Midlife Crisis: The Unaccomplished Longboarder
Most of the time this blog features something obviously related to fly-fishing, although admittedly The Unaccomplished Angler does occasionally veer ever so slightly off course. With today’s content those reading (all 13 of you) may think that I am officially and completely off my rocker, but I ask for your patience. If you wait for it I promise that you’ll see how it relates to fly-fishing as I drone on about my latest endeavor.
I turned 52 this year and my mid-life crisis appears to be skateboarding: longboarding, to be exact. For those not in the know, Longboard is both a brand of beer that I rather enjoy, as well as a style of skateboard whereby the wheelbase and deck are considerably longer than the skateboards that we currently-middle-aged-types grew up on. Starting typically at 40 inches in length and extending farther, today’s longboards dwarf the 20-something inchers of 40 years ago. The manner of riding a longboard is also vastly different from what was considered ‘rad’ back in the day. The way of the longboard involves ‘campus cruising’ and downhill racing at breakneck speeds, as opposed to what we did as kids. No doubt there are still those who do tricks and ride skateboards at contoured skate parks around the globe, but it’s the longboard that intrigues me at this point in life.
As a youth/teenager in the mid to late 70’s—when Saturday Night Live was in its infancy, disco threatened to musically ruin the world, Pet Rocks were all the rage, and every adolescent boy had a certain Farrah Fawcett poster on the wall of their bedroom—skateboards came on the scene with all the intensity of a raging storm off the north shore of Oahu. My first recollection of the skateboard craze was when 7-Eleven stores began selling cheap, plastic-decked boards with ‘rubber’ wheels: One could walk into a convenience store, grab a Slurpee, a pack of Bubble Yum and a skateboard for less than what a week’s worth of Starbucks Caffè Frappamacaccino drinks cost today. Overnight it seemed as though all the cool kids were getting skateboards, and in my ill-fated attempt at being cool I awkwardly jumped on that bandwagon. I distinctly remember my first board: a Makaha. It had a kicktail which were all the rage at the time. It was orange. I thought it was pretty boss.
I don’t recall how much my first skateboard cost but I can safely assume that it was not a high-end offering. My older brother, Hal, got in on the craze as well. I vividly remember his board for its unique translucent blue deck which apparently allowed one to view the road underfoot, like a glass bottom boat. His board was made by Nash Skateboards, which I only know from having found the information on the internets: a veritable treasure trove of information designed to jog a fleeting middle-aged memory.
With the advent of the polyurethane wheel in the early 1970’s, gone were the dangerously slippery clay wheels of yore (and the steel wheels that preceded even clay). The modern rubbery wheels gripped the pavement with an added measure of efficiency—and safety, which was a undoubtedly a good thing because back then helmets hadn’t yet been invented. I was never overly accomplished as a skateboarder, but I did a fair amount of riding. While empty swimming pools may have been a much sought-after pursuit for concrete surfers back in the day, that wasn’t my scene. Aside from an inherent lack of swimming pools (empty or otherwise) I was in a much lower class of skateboarder. I spent my time after school pushing around the junior high school grounds, tick-tacking and trying a variety of other slow-speed tricks, nearly all without success.
I seem to recall hand stands on a slow moving board being rather difficult, which should not have come as any great surprise given that hand stands on solid ground weren’t something I was very good at either. No, I definitely wasn’t one of the cool skater kids, like Steve Johnson. Steve was a junior high classmate who I believe may have been imported to the Pacific Northwest from Southern California. If Steve wasn’t from SoCal, he gave off that vibe. Steve was surf-cool; a veritable skateboard god and many, including myself, worshipped the board he rode on. I think I remember that he’d gone on to at least a brief career as a professional skateboarder. I wonder what he’s doing today? If he’s a fly fisherman I’ve no doubt that he’s a very accomplished angler.
In an attempt to break out of my rather unaccomplished skateboarder status I figured the first thing I needed was an upgrade from my plastic cookie-cutter board. And so, in junior high wood shop, I made a board from a thick slab of oak much like the one featured in the photo above (and yes, I even had the same iconic Nike Cortez shoes). Being a teenage boy, wood figured prominently in my adolescent life and as one might imagine it (the skateboard) was very stiff. I scraped together my babysitting earnings and purchased a new set of trucks and wheels to adorn the new woody. These were obviously not the highest quality components because the open wheel bearings were prone to losing their marbles, as it were, the results of which were never good.
