In my old bedroom, I placed fresh griptape on top of the newly delivered skateboard. A screenprint covered the board’s bottom with two figures: A fattened yellow guy with a big head, round belly, and hands without fingers; one of those mitten-like hands thrown around the squiggled shoulder of an orange blob. The two characters—Doughboy and Shmoo—represented the styles of the two legendary skaters and friends that had drawn them: Lance Mountain and Mark Gonzalez.
I wished I could have showed their joyful similarity to my best friend Adam, but his mom had moved from around the block to out of state with his stepfather and Adam had moved across town to his father’s house to finish high school, while I was busy at the University of Central Florida and hardly saw Adam, let alone skated with him anymore.
Mom came to my room in her and my father’s house, which I had listed on the shipping address, and she asked if I was going to try out my new board or come eat. I told her it was too humid, but I didn’t tell her that I was self-conscious from the last time that I had skated by myself on an old blank board when I heard a kid yell, “Do a kickflip.” I had taken one foot off my board and slid to a stop on the street. It was the middle of the afternoon when Adam and I used to skate through our neighborhood not caring who saw us. I stared at the kid as tall as his parents’ mailbox until he shrugged his shoulders and walked up his driveway and closed the house’s door behind him. I had ordered the new board because I wanted to feel close to a friendship even if Adam didn’t live nearby anymore.
After dinner, when the sun tucked into the skyline behind downtown Orlando, I neglected my online homework of graphing supply and demand. Instead, I sat at the family computer and watched skate videos trying to get stoked to session on my own. I was failing my macroeconomics class and avoiding going out alone.
In “Can’t Stop” (video clip, below) Lance Mountain carved up the bowled deep-end of a pool. His board’s wheels click-clacked over the edge of tiles around the rim and then sparks scattered from a sheet of flint stuck to the tail scraping the concrete edge. In “Video Days” (video clip, below), Mark Gonzalez connected lines by slapping up on street curbs, hopping on benches, slaloming between parking meters, twirling around stop signs, gliding down gaps, and sliding across handrails. Mountain and Gonzalez had their own styles, but they both just had fun skating.
I didn’t know if I could still get that feeling by myself, but I wanted to at least try.
I put on an extra-large T-shirt that draped over my jeans. The material would bellow behind me like a cape, as if I were a superhero flying on wheels. I slipped on my shredded checkered Vans and remembered how I loved the flat, gummy grip of the waffle-sole. I didn’t wear the pair at college because I rushed across campus in sole-supported Nike runners. At my parents’ front door, I flipped my new board over to tap the wood with my fingertips for good luck and to remind myself that I had once ridden alone before that day when I skated around the corner and met Adam and then continued for the rest of high school just skating around the corner and riding the streets with the only person in the neighborhood who enjoyed the feeling of standing on seven plys of maple as urethane wheels spun on asphalt.
I slapped my board onto the walkway out of my parents’ house and rode down their driveway. I popped an ollie into the street. The new board fit my feet perfectly. The short tail cupped my back foot and the longer, slowly slanting nose offered room to slide my front foot forward. While the wider width of the board stabilized my speed, I also knew that it would nix easily doing flip tricks. I didn’t care because I preferred to do old-school tricks where I grabbed the edges of my board and held on in flight. Even before going to college, I knew I would never be sponsored, let alone get a board and go pro, because I wasn’t like the kids in the skate mags’ ads. Those kids as tall as mailboxes hucked themselves down sets of 20 stairs even though they could hardly ollie over a garbage can.
I pushed down the street and scooted my front foot to the near-center of my board for a simple ollie over a manhole cover plugging the middle of the street. I thought that Adam could’ve been one of those sponsored kids because I had seen him progress over summer to twirling his board beneath his feet, throwing himself down stairs, and slinking on everlasting rails. He did all of that street skating with a sense of joy, but also without excluding me as we rode together at the odd spots I sought: slanted walls, drainage ditches, and empty pools. Even though I didn’t ride with him that night, I wanted to skate like we once did through our entire neighborhood. I popped an ollie and brought my knees toward my shoulders as I floated over the manhole; I could’ve easily cleared a garbage can.
I slashed my wheels across the adjacent brick driveway of Carmen and Carlos. Their handbag-dog’s snout poked under the few inches of space beneath their garage door. He yipped as I skated away.
Then, I skated past the driveway of my parents’ next-door neighbors. Chuck and Lois were my parents’ friends and brought over plants from their garden for our yard and fresh loaves of sourdough for our table. They had never complained about me practicing stalls on the exposed roots of their trees or rumbling past their kitchen window next to the sidewalk.
I rode by the two houses with neighboring fathers who smoked together at the curb. They nodded at me. Their smoke drifted up and their ashes flaked down.
I pushed faster in front of the retired highway patrolman who lived with his son Ryan. Ryan always wore a Miami Dolphins baseball cap and calf-high socks when he pedaled a beach cruiser bike to his grocery-bagging job at Publix. I never saw Ryan without his skewed, almost-drooly, perfectly content smile. Every time I saw him, I couldn’t help smiling, too.
At the end of my parents’ street, I nosepicked a house’s flowerbox planter. My front truck speared the stucco edge. I grabbed the side of my board and yanked myself into the gutter and then rolled back into the street.
