I spent a week talking about skateboarding. Not a day went by that I did not give my 'Everything I Know I Learned From Skateboarding' talk during Bookweek. The more I did that particular talk, the more I really thought about what I was saying. It's a catchy title, but it's also the honest truth.
The talk is divided into three parts highlighting how we see 'failure'. There's failure because you have not taken the steps to succeed. Failure because you made a mistake (which as you grow older you understand is not a failure at all, but a necessary part of the process) and failure because others make you feel as though you have failed.
The main idea in the final third is the way people laugh at others mistakes. I enjoyed this part of the talk the most as I saw a number of kids understand exactly what I was talking about. That fear of making mistakes in front of people is huge. But in skateboarding, we all fall. We fall all the time. It's inevitable, it's part of it. If you don't fall, you don't learn. But that goes toward pretty much everything in life.
One of the other take aways from that part of the talk is the idea that we, as humans, get to decide who we are; others do not. I hope this idea hit for some of the kids because it's far too easy to let others dictate what you are good at, how you suck, and who you are. It's such a learning process (and by it I mean life) that if someone else tells you you can or cannot do something, it's pretty easy to go along with them.
This particular talk had a lot of skateboarding videos in it as well. While I watched Torey Pudwill and Chris Joslin destroy the streets and themselves, I thought about how much skateboarding has brought to my life; and still does. When I was younger it helped bring me a sense of identity. It was something I did and something I was. A skateboarder. It meant a lot to have something concrete to see myself as. That perception, and the sport, drifted when I joined a band and started spending more time on music. It disappeared almost completely when I was in University and trying to figure out how to be a writer. But in the past few years, it has come back into my life in a huge way. My kids skateboard with me now. It's an awesome bonding thing to watch them grow and find their way in the sport. For me, though, it's changed. It's not so linked to my identity any longer. Instead, it's something so calming and pure for me that I find it difficult to go more than a day or two without at least cruising around. I need focus to land certain tricks.We lose the ability to focus as we grow. It's also physical exercise, which is very necessary. I have run a couple of marathons, but I'd much rather spend 3 hours at the skatepark now than 3 hours running trails. Skateboarding helps empty my mind. The free movements, the flow of it all. Without it, writing would be much more difficult. It has given me back an inner calm I used to take for granted.
I understand that I'm an almost 42 year old man and this all looks like some sad mid-life crisis, but I'm not buying a Porsche (though that'd be awesome too) or doing any of the other things that seem to strike men when they hit my age. I'm returning to something that has, for a lot of my life, brought me a great deal of joy.
One of the best parts of the TD Canada Trust Bookweek for me was going into schools with a lot of skaters. These kids have changed over the years. Their fashion is mainstream without meaning to be. It's not a rebel thing any longer. There's an understanding that the guys on the wheels in parks are not the same ones spray painting their horrible scrawls all over the place. But still, when I got up there in front of hundreds of kids and asked 'What is the first thing you learn on a skateboard? The second.' and these kids were able to put their hands up and answer my questions, to be the authorities for once, that felt great. My teenage self was looking forward at me then and saying, 'I could have used that, you know.' So I hope, if nothing else, I gave some kids a feeling of worth. A feeling that they are not wasting their time or are never going to amount to anything simply because they find joy in standing sideways on a board.