Rediscovering skateboarding, and a part of my self

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Treasure Island skatepark; Richmond, VA

There might not be a single piece of media that’s had more of an impact on me than Chris Cole’s part in Zero’s 2005 video, New Blood.

When it came out, I was 14 and skateboarding was how I got around, how I made friends, and what I wanted to spend every waking moment doing. For a while, I aspired to get sponsored and go pro. I didn’t come particularly close, nor did I even know what all pro skateboarding entailed but damnit, I wanted it.

Chasing that dream, if nothing else, proved a good excuse to hurl myself down the biggest stair sets I could find on a skateboard. There are worse ways to be a teenager.

When word got out that my friend Phillip got a copy of New Blood, we all descended onto his family’s living room, threw the DVD into his PS2 and sat back.

Chris Cole’s part in New Blood is a tour de force, a coming out party for the greatest street skateboarder ever . He also was, and still is, undeniably cool.

By the time the credits on New Blood rolled it was near midnight and we were all so fired up and dying to skate that we opened Phillip’s garage and hit a flat-bar in his driveway. With only some scant light from the garage, we could barely see our boards beneath our feet.

After seeing New Blood, I felt validated. My teenage angst manifested itself as wanting to be different from everyone around me that looked like me — straight, white guys in the suburbs. Skateboarding was a great start, but even parts of it had started to go mainstream. I wanted to stand out the way Chris Cole did: by being indomitably talented on a skateboard and effusing individualism.

Perhaps ironically, I strove to emulate him. Everything in my wardrobe had to be either black or some neon color. I bought every striped t-shirt or hoodie I could afford with my allowance. Chris Cole rolled on pink wheels, so I got some pink wheels.

Cole later said in interviews that he recalls wearing girl jeans for most of the filming of New Blood, something I and so many other former Myspace emo kids resorted to because guys’ skinny jeans had yet to hit the market. I kept wearing my skinny jeans to school, even in the face of bullying, because I thought they were cool, and so did Chris Cole, Garrett Hill and Corey Duffel.

When drugs and alcohol caught the eyes of those around me, I leaned into the straight-edge movement. My friends dove headfirst into classic rock; I found punk. When others started getting into punk, I grew obsessed with ska. I felt like I needed to show the world that even in the counterculture of skateboarding, I was still Not Quite Like The Others.

Yet I fell out of love with skateboarding just as quickly as I fell into it.

In early high school I’d regularly opine to my friends, “What do other people in our grade, like, do with their time? Just hang out?” As my senior year irised down to zero and college came into view, just hanging out (i.e., going to parties) started sounded a lot more interesting. I brought my skateboard with me to my dorm freshman year, but it mostly just sat leaning against my dresser, untouched.

But I always kept it around, and during quarantine, when the world felt like it was at its bleakest, I picked it back up.

I realized that I quit partially because I was putting too much pressure on myself to treat it like training. I wanted only to try new tricks that were too hard. Skateboarding began to feel like a Sisyphean task. But getting out in 2020 brings back the feelings from the day I landed my first kickflip after school in 2003.

Rediscovering skate culture’s been just as fun. Skateboarding is as mainstream as ever (the popularity of Thrasher shirts speaks for itself), but there’s still a place for folks like Duffel and Cole in the industry, and that gets me so stoked. I hope there are some teenage twerps out there skating in girl jeans still.

I began messing around with stencils and other grip tape art again. Sitting down and just decorating something for the sake of it is good for you. Jamie Thomas, founder of Zero and the reason New Blood ever existed, recently put it well.

“I realized that life had gotten so busy that I didn’t have time to be really creative. So I decided I’m gonna slow down and just decorate something,” Thomas said.

“I feel like the feeling of arts and crafts connects you with a different side of yourself, that with computers and Instagram you’re not really able to feel and experience, and there’s something cool about it.”

Skating for me in 2020 couldn’t be more different than it was 15 years ago. Nowadays I skate mostly alone and don’t aspire to make a career of it. I mostly hit the local park instead of spots that would get me arrested.

But it just feels right to be back. As I approach my 30's, I’ve began to feel, as John Green put it, a river rock blasted by an endless torrent of mundane terrors in adulthood that I fear will inevitably smooth all my hard edges until I look and feel just like everyone else. I did not make being Not Quite Like The Others a dogma, but instead something to bear in mind. I had forgotten it for a while. Skating’s reminded me of it.

A few weeks ago I was at Richmond’s skatepark at Texas Beach, which has been affectionately named Treasure Island Skatepark. Trevor, an old friend who was there the night we all watched New Blood, was also there. I hadn’t seen him in years. Trevor never stopped skating, and came way closer to going pro than I ever did.

We laughed like hell when we saw each other, fighting the urge to hug because, well, you know. We joked around the way we had all those years ago when all we did was skate, eat Gino’s pizza and drink Arizona Green Teas. Another random guy at the park overheard us.

“This is for real the first time y’all have skated together in over 10 years?” he asked.

“Yeah, we grew up skating in each other’s driveways. I just got back into it this year,” I said.

“You know man, they call this place Treasure Island,” he said. “This is why, this right here is the treasure.”

To rediscover an old hobby and all the accoutrement that comes with it truly is a treasure.

In this wretched year I’ve gotten a lot of thrills from stories; of course from books and movies and television, but also by remembering the stories of my youth, stories about myself that I had forgotten, memories that I was only able to unearth by stepping back on a skateboard.

Writer, cyclist, often at the same time.

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