The first time I stood on a skateboard, I was in high school. I was transferred from an all-Black school in Detroit to a predominately White one, and learning to navigate a new cultural landscape — hacky sack, field hockey, acoustic guitars — led me to Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and, later, a group of kids playing “S.K.A.T.E.” outside.
The rules were familiar enough — no different than the H.O.R.S.E. and P.I.G. I was used to from the basketball court — so when they told me an ollie was easy to learn, I trusted them. When I stood on the deck and tried to jump, though, the board flew from under me and I landed sideways. I couldn’t breathe and bruised my ribs. I never touched a skateboard again.
When resident Lifehacker health genius Beth Skwarecki was organising our monthly Lifehacker Fitness Challenge series this year, I noted I wanted to use it as an opportunity to tackle something I was afraid of; my logic being that if I choose something I always wanted to do but was too intimidated by, I would make it public so I can’t back out. (That was likely the logic behind our parenting editor, Meghan, choosing to become a runner.) And so here I am, closer to 40 than I am to 30, choosing to overcome my fear of skateboarding.
Why I’m afraid of skateboarding
Learning new things rarely scares me, because I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. I have that much in my favour: Adults are often bad at learning because we’ve grown so used to being competent in our jobs, hobbies, and interests that we’re resistant to looking or feeling dumb, but I’m good at laughing at myself. Like many adult learners, I’m inspired by the endless quotes about how Vera Wang didn’t start designing dresses until she was 40, or how Toni Morrison didn’t publish her first book until she was 39, or how Ava DuVernay didn’t pick up her first camera until whenever she picked up her first camera.
Skateboarding is different, though, in that it’s not a mental skill as much as a physical one. Specifically, skateboarding is a physical hobby in which I’m going to get hurt. It’s virtually inevitable. My tongue might get tied when I’m learning a new language, but it won’t make my mouth bleed; my fingers won’t hurt when playing the wrong piano keys.
So, I’m afraid of the pain and the longterm injury that can take me out the game for longer than this challenge is meant to last. I’m afraid of what I felt when I played S.K.A.T.E. and landed on my ribs, and the instant failure an injury can bring. To mitigate those fears, I probably went a bit overboard.
How much my beginner skateboarding gear cost me
Lifehacker staff writer Sam Blum wrote about how to start learning skateboarding as an adult, so naturally I followed his advice shopping for a skateboard (I bought from a local skate shop in NYC called Uncle Funky’s Boards), finding a beginner-friendly surface to practice on (I chose a local basketball court in Harlem), and getting inspired by watching other skaters (my Instagram feed is now full of skating accounts).
What Sam didn’t mention, though, was the safety equipment I would need to feel confident enough to step back on a deck at my age. I bought enough pads to protect me from a two-story fall, let alone a regular one — enough to make Sam laugh when he saw me engulfed in pads. Did I go overboard? Probably. In the interest of full transparency, I didn’t shop around or do much in the way of price comparisons either.
Here’s what I bought and how much I spent:
- Fairweather Street 8.5 Complete: $US175.00 ($224)
- Triple8 Certified Sweatsaver Helmet: $US60 ($77)
- 187 Elbow Pads: $US38 ($49)
- 187 Wrist Guards: $US25 ($32)
- 187 Knee Pads: $US45 ($58)
Add $US30.44 ($39) for New York’s 8.875% sales tax, and my total was $US373.44 ($479) to stand up to my fears. Anyone else learning to skateboard can likely get by much cheaper if they shop around, but my resolve was in a race against my fear, and I was happy to support a local skate shop that was patient in answering the slew of questions I asked them.
You could also buy much less. As I learned so far — officially a week into my journey — I could have gotten by with only the wrist guards and done without the other pads. Those are only type required at my local skate park, and while I’ve taken some hard falls, thankfully none have been hard enough yet where I felt the pads were critical.
How the skateboarding community can help a beginner
Since I started learning to skate, I’ve gotten a few tips and support from helpful friends and strangers, and I’ve asked them all the same question: “What’s a reasonable trick for beginners?”
(The first question I actually asked the staff at my local skate shop was whether I could learn to ollie in a month, to which the clerk answered, “That depends… how committed are you?” Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of differing opinions on whether ollies are a good “beginner’s trick” or not, so I changed the question from “can I learn to ollie in a month” to asking about what trick I should attempt.)
What I know for sure is that I need a goal in order to achieve one, and that’s where I could use help. I found my own answer to the ollie question fairly quickly: Here’s my first baby ollie after skating almost daily. So, what’s next? A better ollie? Tic tacs? Something else? I’ll take the advice for what makes a reasonable, achievable goal — and I’ll take the encouragement, too. I’m still scared, after all — but I won’t let that stop me.