Learning To Fly

By David Rientjes (rientjes@mail.whidbey.net)
Creator, Grind-It-Out Skateboard Trivia
Posted to the alt.skate-board Usenet on Tue, 5 Jun 2001

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS AND MY HEART IS OUT TRAVELING. UP INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER, WINGLESS, PRAYERFUL THAT THIS MIRACLE OF FLIGHT WILL NOT END JUST YET.

I do not feel at home right now. Maybe it's because I'm sitting at a computer and typing this message. Maybe it's because I'm looking outside and watching it rain. Maybe it's because my shins are pouring out blood and my ankles are sore.

Maybe.. just maybe.. it's because I'm not on my skateboard.

I was 12 when I first went down to southern California to visit my father during the summer. We had skateboarders all over town; you'd see them while looking out the window from your car or when you were walking home from school. But it never seemed to connect with me until I was 12.

Southern California is filled with skateboarders. They're everywhere. My brother bought a setup at a local board shop in June of 1994. We played around with it in our neighborhood and we found other people interested in the same type of thing. They spoke in a different language. What was an ollie? What was frontside and backside? It didn't make any sense; we didn't know what they were talking about. We were just having fun.

Summers would be consumed with surfing. We'd go almost everyday when the conditions were right. It seemed as though we were spending more time at the beach then we were at my father's house. Skateboarding was something we did when we didn't have a ride to the beach. It was a fun substitute, but wasn't as exhilarating.

ALSO AT HOME, WITH YOU, ON THE GROUND WHEREVER YOU MAY BE AT THE MOMENT, GROUNDED LIKE A HIGHSCHOOLER, LIKE A WIRE, A BIRD AND A WIRE. FEET ON THE GROUND AND MY HEART IN MY THROAT NOW. NOW IN MY FEET, LAWFULLY DESCENDING WITH GRAVITY TO THE LOWER, LOWEST, MOST SOUGHT AFTER MOST BEAUTIFULLY BOUND, HOME.

We were disappointed to show up at our father's house during the summer of 1996 when he no longer had surfboards for us. What were we going to do during the day while he was at work? He told us about a park we could go to for skateboarding. We didn't even know parks that were bigger than a 7-11 convenience store existed. My father knew some people with the YMCA so it was easy for him to obtain year passes for both my brother and I to skate. It was easy since my father worked for the city. But we were unsure. Unsure that anything could take the place of our summertime passion, surfing.

He drove about ten minutes while we sat in the back of the car. Our arms were folded because we weren't really looking forward to visiting a skatepark every day during our summer vacation. We were free from homework, from chores, from rain, and from most responsibility.

We arrived at the parking lot of the place I call my home. Mission Valley YMCA Skatepark. My brother and I had only skated a local park up in Seattle when it wasn't freezing outside. All we really had was a grind rail, a small transition, and a funbox. But this.. this was a Mecca.

ASPIRATIONS INVOLVE REPARATIONS. WE REACH FOR THE STARS WONDERING WHAT WE ARE. BUT MY REASON HAS BEEN FOUND BY FINDING YOU AND LOOKING DOWN.

When I was 14 in the summer of 1996, I discovered the first halfpipe I had ever seen in my entire life. It was huge.

No longer would I be practicing my kickflips or heelflips in the driveway of my Seattle home. I would be learning how to drop in and doing lip tricks on my new toy.

Our father dropped us off and we joined the masses of other skaters. We were frightened that every single one of them would eventually run into us with their boards. We each had new skateboarders under our arms.

I walked up the ladder of the vert ramp and stared down the eleven feet to the flatbottom. Are you kidding me? I asked. How can anybody skate this thing? The first week or so I was intimidated by it. I thought that the vert ramp was only for the big kids to skate on and eventually I'd get my turn.

My brother decided that he'd get a local job and would save up enough money for a surfboard. I wasn't thinking about the beach or the sand anymore. I knew where I wanted to be. I embarked on my long, strange journey of learning how to skate vert. I embarked on that journey alone.

