Monday, November 14, 2011

Not David Hawk

I've always been active; I've never been an athlete. Not even close. Not only am I not an athlete, I am not even close to being an athlete. By non-athlete standards, I am not an athlete. That is to say, comparing myself to non-active non-athletes, I am still not athletic. I am a non-athlete by orders of magnitude! My natural sense of balance is inferior to that of the average sedentary person. My reflexes are slower than that of the average sedentary person. Most notably, my athletic intuition is inferior to that of the average sedentary person. These things, these innate qualities of athletic persons, of non-athletic but active persons, and even of average sedentary persons, cannot be taught.

All that said, my natural sense of balance, my reflexes, my intuition, are all present to some degree. They measure greater than zero. I know this because when I first stood on my skateboard and propelled myself back and forth holding on to a guard rail, I was able to maintain balance on the board, and more importantly, I was able to tell intuitively that going one direction felt better than the other. I've since learned that I am NOT goofy-footed, meaning I prefer to set my feet on the board such that I face toward the right. I've also since learned that in the lingo, if I set me feet this way but am traveling backwards, I am not in fact riding goofy-footed but rather riding "fakie." This is more than an issue of semantics to me; this is a matter of board theory which I do not understand intuitively and have not had time to sort out yet. It is something I, because I am very intelligent, will eventually understand in great detail cognitively. As my skating progresses, I know I will find myself in precarious transitions from one familiar skateboarding state to another familiar skateboarding state in which I do not know intuitively whether I'm skating fakie or goofy and will not have time to analyse the question cognitively. That lack of athletic intuition, combined with my disequilibrium, lack of proprioception, and body boundary problems, will no doubt cause me many painful wrecks.

Take this weekend: Most people, and this includes non-active, non-athletic people, sedentary people, when they first step on a skateboard, know intuitively how to start the board in motion. More specifically, they know intuitively which foot to use to start the board in motion. Most people who are not goofy-footed, that is to say they hang their toes off the right side of the board with their right foot roughly square to the board and . . . This is very confusing . . . Let's say instead that the board is pointing north. Try to follow me here. The skater is standing on the board with his right foot facing east and his left foot and torso pointing roughly northeast. His head is pointing north and he intends to propel the board northward. The average person knows intuitively to lift his right foot, the one on the south end of the board, and place it on the ground to the east of the board forward, or northward, of where it had been on the board. That person would then push essentially southward which, since that foot is planted on the ground while the left foot is planted on a wheeled skateboard, causes the person and the skateboard to both go northward as intended. Once the board, with it's new momentum, progresses to where the part of the south end of the board where the right foot should be placed has passed, in the north-south direction, the point on the ground where the person's foot is planted, the person will then lift his foot from the ground and place it back on the board. He does all of this without thought. It just happens.

I am not the average parson. This weekend, I was standing on my board in a similar fashion with my board pointing northward and my feet and torso facing east or slightly northeast. Actually, most of the times I tried, the board was facing either east or west due to the orientation of the parking lot at my apartments. I am only saying the board was pointing north to maintain continuity from the previous paragraph and avoid confusion. I'm cool like that. Anyway, my intuition (I call it intuition because it is intuition. It is profoundly wrong intuition, but still intuition.), my intuition told me to lift my left foot from the north end of the board, the forward part of the board, if you will, and plant it on the ground to the west of the board. I then pressed my foot southward which, since it was planted on the ground, caused my body and the skateboard underneath it to move northward just as intended. Here's the problem: Since, at the start of the kicking motion, my left foot, the kicking foot, was in roughly the same position in the north-south direction as the spot of the board where the foot would eventually be replaced at the end of the kick. As I executed the kick, that spot of the board, where my foot would need to be returned in order to bring my body's center of gravity back to a stable position over the now-moving skateboard, that spot was now far northward of my left foot's plant on the ground. Worse yet, my body's center of gravity, contrary to that of the average person described in the previous paragraph who intuited correctly that he should kick with his right foot, his rearmost foot, and execute that kick on to the east side of the board, my body's center of gravity is now square above my right foot. My right foot, then, is planted on the skateboard which is moving northward. My left foot is behind my body, because I incorrectly intuited that I should execute the kick on the west side of the board, and it is planted on the ground. As my feet get further apart, necessarily, my body's center of gravity is shifting even further rearward relative to the moving skateboard where I will eventually have to replace both of my feet. Fortunately, my natural reflex ability is greater than zero. It is enough that I knew intuitively that I would have to finish what had been a controlled, measured kick with a much more forceful kick in order to help my body "catch up" to the board. This meant also contracting the muscles in my right leg such that the extra kick propelled the bulk of my torso northward without also propelling the right leg and the board northward. It would be useless to propel both my torso and the skateboard northward while my body's center of gravity is still located southward of my right foot. This extra kick would need to accelerate my body sufficiently with respect to the board that I could then lift my left foot and swing the mass of my leg and foot forward the distance it's proper place on the board has traveled since the board was set in motion. That's what I did.

