Skin of The City: Learning to Skateboard as an Adult


It's our 10th anniversary this year and we're feeling a little weepy‒that’s why we’ve dusted off the archives to bring you highlights from our back issues over the last 10 years. Join us as we take a look back at 10 years of SAD Magazine, revisiting the memories and the people that made SAD what it is today. We're not crying, you’re crying.

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Just over a year ago, my friends gave me a skateboard. A simple one: no graphics, no colours, just a pale wood-grain bottom and a generic black grip-tape top. Its plainness makes me happy. Up until this gift, I’d been borrowing my friend’s board, trying to stay upright as I scooted the two blocks between our houses. It made me feel idiotic and old and clumsy, and something else, too: something that is the opposite of all those things, but also inseparable from them. Something like that giddy feeling I had when I first learned to ride a bike, or the first time I got drunk: a sense of doing something that is childishly silly but also, at the same time, an initiation into an exciting adult world.

Skateboarding became, for a time, a secret thing. I am so much more shy and so many years older than I should be to be learning something so openly awkward and painful, so likely to cause broken bones and pride. My body doesn’t fully understand this thing. My limbs don’t know where to go and I fall a lot. At first, I took to riding around in hidden places, at quiet hours: after dark, after closing, early in the morning or in tucked-away spots where few walk by. A friend showed me a parking lot, not far from my house, hidden from the street and free of obstacles with a surface of freshly poured concrete that allows me to float. This is still my favourite place to skate.

As clumsy and embarrassed as skating makes me feel, it is also something else. It has given me a way to get out of my head and into perfect, focused solitude. Sometimes when things are particularly overwhelming, when schoolwork is piling up around me or when my heart hurts, I walk out into the dark street and ride up and down, trying to write over the things that are hard with each pass on my board.

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Learning new tricks is difficult; it takes time and patience, and a whole lot of falling down, but skateboarding itself is so easy. I stand on the board with my front foot and push with my back foot, and then I float. That’s all. It’s one of the simplest things in my life; I move through space in the most intimate way. I feel the skin of the city, in all its textures, moving under me. Everything is a bright blur, and the whole city vibrates under my wheels. And this unmistakable sound gives away my secret. 

I skate in the daytime now, in the sunshine, in places where I can be seen. I like this, too. It’s not a stealthy act anymore, but the way it makes me feel, the way it sometimes sharpens things into a shiny, simple, joyful point: this is still my own private thing.

And maybe the whole city is a different place for everyone who’s ever skateboarded through it. Maybe I’m only just starting to see something that was always just beneath the surface. A world is opened up, like in so many of my favourite books when I was young: through the wardrobe, the looking glass, the tollbooth and into this new-old place, this parallel universe. For folks who’ve been skating forever, transitory places become static spaces to try something again and again. Places for resting and sitting become, conversely, opportunities to jump up on and move across and pass through and slide along. So many playful possibilities appear out of seemingly empty urban spaces. Though I know I’ll never fully belong there, I love the idealism of this other world.

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This piece was first published in 2017 for Issue No. 22: Secrets.
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