The Spirits of Skateboarding's Sprained Ankles

The Spirits of Skateboarding's Sprained Ankles

Sprained Ankle, What Happened

About four weeks ago, I sprained my ankle. Funny how all it takes to get injured is one tiny perfect mistake. Especially considering the thousands of slams I've taken. Hard ones. I don't even mind slamming. Sometimes I enjoy it. Getting up from a bad fall and realizing I'm not dead is like an accomplishment. 

I was trying to do a backside wallride, nollie shuv behind me, and land back on the wall. At the Astoria park wallride spot, under the bridge. The wall is slightly angled, not 90 degrees. On that day, the weather was humid. Then the rain started. I had about 30 feet of dryness because of the bridge overhead. I tried for about an hour. Got pretty close a few times. I was completely soaked in sweat and very uncomfortable. As my energy started to drain, I got into the go-for-it mode. I spun the nollie shuv and tried to stomp it, but the board already got away from me. My front foot landed heel on the wall and toes on the ground, and all my weight shifted onto my ankle as it twisted because of how it was wedged. 

As I felt the sharp, snap-like sensation of twisting my ankle, I closed my eyes for a second and saw a few stars and a flash of white light. I sat on the asphalt, examined my ankle, stayed as calm as possible, felt my sweat go a little cold, and accepted the immense pain. The instant the mistake happened I knew I would be out of commission for longer than usual. And as I sat with all the fire inside me stamped out, my ankle rapidly swelling, I contemplated one thing. "Can I do one more?" Because as a skater, once you're injured you know there's a window of adrenaline that sometimes gives you one or a few more tries. But I told myself no. The seriousness of the sprain made my ankle useless. The trick was not worth extra pain or permanent damage. So I taped it and skated very slowly a mile back to my place. 

Learning From Skateboard Injuries 

The last time I sprained my ankle as badly was about 20 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school. I knew the deal. First, the ankle will grow to the size of a baseball, then the bruising will start - deep purple, nearly black in color. And if you do not wait long enough and try to skate again, it will feel like your tendon is being ripped in half like paper once it is forced to flex. I did the ice, the rest, the whole thing. At this point, I'm almost fully healed. Just have scar tissue. 

For the past few years, I've kept a fairly strict routine of skating one to three times a week. Part of that routine is also recording a video of a trick that I deem worthy of attention. Getting disrupted from the routine gave me some minor depression. Like many long-time skateboarders and athletes, I'm accustomed to being sore, to having small injuries or abrasions which require care. And while I know that something like an ankle sprain is part of the game, the monotony of recuperating for an extended period was challenging. 

Adult Skateboarding Perspective

Skateboarding as an adult requires much more patience. To time manage, to mentally and physically prepare, to land difficult tricks, and to recover. As I grow in age, I have become aware of the total investment. Ultimately, I want to skate as well as I can, to perform at my highest level. 

Which is surprising, in a way. I've been skating for 25 years or so. Sometimes I wonder what possesses me to still push my limits, to learn more, or to hone a given skill. But I don't question my motivation to such a degree that I allow the absurdity to lead into a reasonable argument against skateboarding. I know I'm a geriatric skateboarder. Perhaps interestingly, I feel like I'm in better shape now at 34 than I did at 20-years-old. I have stronger muscles, better stamina, I'm hydrated, my bones are denser. Maybe even more importantly, I have come to accept my skateboarding as part of my human experience. That acceptance took a long time. Like with all creative acts, there are millions of reasons to not do the thing that are really persuasive. 

I've put a lifetime of energy into understanding skateboarding. I have no regrets. I accept the risks and the physical outcomes, even if detrimental. Being an adult skateboarder has brought me closer to myself because I have learned to give my inner child permission to explore. I don't have the negative voices of authority figures in my head anymore telling me how stupid skateboarding is. How it is going to ruin my life. They were all wrong. And now I believe I know why. 

Spirituality and Skateboarding

My assumption is that the adults of my youth, including my dad, were spiritually bankrupt. And when they saw my soul flourishing through skateboarding, a thing which cannot be controlled, they were angry. Upset that they did not have access to a similar form of prayer. Unwilling to put in the thousands of hours of work it takes to reach those singularly unique and in-the-moment splashes of pure joy. 

Essentially, that's the coin skateboarders toss. One side is bliss and the other side is brutality. We gamble with our bodies. Some days you win, some days you eat shit. If you are a true skater, you accept either result with gratitude. And you simply never quit. 

A lot of people will say they consider skateboarding a type of freedom. Maybe even freedom of expression. That it is an activity without rules. Or, skating is a subculture that subverts the rules of society. A version of all these perspectives may be true, to a degree. Surely it depends on the individual. However, if we as skaters are honest with ourselves, we can all recognize that there is a huge amount of conformity within the community. 

Skateboarding and Conformity 

Listen to vert dudes talk about the tuck knee, and observe the near non-existence of boneless-derivative or grab tricks in the streets. How just about nobody seen as legit wears pads or a helmet when skating street or even big transition. The structure of skateboard videos, meaning what lens they are shot with, the cinematic style, and how they are formatted and edited. To mention just a few things. Like with every other sales-based industry, there are trends that people follow. Pick a moment in skateboarding history and you can easily find numerous examples of widespread conformity. And, thousands of children or childlike adults protecting a given time's status quo by way of ridicule. The good old fashioned jock mentality. And that is disheartening because skaters also attempt to represent an alternative to the mainstream. 

The "subculture" of skateboarding definitely invents and adheres to its own set of rules and expectations and radically excludes anyone who does not fall in line. In this way, skating is just a microcosm of broader society. The people who enforce the bullshit are not subverting anything at all. They are just clones. I don't expect this will ever change. And, I actually find it amusing. Also, isolating. 

I suppose I used to hold the opinion that skating was subversive and alternative because of all the reasons determined by the community. Now in my adulthood, I disagree with most of the messaging, even while I consume much of the media and content. Here is my take. Skateboarding is a spiritual vehicle that I use to discover myself and find meaning in my environment. Paul O'Connor's book Skateboarding and Religion explores this concept in depth. I've read a portion. Maybe I should wade through the whole text. 

Skateboarding as Holy Vehicle

By spiritual vehicle I mean the act of skateboarding provides me with a specific mind-body alignment. That alignment then allows me to gain an intimate, animal-like connection with my soul. And within that space, I activate a visceral understanding of and relationship with my immediate surroundings. All of which is like a state of prayer, wherein the worshiper humbles themself against the unfathomable, awesome mystery of the universe. 

Perhaps that sounds ridiculous. But in the urban and suburban environments of my life, I have found no better way to experience peace and joy. Even though that peace and joy is predicated on the violence and chaos of skateboarding. If the society of my world could give me the opportunity to walk barefoot into the forest and listen to the whispers of the ghosts in the tree bark to connect with the universe, I would do that. That's not my world, though. As a skater, I am trapped in the architectural maze of the city, and it is my duty and honor to carve out the meaning in my environment as I see fit, according to my rules and no one else's. 

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