"So many want the juice that skating gives, the popularity and coolness, but are not ready for the pain that comes eternally. People who think skating owes them are wrong; they get wheelbite in the rain. People who owe skating will live for ever. You want to know how to be a skater? Taste the concrete!"
- Jake Phelps
i've been playing yo-yo since july 1985. that was [to the best that i can recollect/research] when my dad brought my a guilt-gift from one of his many doctor-trips in the form of an early yomega brain. he was at a conference in boston, and was staying at his home in fall river. at the apparent recommendation of his mother, he bought the yo-yo from a local toy store. the patent on the brain is, i think, from 1984, so mine must have been one of the earliest production models.
anyway, that means i've been yo-yoing (albeit touch n' go here and there) for 24 years.
and if you can believe it, i've been skateboarding for 25!
i'm old. really old. like easter island-deity old. at least i feel that way sometimes. in may of 1984, my family moved from 2101 kentucky ave. in "charm city" (baltimore, md - alternatively "the city that reads", as bus stop benches advertise) to that den of heat and sin and biting reptiles - new orleans, louisiana. my parents had bought their first house (which had to be 3 times as big as the one we'd left), a low, sprawling ranch nestled in a labyrinth of white-concrete suburban streets, alleys, and intertwining drainage canals. this would be the playground which, over the next 6 years, would provide me with endless delinquent adventure, and which would perpetually dare me to discover and redefine the true nature of "fun".
when we made the move, the old owners had left behind exactly three items: a set of "jarts", a useless basketball backboard, and a bright yellow, metal-wheeled banana-board. i had never seen a skateboard up close, although i knew vaguely what they were. i remember trying to stand on it with my dad looking on, unsure of whether he should intervene. upon the glass-smooth surface of the garage, the wheels slipped immediately. the board shot out from beneath me, and had settled under the workbench before my ass had fully connected with the floor. i remember it hurt; enough to put me off wanting to skate for a couple months.
in the intervening time, however, i met jason heinze and matthew patterson. matt i met at the local pool. i was playing with my brand new "gizmo" toy (the cute one from "gremlins", remember?), and we ended up tossing the thing across the length of the pool. by the end of an hour, we had built a lasting friendship and had penciled in a summers worth of playdates. (it is amazing and surreal to watch now, as my own daughter strikes instant swimming-pool-friendships in the same way.) later that week, i met jason while exploring the streets of the neighborhood on my bike. he laughed at my training wheels, in a moment providing me with the imptus to finally shed them, which i did a week later. almost immediately, i learned that jason and matt had a pre-existing friendship, and i was surprised to find that, rather than being ostracized by the pair with their history, we formed a sort of trio. usually three's a crowd, but with us, three was riches and power. three was always having someone to play with, always having someone get your back when psycho-timmy threw glass at you, and when you had to punch psycho-timmy, three was never (ok, rarely) getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of you when his big brother came home.
and when we all concurrently discovered skateboarding, three became a full-on pre-pubescant skate-gang.
jason had an old nash board with which he introduced matt and me to the virtues of skate. and whatever we learned, he probably always remained the best of us. within a few weeks of seeing his board and learning to push, matt and i had our own rides; matching variflex dragon boards (by coincidence, i kid you not). my first summer in new orleans was a blur of skinned and re-skinned knees, huge carves, and the made-up tricks that every eight-year-old swears are pure gold. somehow, the next 6 years (and to some extent the next 24) were composed of incrementally amplified versions of the same.
skate-sessions with matt and jason remain my most readily-fetched and most indelible childhood memories. i can still feel the asphalt under my ojii "team rider" wheels (which i still have and occasionally ride). matt became skilled at riding ramps (i won't say "vert" because all our ramps were mini's or launches). he was the only one of us that could launch into a 180 or land a solid backside air off our pal robbie's quarter pipe. jason always had lance mountain boards, but really only rode street. he could grind before it was called "grinding", and though our roads had no curbs, he ollied up the "gentle inclines" with easy grace. i kind of blended the pair of them. i was happy riding street; happy with transition. i had the best boneless in the neighborhood, and i'd snap them uselessly over hydrants to compensate for my mediocre ollies. though my skill was nothing much, and no sponsorships were seeking me out as they were some other kids in our neighborhood... i remember being happy to be included, to be swept up in something, to be a skater.
to be a skater in the 80's was an incredible thing. i remember, really remember thinking how cool it was to be a part of what felt like an artistic movement, no less epic than the harlem renaissance... or "the" Renaissance itself, for that matter. hanging out at the nearby shop, i'd watch powell and g&s decks flying off the shelves, bombarded by ubiquitous images of the bones brigade and day-glo thrasher stickers. every day at school was spent half-assing it, doodling imaginary signature-decks and impossible ramp-plans while waiting for 3pm (c'mon, at least i WENT). our little triumvirate took full possession of the evening, from when the bus breaks squealed at our stop to when our parents would literally peal us from the street for bed. although my house was on the way to our usual ramp corner, i made a habit of bringing my board to school so as to waste no time in collecting it (or maybe just so i could bring my board to school). the neighborhood, the whole world it seemed, was ALIVE with skate-passion, even if it was really just me.