I looped around to the driveway again. I quickly pushed up and then threw both my hands down to the cement as a pivot for my board to arc around a slide. My wheels screeched sideways.
The yellow ebb of a lone, exposed bulb flickered beneath the house’s entryway and I rolled back down the driveway, over the gutter, and into the street. I hauled away pounding my back foot on the ground and swinging my arms reaching ahead and pulling at the invisible air like a rope as I pushed forward.
Adam used to follow me as I created my line linking one trick at a spot to another one down the street. He would flick a kickflip but also grab his board, plant one foot, and lift off for a boneless like me. He rode with less flowing style but oozed jittery energy. I felt charged when hearing his short, quick slaps of his sneaker on the asphalt pulling him forward. That night, the echo of my wheels ricocheted between garage doors sounding like another skater. I looked back, but nobody else was there.
Ahead, I spotted the red dot of a security camera blinking under the awning of a roof. The roof covered the house of tinkers. The multi-generational family was all dark skinned who didn’t seem Caribbean and could have been Romanian. When I skated during the day, the men would glance up from under the hoods of cars parked on their lawn and smile at my skating’s noise, the steel bearings that I oiled and replaced myself, rolling in the wheels. I would wave at them as the whirling sound rushed forward with me.
I skated to the end of a long stretch to an intersection; I launched over the gutter of the corner house and cleared the gap of grass to land on the sidewalk. I popped onto the sewer cover and dropped back into the street. That perpendicular street was the smoothest asphalt in the neighborhood. Shale and gravel mixed in with the asphalt of all the other streets I skated, making the ride rumble, but that stripe rode nearly slickly.
That night, I wasn’t going to ride the smooth stripe where Adam and I used to practice new tricks on the perfect, flat ground. I wasn’t planning on practicing anything new. I just wanted to ride the memory of our rides. I continued skating to where there weren’t cars parked in the street, or on any of the lawns. Streetlights were posted in front of every other house. Glass front doors tucked beneath rain porches with small signs for security firms staked into rock gardens.
I knew I wouldn’t think about what Adam would have done as long as I hit each spot and landed every trick. I gapped a driveway-to-sidewalk and then sidewalk-to-street. I snapped a lazy ollie and then grabbed the front of my board with my front hand for a mute grab on a sloped driveway. I carved around a U-bend. At the end of the bend’s curve, I locked my back truck on the jutting lip of the curb, tilting my board back into the street, and Smith grinded through the turn.
I skated to the slanted driveway—a spot with an oak tree taking up most of the front lawn before a house’s half-circle driveway where the owner never cared about the noise at night—that spilled down into the street. I could stand in the street and look straight at the tip of the driveway where a lamp cast a halo. The slanted driveway was where Adam and I learned how to drop-in, where we tied in games of S.K.A.T.E.—him doing flick tricks and me rotating full 360s—where he learned how to melon grab behind his front leg and I stalefished behind my back leg.
That night, I attempted a trick that I knew before I even met Adam. I rode up the slanted driveway and then tried to catch my board with my back hand between my toes in a frontside air above the top. My heels trailed where I’d been and my toes pointed where I was going. I jumped off my board. I ran down the driveway with my thin waffle-soled shoes slapping the concrete. My feet stung with each step. I had bailed on a familiar trick.
I wasn’t there to skate like I had with Adam, but I couldn’t help wanting to land a new trick without him. Maybe then I could figure out how to enjoy skating alone again. I’d been working on backside airs. I loved snapping an ollie, my arms spreading out for balance, and pulling my knees up for loft as I pointed my toes out to guide my board to turn through the air, clockwise.
I rode up, popped, but the board bashed my shins. The jarring reverberated up my legs. I walked it off, because I wasn’t going to quit.
Instead of trying again and tenderizing my shins more, I rolled up and backside pivoted, turning on my back truck with my wheels rotating on the edge of the driveway. I had shown Adam how to practice tricks by rotating through the motions on the ground, before attempting them in the air. I had said that you needed to slow down and feel how to turn your body since your board would follow.
I skated away and then pushed back to the driveway. The more speed the more I had to commit to the trick. I went so fast that bailing would mean scabbing. I set my back shoe in the cradle of my new board’s tail. The ball of my foot pressed against the sweet spot where I directed all my power.
I popped. I lofted. I turned. I glided. I landed. I rolled. I whooped.
I smiled, but Adam wasn’t there. His hand wasn’t out for a high-five. It wasn’t his turn to perfect his tre-flip-to-fakie—one of the last, new things I had watched him make before he moved. He would roll up, spin his board horizontally 360 degrees while also laterally rotating around itself and then stomp on the griptape before rolling down backwards.
I didn’t know why I tried the backside again. Maybe it was because I had already made the trick and I felt overly confident. Maybe it didn’t matter if I landed it or bailed, because I had already made it the first time and only the first time would be when the trick was new. Maybe I wanted to attempt the trick better or worse without Adam to witness it.
As I turned again through the air I anchored too much weight on my back foot. When I landed, my foot stomped through my board. It was cracked; nearly snapped.
I didn’t feel mad, just disappointed and exhausted. I had several miles to skate home without the commiseration of my best friend. My breathing huffed raw in my lungs.
I skated away alone from the slanted driveway with my tail dragging, skinning off plys of wood with the street’s friction.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/JosefWells