There were no trick tips on the Internet to go refer to. I had no skateboarding videos to watch for instruction. All I had were the twenty or other skateboarders at the time frequenting the vert ramp to teach me how to do it. It took two hours for me the learn how to drop in and probably a good ten or so attempts. I would freak out at times and decide I wanted to go skate the pyramid instead. But I'd always go back.

Even after I first dropped in, it took a solid two weeks before I was absolutely comfortable with it. I had no idea that there was switch skating so I was dropping in differently each time. Sometimes I'd lead with my left, other times with my right. But I eventually stuck with one.

And then one day I stepped on the nose of my board, leaned down, skated down the transition, and reached across the flatbottom. I felt the sudden wind blowing my shirt and shorts. I thought I was going 30 miles per hour. I dropped in.

AND IT IS THERE, NOT THE STARS OF THE FANTASIZED WORLDS, FIFTH DIMENSIONS, SIXTH SENSES, HOLY PARALLEL POTENTATES OF POTENTIALITIES - THAT MY FEET WILL TRACE THEIR SLOW AS HISTORY ITSELF DANCE: A SKATING CALLIGRAPHY SO SUBTLE THAT IT WILL TAKE 40 YEARS AND MORE, AND A VIEW FROM ABOVE WITH AN IMPERSONAL REMOVE AND LOFTY ATTACHMENT I HOPE TO BARELY FAIL AT THAT MYTHICAL TWO-BACKED BEAST.

Over the next few weeks I learned rock n rolls, rock to fakies, 50-50 grinds, tail slides, nose slides, and backside airs. I did five minute runs consisting of nothing but backside airs. All my new park friends had nicknames they'd give each other. We had a friend named "stinky", one named "pads", one named "herpe". They just called me "backside air".

Bob Burnquist speaks of a vert ramp as an unpainted canvas and the skateboarding that takes place on it as the strokes of the brush. I threw myself into the sport so fast and with so much energy that my body couldn't take the constant abuse. I'd go home to my father's house with a sprained ankle, bleeding shin, scrapped hand, or a really bad headache. But I couldn't sleep at night. I was a magnet attracted to nothing else but Mission Valley YMCA.

THE VIEW FROM ABOVE LIKE THE ONE I ENJOY UP HERE IN THE WELL ATTENDED AIR, TO READ THE CURSIVE STROKES OF MY LINES, LIKE SOME FAIRY TALE DISSOLVE, "ONCE UPON A TIME" OR TWICE WRITTEN ON OUR LITTLE PAGE OF EARTH, GROUND, RAMP, WHEREVER OUR HOME MAY BE, WILL BE, WHEREVER WE HAPPEN, TO BE.

My brother and I returned the next summer and my skateboarding enthusiasm was renewed. I'd go everyday possible.

I wanted to learn how to do a mute invert. By this time I had seem plenty of them in magazine pictures from my readings at home in Seattle. They looked like the coolest trick in the world to be able to do, and one of the most difficult. I tried, and tried, and tried. My friends would eventually shift the conversation to include only themselves because they realized I was in one of those "I can't hear you guys talking anyway" sense.

RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGLES THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT

My friends would thing I was psychotic. They would tell me I didn't have enough momentum or enough velocity to get upside down on the coping. They said I'd need more weight behind me, more speed, and more strength in my arms.

WE SAT AROUND LAUGHING AND WATCHED THE LAST ONE DIE

I struggled to keep my focus on what I was doing. The suggestions other skaters would give me would go right through my head. I knew what was going wrong, but I didn't know how to fix it. It didn't seem like I was able to push myself to do it hard enough. It felt like a personal failure doing something I knew was possible. I've seen hundreds of people do it. But it was impossible for me.

I THINK I'M DONE NURSING THE PATIENCE I CAN WAIT ONE NIGHT I'D GIVE IT ALL AWAY IF YOU GIVE ME ONE LAST TRY WE'LL LIVE HAPPILY EVER TRAPPED IF YOU JUST SAVE MY LIFE

I go back the next day and it still doesn't work. I try a week later. Then a week later. I was so frustrated with myself because I rolled my ankle two weeks before I had to return to Seattle for my sophomore year of high school. I sat at home and dreamed about doing it. I convinced my father to let me return to the YMCA so I could give it a couple more days of attempts before I had to go back home. My ankle was sore.

FLY ALONG WITH ME, I CAN'T QUITE MAKE IT ALONE TRY AND MAKE THIS LIFE MY OWN

My brother wasn't interested. My father was too busy working. My park friends pushed me to do it, but at the end of the day, it was no big deal if I wasn't able to. I was the only person who cared.

I'M LOOKING TO THE SKY TO SAVE ME LOOKING FOR A SIGN OF LIFE

The next day we had an 11 am flight for Seattle. It would be impossible to return in the morning. It was 7 pm now, and you could just tell that the sun was ready to fall from the sky. The park was only open for another hour. Attempt. Attempt. Attempt. All fails.

I looked up into the sky and almost pleaded to be able to do it. It would kill me not to be able to. I knew it was possible. I knew I was capable.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO HELP ME BURN OUT BRIGHT I'M LOOKING FOR A COMPLICATION LOOKING CAUSE I'M TIRED OF TRYING

The park skaters were dwindling. People were leaving with every minute going by. I didn't care. It wasn't like they were watching me anyway. It was just a sign that it was all coming to an end. My summer in California. My summer at Mission Valley. Perhaps the end of my skateboarding. I knew I wouldn't care to return next year if I was disappointed with what happened the year before.

I decided to myself that I wouldn't respect myself for one more minute if I couldn't do it. I decided to throw myself at it, regardless of the consequences. If I fall 11 feet on my head, so be it. I'd go back to Seattle with a broken neck. It didn't matter.

I dropped in. Making my way across the flatbottom, I remembered how I just learned how to do that the year before. I reached the coping. My board stuck on it. I fell to the bottom.

That's the end.

That's how my summer ended.

I thought.

My arm hurt. My neck hurt. My shoulder hurt. I grabbed my board at the bottom of the vert ramp and marched back up the steps. They'd have to bring in the fire department to remove me. I dropped in again. I made my way across the flatbottom. I ollied into a backside air. My arms, as painful as it was to move them just seconds before, were free. I was able to utilize them to get more momentum. I did another setup air. Another backside air. I flew down the transition. I starred at the coping, and made my way back up the other side.

RUN AND TELL THE ANGELS THAT EVERYTHING IS ALL RIGHT

I grabbed the coping with my right hand and squeezed it as tight as I could. I grabbed the board with my left hand and held on tight. I inverted myself completely, just like I saw in the magazines. It wasn't easy. It was even hard for me to stand on my head for a length of time on the flatground with both hands. I stalled for a second and then reached back down to put my board back on the ramp. I was too late. I lost my momentum and I went falling down. On my head.

But I marched back up the steps knowing that the YMCA security was clearing out the park. I tasted my success. I smelt it. I touched it. I just couldn't quite grasp it.

I did it again. A backside air. Another backside air. Then I reached the coping and did everything exactly like I did it minutes before. "Backside air" was going for broke. I got my momentum. I was completely upside down when I looked away and saw the sun in the distance. I looked back at the coping. Spotted my landing, and brought my board down. I adjusted my balance, leaned into the transition, and made my way across the flatbottom. I felt that wind blowing my shirt and shorts again, like when I learned how to drop in.

I let the board go on without me. I jumped off on the flatbottom and threw myself to my back. I looked straight up in the air. I knew what I did. And I knew I was addicted to skateboarding. Nothing else mattered.

This was my home.

The security guard calls for me. I was happy they waited until I finally made my trick before yanking me. He says, "We're closing now, let's go!" I look over while I'm lying on my back. I stand up and pick up my board on the flatbottom. I tuck it underneath my arm and walk out of the park. I didn't need to do it again. I knew I did it once and I could do it again with ease. My mission was done. I walked out of the skatepark with my board tucked underneath my arm exactly like when I first arrived there. I knew I would return next year. I had to. I loved my house.

MAKE MY WAY BACK HOME WHEN I LEARN TO FLY