I wrecked spectacularly this weekend. Twice. Fortunately, though, because I am intelligent despite my utter lack of intuition, I knew cognitively that I should not ride my skateboard before going back to Hastings to buy wrist guards and elbow pads, which I did. Otherwise I would no doubt have suffered two broken wrists. No. That's not right. I would have broken one wrist and stopped, thereby avoiding the second wreck in which I landed on the other wrist. As it is, I just got multiple contusions. Okay, a few bruises. And a cut finger. A scratched finger, really. It wasn't till later that night, as I was searching the web for information on selecting skateboard wheels, that I saw a link to a video: "Skateboarding, the Basics." I watched this gal smoothly and effortlessly propelling her skateboard across cracks and expansion joints using her rearmost foot, in front of her rather than behind her, and it looked completely natural. So naturally that anyone, even a non-active, non-athletic person, would do it that way with no thought at all.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Cool Product Pick of the Week

So, having concluded that I will never be able to overcome the social anxiety associated with whitewater kayaking, or my intense fear of water, I began searching for something just as mismatched to my level of athleticism but more terrestrial in nature to perseverate on for the next several years at least. After rigorously inventorying my own needs and desires regarding a new pastime, after analyzing its risks and potential rewards, its costs and potential benefits, its similarities and differences to previous pastimes which have failed to satisfy, and after forecasting that it will not satisfy either, I decided skateboarding was right for me! But buying my first skateboard at age 40 proved difficult, at least at first. Let me provide some framework for all of you non-skaters who don't possess the vast knowledge of skateboard set-up that I've acquired in the last two days:

Skateboards, other than cruisers and low-end boards, generally do no come complete. The ones that are sold complete are called--you guessed it--completes. The vast majority of skateboards, though, are sold with the deck and the hardware separate to allow for customization. I have deeply-rooted brand preferences regarding trucks and bearings following two days of intensive skateboard research so going the custom route is the obvious choice for me. So when I went to to build my board, I immediately selected my Independent Stage 10 Standard Trucks and Bones Super Reds Bearings (because that's what I use on all my boards) and only then began shopping for a deck. That's where the difficulty began.

Skateboarding is a young person's activity, you see. Skateboard companies, quite appropriately, design graphics for their boards which tend to appeal to young users rather than older users. I don't really know what things interest young people today, but based on the hundreds of skateboard decks I've viewed in the last two days, I'd say skulls, cheap beer, and Rastafarian pandas top the list. I'm not interested in any of these things. Still, with over 500 decks available at Skate Warehouse, there ought to be one that would appeal to a low-key, sensible forty-something like me, right? Fortunately, the web site displays brand icons for each of the 61--Yes, 61!--brands of skateboard deck which allowed me to instantly rule out at least half of them. Half of them had skulls! There were some promising brands: Think, Habitat, Element, and Loser Machine appealed to me because of the names themselves and Sims had a very simple logo that moved me. I clicked on all of them and found nothing. Element had some cool global warming graphics that I liked but they used an expensive, hollow core construction which is probably the shiznit if you're a hundred-pound teenager. I am not a hundred-pound teenager.

My skateboarding whim nearly died right there. I took a break, ate some chili dogs, and reflected on my life. Is skateboarding really the right hobby for me? Is any hobby the right hobby for me? Is it wrong to have hobbies which I know deep-down are not right for me? Is it wrong to have hobbies at all? Do my hobbies really add meaning to my life or only the illusion of meaning? Is it immoral to expend limited resources on hobbies while obligations go unmet? Without the escape of hobbies, would my psychological state become so severely damaged that I would be unable to meet my obligations regardless of the limited resources available to me? Is skateboarding really the right hobby for me?

The break restored me and I was ready to continue shopping. One by one, I clicked on every brand icon and scrolled through every board. I clicked on Dark Star. I clicked on Deathwish. I clicked on Blood Wizard, Bullet, and Threat. Then, without thought to the name at all, by mechanical repetition, expecting nothing, I made one of the most wonderful clicks I've ever made! It was one of those rare clicks that takes you from This, to That, and I was in another world! I was in the forty-year-old skateboarding world!

The brand was Mini Logo. Mini Logo, I learned, is a product line offered by Skate One which is a manufacturer supplying raw skateboard decks to many of the 61 or so other skateboard companies who put skull, cheap beer, and Rastafarian panda graphics on them and sell them as their own. Blue, for me, was an arbitrary choice made from several equally good options:

I don't think I need to explain any more the joy that the whole Mini Logo concept brings to my soul. Just the existence of such a brand, of such a brand concept, gives me hope. It gives me faith in man. And most importantly, it convinces me that skateboarding absolutely is the right hobby for me!

Whitewater Kayaking vs. Skateboarding

Whitewater Kayaking

Cost of kayak: $1000
Cost of other essential gear: more than $1200
Days per year of suitable weather: less than 30
Average driving time to river: 90 minutes each way
Shuttle required: yes
Roof rack required: yes
Four-wheel-drive required: sometimes
Social or independent: highly social
Ease of self-rescue: very difficult
Risk of maxillofacial trauma: moderate
Risk of distal radius fracture: very low
Risk of labrum tear: moderate to high
Risk of drowning: low to moderate
Intensity of fun: high
Can be enjoyed on weeknights: no


Cost of skateboard: $100
Cost of other essential gear: $0
Days per year of suitable weather: more than 300
Average driving time to skate area: 5 minutes each way
Shuttle required: no
Roof rack required: no
Four-wheel-drive required: no
Social or independent: either
Ease of self-rescue: easy
Risk of maxillofacial trauma: high
Risk of distal radius fracture: moderate to high
Risk of labrum tear: very low
Risk of drowning: very low
Intensity of fun: moderate
Can be enjoyed on weeknights: yes