I met with a new therapist for the first time last week, and as part of her initial intake, she wanted to know what I’m currently doing to manage my anxiety — what my self-care routine was. I could have answered with any number of things; I go on long walks, I journal. I make tea, I knit. But the thing that bubbled up to me first was an answer I can tell she wasn’t expecting: “Oh. Mostly I skateboard.”
Self-care is the word in 2018. It’s all skincare and potions and crystals and tarot and affirmations and going dark on social media. I did all that (let’s be real, I’ve got quartz and carnelian in my purse) but last summer, I got it in my head that the only way to set myself straight was to learn how to do something that scared me. Skateboarding — namely, any moving thing with wheels — terrified me.
I should probably clarify a bit: I’m a skateboarder that doesn’t know how to drop in a half-pipe; I’ve never learned to do an ollie. I bail out on big hills and avoid roads with too much traffic. But I can scoot around my neighborhood and feel the wind in my hair on a summer afternoon. I’ve fallen off a few times and gotten back on. I can hear the whirr of my wheels speeding up and know that I’ll make it down a slope in one piece. I call myself a skater because I think I deserve the term. I skate; that’s good enough for me.
I’ve never been a natural athlete; I grew up distrusting my body and questioning the way it worked. I stopped being proud of my body past elementary school; suddenly it was the reason I was making the B team instead of the A team, and it was the reason boys did or didn’t like me. My body was a burden, and last summer, it was doing the thing that bodies do in their late twenties: it was changing in a way that felt out of my control.
Body positivity aside, I wanted to feel strong; I wanted to feel mean (such an Aries mentality, ugh). I wanted to do a thing that no one else I knew could do. I wanted the thing I chose to scare me and to seem nearly impossible. Skateboarding fit all those parameters. At 27, I still can’t ride a bike. How the hell was I going to learn how to skateboard?
I bought my first board on sale, telling myself that if it didn’t work out, I’d only lost about 50 bucks. The day it came in the mail, I ripped open the packaging and surveyed my purchase. It was 22 inches of hard plastic, purple with neon orange wheels. It looked like a toy. It smelled like a toy. Picking it up out of the box, I was surprised to find it was heavier than I’d expected, and the hardware on the trucks (yes, there was vocabulary to learn, too) felt sturdy, expensive, even. Every part of it was completely foreign to me.
At first, my only goal was to stand on the thing and not fall off. It was surprisingly easy. I cheered aloud for myself in my apartment (yes, if I was going to fall, I wanted it to be in the anonymous quiet of my own living space). By the end of that first hour, I could stand up, push off, roll across the length of my apartment, and stop without wobbling. It felt like a victory, like a rebellion. Skateboarding was a thing that was impossible for someone like me, yet here I was, challenging that idea.
Over the next several weeks of that summer, I fell deeply, deeply in love with the nooks and crannies of my neighborhood and with the way that golden hour felt laced with adrenaline and sweat. Every time I stood at the top of a hill and prepared to launch forward, I had the passing thought that Yeah, this could kill me, and I carried that carelessness in my pocket like a talisman. My body was my own to ruin; I was owning it, and not the other way around. I was reclaiming control.
Every hill I survived, every evening I came home with mosquito bites and ears throbbing from SZA’s Ctrl was another evening I’d chosen to live, to do what people didn’t think of when they thought of me: being dangerous, strong. Maybe even, in the right light, cool. Riding is a reinvention of self that exists in a field of 22 inches and moves with the speed of summer rain: a vehicle that propels me.