Fortunately there was a skateboard shop at the local strip mall near the south Mercer Island QFC and Lakeside Drugs. The shop proprietor kept me in a steady supply of extra bearings, all the while encouraging me to upgrade: there were far better wheel systems that wouldn’t spew their bearings while riding. I salivated over the good stuff every time I was in the shop to buy bearings; always longing after the cool gear that my budget didn’t allow for. Much to my dismay I would remain quagmired in a state of economic repression for the remainder of my skateboarding youth. I have no particularly fond recollection of the homemade oak board whatsoever. I may have begun to lose interest in skateboards shortly thereafter, although more than likely the board was simply so horrible to ride that I banished it from my memory—there’s nothing like a thick, unyielding plank of hardwood to make one lose all sense of touch with the ground underneath. As 9th grade rolled around it marked the end of my skateboarding career and after that I never gave it much thought.
Until, that is, I began snowboarding when I was in my late 30’s.
I had never been more than a very average snow skier (at best), but I was ultimately forced to give up skiing altogether due to foot problems that were exacerbated by the confines of cruel ski boots. The pain while cautiously snow-plowing down green runs had become unbearable and I resigned to never setting foot on the slopes again—until one fateful day. While sitting pathetically around the ski lodge while my family was out enjoying the slopes, I decided on a whim to rent a snowboard. I’d never been on one and had no idea what I was doing, but after a couple hours on a bunny slope I knew I had found enlightenment in the comfy footwear associated with snowboarding. After a private lesson during which I learned to link turns, I once again took to the slopes with a newfound enthusiasm. At the time, the overwhelming majority of snowboarders were half my age or younger: Punk kids. Young cool dudes. Shredders and slackers. I didn’t fit the mold but I did enjoy snowboarding immensely; content to cruise and carve sweeping turns while giving terrain parks a very wide berth. I’d never been a surfer, but riding the snowboard caused me to harken back to my youth—back to my skateboarding days. I dug the snowboard thing, a lot. Still do, although I rarely get up to the slopes because I’m too cheap to spend the money on a lift ticket: another sign of advancing age.
Riding a snowboard is very much like riding a longboard, but the latter, once past the initial investment of a board and protective gear (a helmet, at the very least), is comparatively inexpensive. Even a decent quality longboard won’t set you back more than a couple hundred bucks. And there’s a lot of appeal in an activity of which I can partake beginning at the end of my driveway: there’s no travel time required and riding is free—sort of. We do pay property taxes which help to maintain road surfaces, but there’s no shelling out an exorbitant user fee each time you set foot on the asphalt. Look at it this way: you pay for the roads so you may as well get as much use out of them as possible. But I digress…
Lest one should think I rushed into this latest endeavor blindly, I assure you I did my homework. I knew exactly what I was up against: decaying reflexes and increased healing time following injuries. Not to mention disapproving naysayers. It comes as little surprise that a lot of middle-aged people roll their eyes when another middle-aged guy declares that he wants to get a skateboard. Common are the off-handed remarks about asphalt’s unyielding hardness, emergency room visits and how skateboards are “an orthopedist’s dream,” so quoteth a friend who is an orthopedist.
Quit harshin’ on my mellow, man.
(Sorry, I’ve been told by my daughter NOT to try to sound like a skater dude)
Others dismiss it as juvenile and unbecoming of someone of my age. One’s wife may even encourage said skateboarder to leave the neighborhood and ride elsewhere—someplace where nobody knows your identity. Friends turn on you: Morris, in a Firehole Rangers group message, was even threatening when he said, “I know winter is hard on us anglers, but if Kirk misses even one fishing trip for his new longboard addiction…”
H8ers gonna H8, brah.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to wondering if getting on a longboard was perhaps not the best idea I’d ever had, and I honestly tried to talk myself out of (or perhaps into) it. To that end I delved into the dark recesses of the internet for articles on ‘longboarding for old people‘ (yes, I used those exact search terms). That’s when I came upon a series of blog articles written by a youthful guy from Oregon who took up longboarding at age 63. My first thought was, ‘Sixty three?! Good hell, man, I won’t be that old for another 11 years!’
At this point I realized age was no longer a valid excuse to not get one and I rationalized my final decision to acquire a longboard by taking stock of my physical condition: I’m in good shape, reasonably athletic, and I’ve been practicing martial arts since 1993 so my sense of balance is probably better than average. Add to this the fact that I’m vertically challenged and I had a number of things in my favor: standing 5’7″ on a good day means it isn’t far to the ground in the unfortunate event of a tumble.
So much for talking myself out of it.
