it is clear that the magic of the sport happens in these moments. It’s easy to get whisked away in this magic; its beauty, its silence. Wrapped up in its possibility, jonesing for more and more weightlessness.

I often think I would like to be here less. To take up less space. Use up fewer resources. Make less noise. Speak even less than I do. Sometimes I even wish to be free of the desire to write and share my thoughts with others. Who am I, I think, to ask others for their time? I want to float away, dissolve. Kickflip a board into the ether and hover my legs above its rotations forever.

A former teacher of mine talked often about the grounding rods of writing. How without things to hold them down, ideas will float away in a manner that makes them rather useless for a reader. As magical as those weightless moments are, I know that skating without the anchor of gravity would be about as fun as thinking about skateboarding.

The thrill of the sport lives in the landing. The feeling when board and body crash back down to earth and bang, or snap, or scrape. For it is the weight and friction of it all – the general stubbornness of metal moving over concrete –  that makes the grind of the slappy fifty come to life with full throat. In that moment the muscles are heavy and flexed again, and the echo of the concrete — shooting through the urethane of the wheels, and the metal trucks, along the pressed wood of the deck, through the rubber soles of my shoes, the cotton of my socks, and into my flesh and blood and bones — makes me feel again my age, in my knees, in my back. The inaudible strain of body and board bending together, belted out along the block of houses with empty driveways, apologizing, striving and expiring at the same time.


Photo by shawn henry on Unsplash