The rolling hills of grass, interrupted at times by thirsty oaks, sycamores, and often-dry creek beds called us. Surrounding these usually-brown, though sometimes green grasses of the north San Fernando Valley, the landscape was –as time passed – overcome with subdivisions, shopping centers, parking lots, and schools. Yet, for a short time we found that undefined space between nature and culture; a hodgepodge of storm drains, culverts, and as-of-yet unoccupied streets. It was atop and within these transgressive spaces that we dared skate. Our youthful bodies would climb up and ride down, only becoming somewhat tired as the streetlights came on, telling us it was time to go home. My twelve-year old self and those I hung out with were not alone as Southern California in the late 70s and early 80s emerged as the center of the newly expanding skate universe.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t really picked up a skateboard since that time. Going off to college, working, quitting, working again, getting married, kids, soccer games and band concerts all pleasantly occupied my time. Yet, as an increasingly middle-age dude still living in Southern California, and one who studies urban geography – something was calling me! A few years ago, I began studying and evaluating the activity of skateboarding, focusing on the ways in which it serves as a transitional activity that connects the human body with the ever-changing landscape below. I began to see again – if only in my mind – the thrill of gliding along a sidewalk, or up and down the otherwise ignored grooves and slopes that are engineered into our driveways. I began considering the possibilities that skateboarding might hold for society as a whole. Moving toward more inclusive and sustainable forms of transit, both my research and my daily practice of mobility considered the possibilities.
I purchased an electric skateboard – the ‘last mile’ solution – about a year ago and have been rediscovering the fun ever since. At first, my ‘non-traditional’ age gave me some doubt as to how I might be viewed. Questions swirled in my head about this – middle-age, wearing a helmet, trying to hard to be cool. Over time however, there really was not such a reaction. In fact, people are typically quite curious, smiling as I glide by and often asking questions, or wanting to know how my board works. I’m not the only ‘non-traditional’ rider out there, as many who grew up in the 70s and 80s during the birth of skating have either been continually riding or have, like myself rediscovered the sport. And with the explosion of electric boards, scooters, bikes, and other increasingly accessible and fun rides, I don’t see this trend coming to an end anytime soon.
Based on my research, teaching, and riding, I find I’ve become an advocate for skateboarding and the use of all self-powered or charged ride-ables. When riding, I proudly wear my somewhat cool Sector 8 helmet and glide effortlessly up the hills in my Northeast L.A. neighborhood. Equally important, I employ the reassuring use of the brake as I inevitably come back down those very same hills. The ride is no stress (well, maybe a little…), exhilarating (quite a lot), and carbon neutral (or very close to that…)
All who spend their days stuck feeling the lifeless and sanitized ride of the car should consider the options. With more of us out there – of varying ages, abilities, lifestyles and looks – the streets and sidewalks have no choice but to become safer! As we all ride more, we continue on a path that makes our streets safe for all users. On the campus where I work, more students are riding scooters, and there’s been a slow, but noticeable growth in electric boards. Still, the presence of a professor riding along with them is somewhat rare. But the rare looks I do get from students are of interest and support, not derision. With the disappearance of the oak covered hills and sycamore canyons – let’s at least reclaim the spaces that remain – that until recently have been given completely and utterly to the car. So join me, and others in putting on that helmet, grabbing an old board, new board, your kid’s scooter or bike and frolicking once again in the hills of our youth – only this time with a boost as you go up…
Lorne Platt is a University Lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona