Flow in Skateboarding: The Meditative Aspects of Bowl Skating

Flow in Skateboarding: The Meditative Aspects of Bowl Skating

Pushing vs Pumping, Varying Approaches to Skateboarding

One major difference between street and transition skating is the pushing. In a bowl, you just pump and flow, there's no pushing whatsoever. At the beginning of my entry into learning how to develop flow on transition, pumping was exhausting. My quads would burn up and my lungs would gas out within a few minutes. In a way, street skating is like sprinting, whereas bowl skating is like long-distance running. If your endurance isn't up, you can't do it. To a degree, transition skating requires more athleticism. You may see a heap of overweight beer drinking types on the ramps and in the bowls, but don't be fooled. They have core strength like defensive linemen and balance. 

In my early 20s, I would go skate around NYC with a pack of cigarettes and push all over the place. Cruising the city is typically more fun than skating one spot. The spontaneity, the weaving in and out of traffic, and the music of the experience is unparalleled. If I was thirsty, I would pop into a deli, get a Gatorade or a water, and then keep it moving. I pushed in Greenpoint and Williamsburg by myself or with a friend after drinking late at night, in an attempt to claim ownership of some piece of the streets. My attitude while doing this was intense, aggressive, playful, and a little sarcastic. I never do this kind of skating anymore. 

As I reflect on that time, I don't believe the actual skating was ever that physically taxing. I might have pushed hard for two or three blocks, picking up a good amount of speed to tail-scrape a sewer cap or ollie into or off of a curb cut, but never much longer than that. And in between the sprints, the pace was probably leisurely. The smoking affected me in this regard, too, but not to any major extent because of my young age. Part of my interest in taking this approach, I know, also had to do with putting myself as a skater in the street on display. I wanted to make whatever incoherent statement about my youth I concocted in my head visible to others in the city. To see me as a skater, not a regular, walking conformist - or, to that effect. 

Adults and How They Skateboard

By my late 20s, I let nearly all of that go. The self-imposed notion of wanting to be cool almost naturally disappeared. Largely, the shift had to do with ultimately sinking into the monotony of the working world. Dropping the idea that I was exceptional because of skateboarding. Moving on from the concept that skating inherently made me special. Forfeiting the subtle superiority complex that skaters learn or wear based on the folk tales present in the community. 

I became a guy who you wouldn't know skated. And then, I became more of a skater, from a creative standpoint. The image was gone. The group of essentially kids I hung out with dispersed into separate adult lives, the carousing lessened. My skateboarding life was peeled down to the core. It turned into me and my board, almost like I was starting at the beginning. 

Dropping in and pumping bowls, mainly at Owl's Head and Bethpage, I definitely felt like a beginner in many ways. The transition skillset is almost the opposite of street. Your feet are on the board the entire time, and gaining speed comes from finding harmony with the ramps. I taught myself how to accelerate with the least effort by traveling with the transition. The aggression I previously used to excel in street skating, as well as the sprinting mentality, was counterproductive in bowl skating. Going for it blindly, as I had done jumping stairs and gaps, doesn't really apply. Suddenly, I was studying the transition and mentally mapping out exactly where I had to take off and land. You need to carve a path in the bowl according to its design and the limitation of the structure, or else the flow will evade you, your speed will drop, and you will be reduced to hideous childlike kickturns that will sap your energy. The endurance factor, the alignment with the architecture, and the overarching perspective versus the myopic approach in street, all derived from my maturity as a so-called adult. 

I once read that Michelangelo in his older years was able to easily hack off chunks of marble that people half his age couldn't, even though they were stronger, because he knew precisely where to place his hammer or chisel. In my estimation, that's how transition skateboarding works and why it is favorable for the geriatric, knowledgeable skater. 

