When I got to campus as a freshman, I laughed at the scooters zooming around, dodged out of the way of bikes and gazed with envy at every skateboard that crossed my path.
My mom always refused to buy me a board because one time decades ago my aunt fell and broke her elbow while riding one (thanks, Aunt Alicia). One day, I came to the realization that I had my own money. And my own Amazon account. And my mom was nowhere in sight. The board came the next day, and the rest is a series of painful yet liberating lessons.
The day my bright green and purple board came from Amazon, I learned that not all skateboards are created equal. A penny board seemed like a great first board, or so I thought. Penny boards are super small and light—perfect to carry through crowded hallways. It turns out that they’re also the least stable and the hardest to learn. They’re the opposite of a longboard, which is basically a surfboard with wheels.
I fell. A lot. The vast majority of my jeans have giant rips in the knees. Some of them are even recent—I’m still eating dirt two years after learning.
My first bad fall was in the middle of the busiest quad on campus. As I sat on the ground and gingerly felt my scraped knee starting to bleed, I had a brief flash of panic. I could have broken something. I could have given myself a concussion. I wouldn’t be able to march in the band, do homework or participate in the typical college lifestyle all because I had to be stubborn and learn how to ride something that lacks handlebars and brakes.
A second flash of panic followed in the form of several cute guys chasing my runaway board and water bottle down the quad. I received a helping hand and a quick question about my bodily health and was sent on my way. It turns out that people in college aren’t that judgemental—we’re all learning something, whether it’s skateboarding, molecular physics or the fine art of making your way through a thunderstorm without an umbrella.
It took many rides across the quad, but I slowly stopped feeling self-conscious whenever my board clicked loudly over the cracks in the sidewalk and people turned to look. I even took a bow after one particularly spectacular wipeout. People were already looking as a priest helped me off the ground (Catholic school perks). Why not own it?
Surviving (and getting places) on your skateboard is all about balance, being aware of your surroundings and knowing when it’s time to give up and hop off. I found all of these things difficult, evidenced by my near-constant stumbles and panicked leaps. But by the end of fall semester freshman year I reached a point where I could scoot to class every day with few problems.
A surprising part of skateboarding is that I still don’t know what I’m doing. There’s always a slightly different way I could push off with my foot, or I meet someone who stands on the board way differently and insists that their method is better. And surprisingly, I’m ok with it. Skateboarding is a continuous learning process just like everything you randomly throw yourself into, and I try to never pretend I know more than another skateboarder. Because chances are I don’t, and future me will totally find a way to come smack me if I pretend I do.
Yeah I fall, rip my new jeans and generally look like an idiot speeding to class, but it’s worth it for the sheer thrill of knowing there’s so much room to improve. I will never be Tony Hawk, but I’m definitely a more determined individual. If I can stick with something that leaves me bloody and my new clothes shredded, what could possibly stop me?