and then, like most everything... one day it was all gone.
i blinked and my friends quit; they moved on to remote control cars and collecting hunting knives and stuff. the streets were all quiet, and no one was willing to break out the ramps. in 1989, skating in new orleans just died. not with a bang, but a whimper.
i was too busy to ruminate much on it. we were preparing to move to north carolina (it might as well have been nepal). the move was as much for me as it was for my dad's professional opportunities. the city had begun to simmer me into potentially criminal form (aside from skateboarding), and my parents wisely noted the precipice upon which i was perched. the move to winston-salem was for me, a move into nothingness, but it was undeniably safe. there were no skaters in my new neighborhood. if there had ever been a "movement" here, it had died of alzheimers. one kid at my new school had a skateboard (a nice hosoi hammerhead), but when i went to his house, it turned out to just be the deck, which he had salvaged from somewhere. noting my disappointment, he gave it to me, and yeah, i still skate that too.
the move to nc did teach me one positive thing though, a revelation that irrevocably altered my whole perception of skateboarding: hills are cool.
new orleans had no hills. well, technically it had ONE hill at a park by the zoo, and hundreds of kids would be on that grassy sucker daily, climbing up, rolling down, and just generally trying to comprehend it. nc was different. my kitchen window looked out on two huge, beautiful hills, tapering nicely with slight inclines before intersecting at a common stop sign. i vividly remember the first time i braved the steeper and shorter of the two. everything was perfect, amazing... until a third of the way down i developed a "wobble". speedwobbles turn a skateboard board into a shuddering, convulsing mess, especially if the trucks are too loose. having never experienced this speed for more than a second while on a ramp, this sensation was foreign to me and i panicked. i ended up rolling down the latter 2/3 and amassed an instant contusion-collection that had my mom mystified as to why we'd moved at all. within another week, trucks tightened, i was pointing my schmidtt stix down the nastiest hill in the neighborhood, and though i rode through the wobbles, i was unable to do so with the brick wall that punctuated the t-intersection at the bottom. more ow.
i mastered speedwobbles and powerslides eventually, and much more importantly, i mastered riding alone. on occasion, i'd be run off the road by seniors in their mustang or mocked by b-ball jocks as i pushed past their pick-up game. it's amazing to me that there was a time when being a skater was a real liability when it came to "being cool". but when i look back on it, pushing alone through those years was one of the richest, most meaningful times in my life. and every time i bomb a hill now, it's the same feeling, the same desperation, the same commitment that sweeps over me. it's somehow surprising to look back now and realize that i constructed a huge chunk of my character while on a skateboard.
so what's it got to do with yo-yo's?
well... whatever. i never said it all had to tie up perfectly. i was holding this yo-yo today, an orange and blue siliconed fhz that i traded (or just stole) from my buddy samm scott, and it made me think about skating. it's an incredible zero, as some zeros just mysteriously seem to be. but as for what it's got to do with skating, i'm coming up empty... maybe it's the colorway. i had a rad driveway session yesterday, and i've got it on the brain. it's all just manipulating energy anyway.
but much has been made of how similar the two media are. for awhile in the late 90's, they were marketed in very similar (very eXtreme!!!) ways. both are all about tricks; the aesthetic of "the dance", and though both skating and yo-yoing pretend to be competitive sports sometimes, the best exponents of each recognize that they are ARTS first. they're different, too. some yo-yoers love to talk about yo-yoing as though it's some kind of iconoclastic sub-culture, but really it's playing with toys. it can be done in the safety of one's room, closeted if necessary, free from ridicule, and sans pain. all that notwithstanding... much of what i've learned from riding a skateboard has applied itself pretty naturally to playing yo-yo. truth is universal, and these could be "yo-yo truths" with only minor editing. let me hear it if you disagree.
• if you intend to hit a trick, commit... or you will probably eat it.
• learn the basics; no one wants to see you do a stationary tré flip if you can't rock a giant ollie at speed.
• your board's going to get trashed if you're using it right. don't sweat it.
• skateboarding does not happen on the internet.
• whether in a park, in the rain, or in 110 degrees, know how your gear is going to respond.
• knowing where skating comes from is just as meaningful as knowing where it's going.
• if you want to bomb massive hills, you're going to spend a lot of time walking back up.
• you're going to fall down, sometimes worse than others. get the hell up.
• getting sponsored will get you some gear and might make you cool among skaters, but if it satisfies your compulsion to skate, you should never have stepped on the board to begin with.
• although it's great to session with friends, skating is primarily a loner deal; you have to be comfortable with yourself.
• if you go fast, you get wobbles. put your weight forward and ride through them.
• sometimes skating won't be cool. people are going to make fun of you. get over it. if you're skating to be cool in the eyes of others, quit. now. please.
• the tricks are rad, but the ride will always matter more in the end.
• being able to do a handplant is pretty worthless. being a skater is pretty worthless. being a person who understands what a skater understands... is invaluable.