Life Lessons From Skateboarding
What doing a face plant can teach you about values.
When I was around fifteen years old I bought my very first skateboard. My parents hated it. Not because they were hardcore helicopter parents or condemned the scene around skateboarding, but because I broke both my arm and knee the year before. Not at the same time, just two broken bones for different, rather unspectacular reasons (playing catch and crashing my bicycle into a field because I apparently can’t ride a bike). My knee quite literally exploded, ending in me not being able to walk properly for almost a year. While I was still high from the anesthesia, flirting with the 50 year-old nurse bringing me my pudding, the doctor apparently told my parents there was a good chance my knee would never properly bend again.
Little over a year later, after enduring some of the most excruciating physiotherapy sessions of my life, my knee not only did bend normally but I was almost completely pain and handicap free (and still am to this day, knock on wood).
So, naturally, after randomly learning to ride the one wheel I decided to buy into arguably the worst possible sport for your joints, skateboarding.
Why the hell did I do that?
I guess the most important reason for a pubescent teenage boy was the simple fact that it was considered cool. I know you probably expected some deep mind blowing insight here (don’t worry, I’ll get there as well), but truth be told that probably was one of my major drives for buying a board in the first place. I simply wanted to earn the right to proudly wear my Vans shoes to school.
I was always fascinated with skateboarding itself as well. Seeing kids from school jumping down a six stair set without any apparent effort on a piece of wood always left me in awe (still does). There is a beauty in skateboarding that you rarely find in other sports. Professional skateboarders appear to be glued to their board if they are not in the process of spinning it in physics-defying tricks. To this day I could spend hours just watching skate videos. If you watch professionals like Rodney Mullen or Chris Haslam flying through the streets it seems inevitable to at least try it out yourself.
I quit skateboarding after a couple of years (for no real reason apart from puberty) and only recently took it up again, yet it definitely shaped a lot of the characteristics that helped me through life in general and my freelance career.
Apart from the obvious lesson above not to let other people determine my life, there are other important habits and values I learned from skateboarding.
As mentioned earlier, you do a lot of face plants when you start, gradually doing even more when you get better at it. Apparently professional skateboarders fall even more and arguably harder than beginners. You could call it a kind of failing, but that is a natural part of skateboarding and everybody knows it. Some of the worst bodyslams get more praise than the actual landed trick. The best Skateboarders I know are also the most resilient people in life because they are so used to just picking themselves up again.
The only way to progress is to fail more often.
You’d fail a trick a thousand times before you get it right once and be over the moon when you do. I can’t describe the utter sense of joy and relieve the first time I landed a kickflip after over two months practicing and rolling my ankle a number of times. Then it took me two weeks to do it again. I learned to be persistent to the point of being dogged when I really want to do or learn something. If it looks effortless, it usually means years of constant try and error to get there.
I did avoid the more dangerous tricks. It‘s safe to say that I mostly ignored my doctor’s medical advice when it came to sports but that didn‘t mean I had to stretch my luck indefinitely. Still I slowly learned to trust my body in ways I didn‘t think possible before. The more comfortable I got on the board the more I trusted my instincts and reflexes.
It is amazing to feel what happens when you start trusting your body and muscle memory kicks in.
Because I didn’t start younger I already had a good idea of what jumping down stairs could do to my knee if I didn’t stick the landing. While that kept me from doing some of the more impressive tricks I would say it also kept me from breaking any more bones. Fear can be quite healthy sometimes and you should listen to your gut feeling.
There is a time to stop thinking too much and just jump into the deep end as well. The worst falls I had so far were usually the result of my mind taking the wheel mid-trick, keeping my foot off the board just in case. When I simply trusted in landing on it the right way, or at least falling the right way if I didn‘t, the board magically stayed beneath my feet.
I also simply couldn’t stand other people telling me what I can’t or shouldn’t do. At fourteen years-old I was told not to put too much strain on my knee for the rest if my life. But I’d rather spend my youth doing some stupid sports and take the risk of speeding up the process of my knee joint disintegrating. I wasn’t going to let some impending “prepare yourself to get a new knee joint at 30” (I didn’t) prognosis keep me from being physically active.
Although I did hurt myself quite a lot in the years to come, my knees stayed perfectly fine (mostly). At times I think doing more demanding sports not only kept me healthy and sane, but also slowed down the process of my joints falling apart so far.
I don’t have to tell you that I am not a doctor and that this is not sound medical advice (probably quite the opposite).
Now I know you can extract most of the lessons above from other sports as well, but the ones I learned from skateboarding somehow stuck with me through the years.
I learned to trust myself, taking charge of my own life and the value of seeing some things through, even if it hurts.
The most important lesson for me was realizing how liberating it can be to simply try something, even if you will inevitably fail in the beginning.
And that is totally fine as long as you make sure to always get up again.