It’s fall now, a perfect time for reflection. And preparation. Like a squirrel gathering nuts, I recollect the summer’s events, on a skateboard and off, hoping to extract a few lessons to see me through the winter. As a way of learning, I experiment with the physical experience of skating and am always trying to make real the dreams in my head. This winter whatever I have learned in the skatepark will be tested on a similar stomping ground, the ski hill? Hope I have enough nuts?
This month’s article was to be about Marcos Castillo, a young skater from Missoula who works magic on a skateboard. His miraculous tricks appear to defy the laws of nature and border on the supernatural. Yet Marcos is human and has a broken foot to prove it. Without the action photos we had planned, the focus of our interview shifted to philosophy. For my part, with the skateboarding season in Missoula nearing its end, I began to think about skiing and wonder how well my new skating skills will benefit my old skiing ability.
Like many western Montana natives, I grew up on skis at our great nearby resorts and take pride in my knowledge of the secret stashes and the local lines. If I don’t ski as much these days, skateboarding is a contributing factor. But, the two sports are similar in many ways. In both sports, momentum moves you across a plane and the only way to slow down is to turn. Smooth meandering turns enhance stability and are a thing of outward beauty and inner joy. I’ve found that straight lines often terminate in epic failure. By turning, ever so slightly, the rider can avoid unwelcome "speed wobbles" and the muck they’re sure to cause.
Outdoor sports in general offer a combination of exhilaration and tranquility. They allow an escape from the stress of everyday life and a chance to focus on physical challenges and find peace of mind. What they require, in return, is commitment. In skating, as in skiing and a few other sports, commitment is sometimes compressed to a split second. I’ve always liked the term "skate or die." In skateboarding there are times when, while rocketing across the pavement, bailing out is not an option. You must simply hang on for dear life.
Excellence in skating, and in life I suppose, requires a grand level of personal exploration and passion. The likelihood of injury is very high. After the inevitable fail, getting "back on the horse" takes both heart and mind. For someone who is a novice at age thirty-something, taking up a sport like skateboarding means a journey into the unknown. Can I launch off this obstacle and land cleanly over there? Will this quest produce a diamond or find only the rough? Discovery means following your instinct, that unexplainable result of preparation and circumstance, and trusting your heart, that source of strength that allows for perseverance and growth.
While the similarities in skiing and skating are substantial, there is one consequential difference worth noting, cost. Even kids from poor and broken families can usually come up with the price of a deck, two trucks, and four wheels. Special clothing, high-tech hardware, transportation, and lift tickets are not required. The cost of skiing is a higher order of magnitude and a barrier for entry. This simple fact leads to some observable differences in social structure between the skatepark and the ski hill. Ski hills, because of their exclusivity, have a more predictable crowd, while the skatepark is open to anyone from toddlers to pro skaters, and even to an occasional drunken bum sleeping in the bowl.
So, "what’s the worst that could happen?" This is one of Marcos’s favorite quotes and is something he gains confidence from. We all know what the answer is, yet we go on living all the same. The best skateboarders I have met share a love for the sport and would all certainly agree that the process of self-discovery is what really matters. So, with another summer of exploration under my belt, I feel prepared for winter and ready to pursue the perfect skiing experience.