If you’d met me last year, wild wouldn’t have been the first word that sprang to mind.
Mature, maybe. Or sensible. I was definitely sensible. Fast forward through a career change and general life crisis, though, and I was up for anything: Tuesday night tequila shots, my first competitive long-distance ocean swim, Nepalese food; a spin in a stunt plane...
So when I’m challenged to learn how to skateboard, I immediately say yes – despite the fact I’m totally uncoordinated. My instructor Karim, who’s been teaching skateboarding for 10 years, isn’t fazed by my little handicap. “Women always start off by telling me how uncoordinated they are,” he says. “I reckon it’s just that they’re more tentative than men.”
He tells me about one of his female students, a 32-year-old who claimed to be as accident-prone as I am. “She only came because she heard skateboarding could improve snowboarding skills. Ten lessons later, she’s killing it.”
We might not skateboard as much as boys – only 26 per cent of skateboarders in the world are female, American Sports Data research found – but that doesn’t mean we can’t. In fact, women have two major things in our favour, Karim says: better flexibility (necessary for getting down low), and a better understanding of the way our bodies move – the same understanding that makes us smoother on a dance floor.
My optimism kicks up a notch when I realise I’ll be learning on netball courts – there’s not a skate ramp in sight. Phew.
Karim tells me that your average skater is actually a “cruiser”; someone who uses their board like a bicycle, for trips to the shops or beach. Visions of me nonchalantly skating to the corner store while a crowd of onlookers watch admiringly pop into my head. I could be a cruiser...Training wheels on
We start by breaking down the bits and pieces of the skateboard. I’m on a basic cruiser today. It’s got four tennis-ball-sized wheels, and a board (also known as a deck) that curves upwards at both ends. The front end of the board is called the nose; the back is the tail. Makes sense.
Next, it’s time to work out which way I skate – “natural” (my left foot in front) or “goofy” (my right foot in front). Karim instructs me to put my feet together, let myself fall forward, and wait to see which leg comes out first to break my fall. My left leg does – so that’s my leading leg.
Before I step on it, I need to commit the number-one rule of skateboarding to memory: keep my in-built shock absorbers (knees) bent at all times. Good idea.
With my feet properly positioned on the board (see below), we test my balance. Knees bent, I align my body over my front foot and lean onto it. The board gently rolls forward… but I can balance on it. Bang!
Next is the actual skating motion. Once I’m moving, Karim tells me, I need to get my feet into the “skate” position as quickly as possible. This means three quick pushes with my back foot, placing it sideways onto the tail of the board, and keeping most of my weight in the front foot, heel-toeing my front foot so that both my feet face sideways. Seems simple enough. Er, not.I breathe in, take three small pushes with my back foot and… I’m skating!
Mid-roll, I put my left foot back on the ground, transferring my weight off the board. “Well done,” Karim calls out. “That’s exactly how to stop.” I beam with pride. Twenty minutes later, I’ve zig-zagged up and down the courts in all directions. Turns out Karim wasn’t lying – it’s not that difficult. Though I’m sweating like a Bikram addict.
“Skating is thirsty work,” Karim admits. Legs, core, coordination and balance all get a workout. That’s why the best skaters have a background in dance or gymnastics.
“You need to use both body and mind; if you’re not 100 per cent focused, you fall.” Right. I definitely have no interest in that.Skate… floored
Half a drink bottle later, I learn to turn – and it’s easier than I’d anticipated. Leaning forwards onto your toes helps you turn inwards (a toe turn); leaning backwards onto your heels helps you turn outwards (a heel turn). You can also turn a lot more effectively if you twist your torso towards your desired direction – easily achieved by pointing your arm where you want to go.
I’m completely absorbed in veering left, right, left, right (“carving”) when Karim calls out to me to take it easy. “I’m fine!” I yell back. Predictably, at that moment I get the wobbles. Milliseconds later I’m somersaulting over the asphalt, coming to a standstill on my back. Ouch.
The most common injuries for beginners are minor skin scrapes and bruised egos – I’ve just sustained both. But I’m OK. I get up, get back on, and the next time I fall (yep, I take a second tumble) I’m following Karim’s rule: keep low. This means staying so close to the ground that when I reach down, there’s only 15-30cm between my hand and the court. It makes a difference.
Despite my falls, I’m hooked. I can skate faster than a brisk walk, plus I can turn, weave through generously spaced cones, and come to a dignified stop (sort of). It’ll take about 10 hours of practice before I can use my board in everyday life, like a bike, says Karim – but
I’m on my way. See you at the corner store…
Georgia Rickard was a guest of Sydney’s Kman skate school.