You’re never too old …
... or are you?
So skateboarding will be an Olympic sport for the first time in Tokyo in 2020.
During my late teens and early 20s, my brother Don and I were among the pioneers of skateboarding in the mid- to late-1970s.
We first encountered a skateboard when a friend, Trish Malcomess, daughter of the Progressive Federal Party MP John, brought around a really short board that her dad had got for her while on a trip to the US.
That was around 1974. Soon there was a great blossoming of skateboarding in East London and, no doubt, elsewhere around the country. It was very popular among surfers who would go skating when the wind was blowing from the east.
But the boards were very different to what they are today. I have been saddened, over the past decade or so during which this sport has experienced a resurgence, to note that the boards are long, wide and cumbersome, often with tiny wheels.
The boards we rode – and many guys made their own from perspex and resin, as used in making surfboards – were generally short, with the softish polyurethane wheels fairly large in comparison. This made them incredibly manoeuvrable. It wasn’t long before the more daring okes were heading off to sites where giant four- to six-metre diameter concrete pipes had been left lying around. They would end up soaring up both sides of these pipes, rising to dizzy heights.
I didn’t get into this sort of daring activity. Neither was I one of those who visited empty swimming pools, there to drop down the side and explore the pool’s walls.
No, there were two schools of skateboarding, even back then. The truly laid back okes, like me, relished simply cruising around and feeling the wind through our hair (which we still had in abundance back then). But there was one area of expertise which I perfected, and that was to ride sloping gutters like they were a wave.
In Bonza Bay that meant heading to Syringa Avenue. From the Forward Lane corner you’d push your way up a gentle slope almost as far as Briar Lane. Then, hopefully with a breeze behind you (it was better on a westerly), as a natural footer I’d either ride the “gutter wave” on the right- or left-hand side of the road.
This was just like surfing. You’d “hit the lip” and head back down before doing a “bottom turn” and hitting that gutter again and again. It was a serious adrenalin rush. And, as the road slope increased, after the Forward Lane corner, so your speed would increase. At what is now the intersection with Kersboom Crescent you’d have to get down low and perform a seriously speedy 360-degree turn, before heading back up Syringa Avenue again.
It was great to swop sides as you headed down the road, so at one point you would be riding facing the “wave” and at the next with your back to it, just as you would on a real wave, going either right or left, depending on whether you were a natural or a goofy foot.
I’ve kept an eye out to see if today’s youth have thought of doing this on our roads, but have seen no evidence of it. Instead, all I’ve seen are those large, ungainly boards which they now use to perform a “sport” which is a far cry from what it was originally. Now it has become an aggressive “extreme” sport with a culture more closely linked to inner-city graffiti-spraying youth than to the cool, laid-back surfer dudes who pioneered it in the 1970s.
I had always hoped I’d be able to ride the gutters again, but the boards were all wrong. Then, earlier this year, I discovered you could buy short boards similar to those we had in the 1970s. I was told they were actually meant for children.
So I got one from Sportsman’s Warehouse in Port Elizabeth. But I put off riding the thing for months, fearing that at my age, 59, if I fell off I’d probably do myself a serious injury.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I plucked up the courage and took the board with us during a stroll along the beachfront. I pushed, stood on the thing, and started to enjoy myself. I don’t think the wheels flowed as easily as they did back in the day, but I made progress, as we headed from King’s Beach along the esplanade to Hobie Pier.
It was on the way back, at Humewood, that disaster struck. Luckily, as Arlo Guthrie might have said, I didn’t hit a stone and get thrown off. Instead, I seemed to put in one push too many and the Achilles tendon on my right leg told me to stop right away.
I have been limping somewhat ever since.
Perhaps if I had done some warming-up exercises it wouldn’t have happened.
However, the sad reality seems to be that when you reach this sort of age, the mind may be willing to do all sorts of things, but very often the body isn’t.
Anyone for chess?
Kin rekindles his youth on a short skateboard near the McArthur Baths on the Port Elizabeth beachfront.
His wife Robyn took the picture.