A friend once offered to give me “cool lessons.” I was in 4th grade and lukewarm. Her instructions outlined how to talk, what to listen to, what to watch, but it wasn’t until the following year when I saw a skateboarder do a flip (after school in the courtyard with a neon green deck) that I said to myself, now that…that is cool.
I grew up in San Francisco where these skateboarders rode hills like waves. They leaned against gravity like it was an invisible wall with a No Loitering sign, blowing past stop signs because they could — the cars knew their rank out West. But the true blue originals were those Dogtown kids: the 1970s Zephyr team competitors from a run down beach town in Southern California who made the most out of a drought, skating empty pools when the ocean’s tide proved too mellow.
They were known as the Z-Boys, and they changed the game. They were the first to ride low, knees bent like surfers, palms skimming the ground along turns as one might run her fingers across a textured rack of hanging dresses. They were famous, after all, because they had style.
But where their focus was on technical style, mine always comes back to what they wore: the navy Vans, the cutoff denim. The faded t-shirts that were no doubt picked up off the floor in a rush to be the first one to land a new trick.
They were laid back and just a bit groovy thanks to the surfer-roots-runoff and the influence of nearby Venice Beach. Surely there were peasant tops, bell bottoms and huaraches amid the lived-in swimsuits and well-worn shorts.
I never ended up learning how to skate.
My coordination was off. The board moved faster than my brain. But one time last spring I had my arm outstretched, palm open in an attempt to hail a 9 AM cab, when a kid on a skateboard flew right by me and landed the perfect high-five against my hand.
He was down the block before I realized what had happened, but man, was that cool.