Through these series of articles on Brian Hines’ blog (hinessight.blogs.com), I also discovered an aspect of longboarding I hadn’t previously been aware of: Street Paddling. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s just like stand up paddle boarding (SUP) on the water, with obvious differences. First and foremost, street paddling, or land paddling, is done on terra firma, on a long skateboard, with a long pole outfitted with a rubber foot instead of an aquatic paddle blade. And while the weather may not be always conducive to street paddling, the asphalt tide is always in.
Did you know that some anglers fish from SUP boards?
This land paddling discovery added an altogether unexpected and intriguing dimension to owning a longboard: an upper body workout. If I could benefit from increased fitness, this longboarding thing would take on a whole new level of significance beyond just being fun. I surmised that it could be excellent cross-training activity to stay in shape for rowing my boat down rivers (yet another fly-fishing reference).
I was, like, all in, dude.
I carefully selected the style of longboard I wanted: something for flatland cruising and very (emphasis on very) gentle slope carving. A classic pintail design appealed to me, and aesthetics were important. I came dangerously close to purchasing a 39-inch Arbor Fish (for the obvious reason that I like fishing) but in the end I decided I wanted a longer longboard so I opted instead for an Arbor Timeless Pintail. I always admired Arbor snowboards but never owned one, and now was my chance. The Timeless is 46″ of shapely sleekness capped with a top deck featuring beautiful Hawaiian koa wood. With a recent trip to Hawaii still fresh in my mind, anything from Hawaii is cool by me. The deck has a gentle flex to it which allows that surfing vibe to shine through. Needless to say my new board is nothing like the oak plank of my youth.
I could have ordered a complete board directly from Arbor but I opted to have the board built with slightly upgraded components by Nordboards of Chico, CA. The deck is outfitted with Paris V2 180mm 50-degree trucks (with 1/4″ riser pads), Arbor Sucrose Initiative Summit 71mm Blue wheels, and NordiK Abec 9 bearings with spacers. All geek to you? Yeah me too, pretty much. The Arbor pintail set me back $223 and change, with free shipping (I like free). That’s roughly equivalent to 3 lift passes at a local ski area (not including lunch and a beer, and gas to get there an back), or about 2 months’ worth of Starbucks Caffè Frappamacaccinos. This is certainly far cheaper than my investment in fly fishing gear, but let’s not go there—Mrs. UA may be reading and she doesn’t need to know how many rods and reels I have hidden in the closet.
I also purchased a street paddle from Kahuna Creations. I selected the bamboo model because wood has soul, man, and it’s all about that flexy mellow groove when you’re out paddling the asphalt, hangin’ ten with the wind in your thinning hair. I also bought a helmet and elbow/knee pads just in case. Nobody ever expects bad things to happen so I can’t say with certainty that I won’t collide with the asphalt eventually (knock on koa). However, I’ve no need for speed whatsoever.
It’s that slo stoke I’m after, man.
(apologies once again to my daughter)
Admittedly I am just getting started but I can say confidently, after logging more than 20 miles on my board, that this street paddling thing is a great workout. I have a 2.5 to 3 mile course marked out and by the time I’ve completed the loop my heart rate is up and the feedback from my legs and upper body lets me know that I’ve gotten a good workout. As I seek out longer rides all that will increase as well. And I’ve also got a grin on my face the entire time. In my enthusiasm for this new discovery I even managed to recruit a few buddies to join in the fun. My wee lad, Schpanky, has also applied for membership in the club, bringing the average age down significantly.
Soon we’ll be paddle surfing the streets en force like a rogue band of mostly gray-haired, mostly middle-aged adolescents; ripping through cul-de-sacs adorned with children’s sidewalk chalk art at speeds often exceeding a brisk walk. People won’t be able to help but take notice. Why, just the other day a considerably younger gentleman, out walking his dog, gave me an approving ‘thumbs up’ as I paddled past.
Street paddling in Duvall will be #trending soon.
In my assessment a mid-life crisis is the act of a 50-something year-old (usually men) as they embrace something from their youth. Like, for instance, skateboarding. Well, I also fancied the 70’s era Plymouth Hemi Cuda when I was a kid. A good one, if you can find it, will set you back considerably more than a skateboard. Mrs. UA should consider herself lucky that, while perhaps a bit immature, at least I am fiscally reasonable.
In closing, I offer you this timely quote from a NY Times article:
“My kids grew old, so I got a dog. My dog grew old, so I got a skateboard.”
The article is from 2012 so apparently I’m not quite a trend setter when it comes to Skateboarding Past a Middle Age Crisis.