night. an essay on skateboarding

One amber halogen light above a yellow parking block in the warm calm of crickets and cicadas. Fifteen minutes in and this is all there is in the world. Everything distilled to truck or deck, nose or tail.

1984. $200 worth of fixing the lawnmower and cutting summer heat Arkansas grass. Air filters, spark plugs, gas, and grass and grass and then Gulf Shores, Alabama. Church group, alligator crossing signs between the black water lakes and the whitest of white beaches, bikinis and bikinis and becoming—14-year-old body and mind not in sync—stay focused, Hot Tropics Skate Shop. The Gator, Indy 169’s, pink vision Shredders (88A’s so soft I could ride on hard packed gravel), Rib Bones, nose and tail guards(?)(!)—initiation rites.

Night. Chicago summer wind off the lake I’m in love with the city, the concrete that goes on further than I have time to skate tonight. 1985. Fifteen from a small town in Arkansas with few acceptable means for young men to express—anything. And out of the dark I hear on the shoreline sidewalk the chunk-a-chunk-a-chunk-a of an approaching skater my dad stopped somewhere for a cigarette far behind and a brown grocery bag cruising down the concrete and he comes into view, front foot toward the middle of his board, crouches, his Scottish curls wild like the dangling threads from his cut off shorts and then he jumps, the board sticks to his feet and he’s over the bag. Ollie, my eyes open. And we’re brothers without names for the next twenty minutes then the breeze blows me back to Arkansas.

Thrasher Magazine, Naked Skates black deck. Another pairs of Indy’s. Marijuana print Vans. Algebra, marching band, shop class. Hey fag boy. Fucking skater. Thirty minutes and a curb and I’m ready for afternoon classes. The Bank parking lot. The Food-4-Less loading dock. No, that’s later.

The Bones Brigade Video Show! Ryan “Bonehead” from Riverside, Bruce and Jeremy, Jeff and Lee. The family. Rail slides. 50/50 until the axle breaks. Need for new terrain, higher drops. Ollie off roof to quarter pipe. Launch ramps. Broken ankle number one and then skate home across town.

The sanctuary. New house situated on the side of hill. An unfinished basement , 13-feet tall and there was a relatively flat section in one corner. $15 jig saw from Wal-mart. Dumpster diving for plywood. Eight penny vinyl coated nails. Half-pip number one—five feet tall to vert, eight feet wide and about nine feet of flat, PVC coping. Tight and rickety.

Run off Food-4-Less for lack of insurance. Run off school for trespassing. The Police, marble steps of the Massey Building—the public library, defender of democracy. Five-oh grind forever there. Arrested. Charges? Skateboarding. Not in municipal code. Not a crime. Was never stopped again in Bentonville.

Russell and the Rogers crew. The look, the hair, the skulls my mom hated. The drugs and vandalism. What about the skateboarding? Russell’s Lincoln, four-foot high launch ramp strapped to top. Parked ramp next to drive through and jumped cars in line. Broken ankle number two. Six weeks later sprained it. Doc suggested therapy.

Rebuild of the mini in the basement, real jobs, real plywood, real ramp. Five feet with a seven foot transition and metal coping. Parties all winter in the basement.

The junkie. Used decks, used wheels, used trucks. Vans too expensive, yellow Chuck Taylor knock offs. The Natas, the Lance Mountain, the Vision Old Ghost. The Rodney Mullen. Saw him skate at a mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1980-something.

Summer trip to skate the forty-second street ditch in Kansas City with Issac and Sam, The Police singles only album in the Bug for the four-hour trip. Stayed in house with no furniture. Steve Winwood concert on TV, ditch full of water. You Animal You skate shop and the Mike Vallely deck. Loved that deck. Ollie high as you want on that deck. Finally made tabletops.

Then college. New Siloam Springs family. The public pool that winter, hard angles, leaves to hide under when the cops show up.

Mostly seeking out amber street lights and painted curbs at night alone, time to decompress, time to discover the curved lines between points of what is expected and how to get there. How to be, in motion, forward motion, looking back, switch stance, nollies, one-eighty.

Spring semester, new school in Russellville, business major, start a skate company (everyone was doing it in 1990), finding a line outside the expectation. New terrain. New family with Dave and Cool Derrick, the dude called “E” who was always there anyway. Hutto, Cory and Reeder too.

Kanis, the pool, the nights. Cool Derrick’s car because it would make it there and back. Leave campus after nine, skate the pool, Seven-Eleven on the way to Hot Springs to hit the ramps. Icy, always icy. Dorm room by 6 a.m. and girlfriends asking about homework. Sorry Dave.

Commitment. Rails and stairs. The Student Union stairs. The Student Union wall to sidewalk. Stairs at the science building, the admin building, the athletics building rail. Rails. Stairs. Commit.

But the nights. Pushing out toward an amber light and a painted curb. Always it’s best at night. The focus on one thing. Having found the one thing. Being a part of this thing. Seeing the line and skating it.

Lines define us. The lines we can see and the lines we can’t. Large portions of our lives are dedicated to understanding the simplest of lines in order to be accepted, to produce what is expected and to be successful. The Greeks and Romans taught us to build our roads in straight lines. Streets and sidewalks parallel one another on the shortest distance between home and school, school and work. From kindergarten we’re taught to line up in rows, to walk single file, to write our names on lines at the top of paper and we do this through high school and even college. These lines create a context that defines what is expected and who is accepted.

This is where it began.

Published in an essay collection on skateboarding–“Common Criminals: The Anthology of Stoke” edited by David Thornton. March 2013.