The first thing most people notice when they see our backyard is the miniature skateboard park. We have an area near our back fence with two half-pipes, a ramp, and a box, and beside it, two moveable ramps and a rail. My husband built it a few summers ago for our kids and his own enjoyment. He grew up with his feet attached to a board, and can name more injuries from skating than I have had for my entire life on two legs. He loved it then and he loves it now and he has taught our two sons how it’s done.
As with any sport, there are the entry-level moves, the parts you start with to help you get your sense of your body in relation to the ball or the goal, or in this case, to the board and the ground. Once you understand how to balance and ride, you progress to doing tricks. One of the first tricks you learn on a half-pipe is called the drop-in. It’s called that because your body starts at the top and drops into the bottom of the bowl. You go from horizontal to vertical pretty quickly, and even with short, 2-feet drops, standing at the top is terrifying. I do not know this from experience because I do not do these sorts of things. I know this from seeing the faces of all the children who I have stood at the top. Kids who believe they can do anything, brave kids, skilled skaters, who stand there for hours totally psyched out by the idea of stomping their foot down on the board and flying downward.
They can physically do it. It’s easy. The movements required are movements they can do. The balance it requires is balance they have. What trips them up is not their legs or their arms. It’s their minds. They’re scared.
My youngest son has tried dropping in a few other times, and each time, he has fallen. According to my oldest son and the local drop-in expert, all of his falls have happened because he didn’t fully commit. He didn’t “send it,” as the kids say. He started down and leaned back instead of forwards. Falling backwards off a rolling skateboard onto a hard ramp is not a fun experience, and every injury, whether to body or ego, makes it harder to go back to the top to try again.
Today, he went back to the top to try again.
Today, he was surrounded by seven other kids who had shown up to skate, five of whom are already accomplished at dropping in. This is when the thing I love most about skating came to life: the community norms.
Every single voice was yelling at my kid that he could do it. They were giving him tips and tricks. They all sat down to give him space to try. Not one of them made a snide remark or laughed at him. Not one of them tried to get in his way or rush him. They’ve all been there. They know it’s scary.
Then something remarkable happened: A high-schooler nick-named Blaze stepped onto the floor of the half-pipe. Dreadlocks hanging from his head and a sweaty tie-dyed shirt stuck to his torso, he planted his rainbow-colored skate shoes firmly down and held out his hands. First, he held both of my son’s hands while he took the plunge. Then, he pulled one back and held only one hand. Then, after a few one-hand drops, Blaze pulled both his hands away but stayed present. And it happened: My 9-year-old son dropped in. He smiled his happiest smile and returned to the top again and again, dropping in repeatedly while the older kids all cheered and talked him up.
Later, after everyone left and dinner got scarfed down, I sat on the couch with my son, the newest member of the drop-in club, and told him I was proud of him for trying again. He said, “his hands were sweaty.” OK. Fair. Then, he said, “skating is like this: Every time you learn something, it unlocks new levels you can do. Like now that I’m dropping in there are a bunch of tricks open to me that I couldn’t have done before because I wasn’t going fast enough to do them.” The trying again was worth it, even if he had to hold a sweaty hand, because now he’s not stuck doing the same old tricks. Freedom.
Failing, falling, accepting help from a sweaty new friend, and fully committing to something brand new and terrifying: that’s when you are rewarded with both accomplishment and the freedom it gives you to enter into new, next-level challenges. The bonus is that everyone around you, the cheering section and the hands-on helpers, celebrate that freedom with you. There were no faces tonight not smiling when the lights went off and it was time to go home.
What about you? Are you facing the possibility of a new trick? Something that you are capable of, and also scared of? Something that, if you begin, might mean you fall and get hurt? Something that once you do it, will open new doors for you, doors to more fulfillment?
My skateboarding family has taught me that learning and growth happens best in community, that courage and commitment are contagious, and that compassionate help is abundant among those who have stood where you’re now standing. If I have any advice to offer after the day I’ve just had, it is this: Find your people. Find the people who’ve stood where you’re standing and who will move out of the way to give you the space you need. Find the people who will offer their sweaty hands to hold yours as you take your first awkward steps. And find the people who will yell and scream celebratory cheers before, during, and after your attempts, whether you land it or fall on your face.
Find your people, and you’ll find your freedom.
Also: wear a helmet.
Photo credit: Oleg Gospodarec courtesy of Unsplash