The Art of Skateboarding Mild cognitive impairment and the beginner’s mind

Last weekend, I did a marathon. Not all in one go—that would be such hard work—but I did cover 46 kilometers in the 48 hours I granted myself as time off. (Don’t ask me off what?)

There wasn’t any good reason for the Weekend Marathon, aside from a desperate need to spend some time outside the box, doing something active, something new that stands half a chance of standing out in the time swamp.

That’s the same reason why I’m going to cut my own hair later tonight: something needs to change around here and I’ve already reorganised my spice rack.

You see, yesterday marked a year since a remarkable night on Merseyside, when Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League by Athletico Madrid.

It was remarkable not because of the astonishing number of shots missed by the Reds (32), but because of the 52,267 people crammed into Anfield, including thousands from Madrid only two days before the Spanish government declared a national State of Alarm over this thing we rather quaintly called Wuhan Novel Coronavirus.

The UK government would fatally wait ten days longer to annouce our own lockdown, but I’m not concerned here with their incompetence. I’m concerned with the state of your brain. In the UK, for most of us, it’s a year since our brains were challenged with the everyday normality of negotiating the world.

A year of ‘mild cognitive impairment’

It’s easy to forget how much our brains need normality. It’s easy to forget how much our brains get out of navigating street traffic on the walk to work. It’s easy to forget how much exercise our brains get in awkward social situations. Heck—it’s straight-up easy to forget.

A year on, don’t you feel like you’re ‘walking around with mild cognitive impairment’?

I know I do.

That’s why we’ve spent lockdown frantically picking up new hobbies and hurling ourselves into pointless challenges like my weekend marathon, right? As neuroscientist Mike Yassa says:

Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty.

Everyone’s a runner now and everyone’s got their lockdown thing: knitting, veganism, family history, ukelele, cryptocurrency, kimchi, drawing, baby-making, gardening, podcasting, online poker, online yoga, online dating, online anything, please god, no more online anything.

Whatever you’ve got into over the past year, it’s given you a chance to tap into the beginner’s mind: that healthy headspace where you give yourself permission to fail hard and learn hasty.

And there is no hastier fail curve than slamming your body onto concrete and taking pratfalls in public. I’m talking, of course, about the art of skateboarding.

Skate at 38

You may say that 38 is too old to learn how to skateboard. You may say that my sense of equilibrium is shot, that my bones are too fragile and my courage too frail. And you would be right. But no one forgets a bruise: they are an excellent way of marking the time to unlockdown.

My skateboard came from the back of a cupboard in Dulwich, a relic of flatmates long-gone. When I took it to a skateshop in Boscombe last weekend, the shopkeeper nodded: whoever had owned the board knew how to skate. The nose, the tail beat up in memory of far-off skateparks, the trucks scarred from years of railing.

Time hadn’t been good to the bearings: the wheels barely turned. That wasn’t a bad thing for a beginner, who could never build up enough speed to fall too hard. But I got them replaced anyway, and bought some fatter wheels to give much-needed stability.

Since then, I’ve been skating most days, including a fair few kilometers of that weekend marathon. The slips and falls have become notably less frequent and I’ve started learning to ollie in my kitchen, as I wait for the kettle to boil. (Progress so far: I can almost balance with both feet and all four wheels on the floor.)

Learning in public

Skating is perhaps unique in its possibilities for public embarrassment. Thanks to its well-known California-inspired subculture, people expect skaters to look cool. The British, however, have a highly developed sense of hubris and I suspect most people secretly hope to see something spectacular and exceedingly uncool.

I am usually happy to oblige. It’s okay, I tell myself as I admire once again the sheer speed at which my board can disappear from beneath me, I am Learning In Public.

As well as publicly learning how to fall spectacularly (tip: buy wrist guards), I have also learned how to get the board moving, how to ‘carve’ around gentle corners and obvious obstacles, how to stop without always throwing myself into the undergrowth and how to annoy dogs (that one’s easy: skate). I am yet to learn how to stop crapping myself on even the gentlest of downhills.

Why am I telling you all this? Simply in the hope that it encourages you with the small idea that, even in these slumbrous hours of late-stage pandemic survival, the beginner’s mind can lift our spirits, make our days stand out on stalks, and help lockdown leave its mark in a good way. And also in a bruises way. Rad!

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David

David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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