Without question, thousands of young skaters rip on transition, too, and have nothing to do with any of what I'm describing, because of their access to and interest in familiarizing themselves with the terrain earlier in their skate life. The athleticism I mentioned also breeds a sporty toxicity in these folks, primarily boys. Like with local street skaters at parks, the bowl kids have a routine, one they believe isn't perceptible. They will drop in, execute what tricks they know they can because they have done them a million times, and use that memorized series to impress or intimidate non-locals. I don't know that I have ever spoken to anyone who does this about their decision, but the routine of their moves is very clear, and reveals the level of their emotional intelligence. 

Regardless of the venue, street or transition, attention seeking through skateboarding, by skaters for skaters - measuring - is stupid. I personally never automatically elevated my opinion of anyone based on their skill level, or forgave how much of an asshole they were because of it. Generally speaking, however, the friendliness of transition skateboarding for a wider range of age groups brings in more positivity. Bowl or ramp skaters are nicer than street skaters, more often than not. Though I do observe less and less tribalism and insecurity among the street set as the years go on. 

Now, I set out with knee pads, elbow pads, padded shorts, knee gaskets, a wrist guard, a helmet, an extra shirt, extra socks, a towel or rag to wipe my sweat, a tripod, an external charger, tape, skate shoes, Crocs or moccasins, and at least 48 oz of water in a reusable bottle. The cigarettes are gone. I also prefer to drive. There's substantially more preparation and gear involved compared to my earlier days. 

Skateboarding and Mindfulness

When I feel the desire to be calm, or when I notice I am worrying too much, I listen to Buddhist talks by Thich Nhat Hanh. Mindfulness and peace are his main concepts. He gives countless examples of how to strive toward those mental states, such as how to wash dishes. In wanting to be calm, to worry less, I try to implement his suggestions into my spiritual practice, which is skating. During my sessions, I try to focus only on my skateboarding. All ideas and thoughts connected to the self I have in society are sorta put on hold. At my best, I am less than conscious of the fact that I am even skating. Through extreme concentration, I start to see the zoomed-in details of my immediate environment. Dust, pebbles, leaves, fractures in the concrete. And I relive the trick I am trying hundreds of times, wanting to land it, and the repetition, the process, relaxes me. Sometimes I am straining my vision too much by looking only at the ground or the obstacle where I will perform my attempt again, so then I look up at the sky or at some trees for relief.  

When I apply my energy to this kind of mindfulness, deeply concentrating, I suddenly realize I am in a body, and I hear and feel my breathing with superb clarity. I know just how vital it is that I consume enough water to power my body. And the sweat just pours off of me, temperature-regulating instead of from stress, and I feel more and more cleansed as the session goes on, even as I am aware of my draining physical energy. If I am pushing myself hard enough, maxing out that day's physical limit, I will reach a point where I know it could be damaging to my health to go further. Whether because of dehydration, muscle fatigue, bruising, or the increased risk of injury as a result of overall exhaustion. The true nature of my being, my presence in that moment, the application of my rage and anxiety and its translation into a type of prayer - these positives come at a cost. 

It is the cost of the body that I know better in that mindful state than at any other moment. So there is a bit of a crossroads. If I continue, I may reach a higher, calmer state of enlightenment, if I land the trick. But, I am liable to endure a level of pain that will instantly knock my mind clean off this blissful plane. I might also just exhaust myself beyond reasonability, fail to accomplish the maneuver, and depress back down to my normal, societal position. I will risk the failure and disappointment most of the time, because I know the possibility of success is worth that risk. 

The calm that washes over me in the wake of landing a hard trick is incomparable. It's funny, too, how the attempt that becomes the land has an unusual silence, both during the maneuver and in the few seconds after when you are riding away. The world, for a flash, is a blank infinite room, with no shape and no dimension, and you are the only one in it. You both know who you are in an absolute sense and also become nothing, nobody, and everyone. 

The way bowls specifically alter my understanding of the physical world, because of the alternation in axis, the orientation as it relates to gravity, and the mental flow, is more conducive to this transcendental goal and potential outcome. The rate of success varies and is seemingly random, but I am more likely to reach my meditative goals on transition terrain. 

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