That time skateboarding got me through a break-up

When I tell people that I am learning how to skateboard, I usually receive a pitiful glance combined with a judgmentally-toned “Why skateboarding?”

Let me explain: I am not a twelve-year-old boy or going through a life crisis. I am a 23-year-old woman who is learning how to skateboard. Emphasis on the word “learning,” considering how much time I spend on the skateboard vs. how much I spend falling on my butt.

To answer, I have one of two options: I can provide a polite answer along the line of “I wanted to try something new!” Or, I give them the answer they really want—that I am losing my mind after breaking up with my boyfriend of four years, and learning to skateboard is a desperate attempt to find myself.

But that’s not really true. Yes, my boyfriend and I recently broke up. Yes, I’ve decided to pick up a new hobby. And yes, I’m still trying to figure things out. But that does not mean that I have “lost my way.” I am not a stereotype in a romantic comedy, who has a post-break up crisis but ends up charming a hot sk8r boi due to her quirky ways. Though, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t mind that.

My break-up coincided with graduating college and moving to DC for my first real world job. It was the perfect moment to explore my newfound independence and pursue things that I had always wanted to try. The first thing on my list was skateboarding. For me, skateboarders have always epitomized coolness and all things rebellious. They are the outcasts of society and have been portrayed as lazy “no-gooders,” but they never seem to care of such stereotypes. Watching them skate, maneuvering with such natural fluidity, was really remarkable to me.

Growing up, I never saw female skateboarders, but I always admired that laid-back skater attitude. I want to be self-assured and confident, to cruise down the street and slide off rails and hang out in the park like skateboarding has represented that for me. I decided to follow this re-found fantasy and I bought a skateboard. I stood on it for half a second…and then I fell.

I realized that I needed a teacher. After some Googling, I found Street Smart Skateboarding. Their website was full of adorable children learning how to skate, so I obviously decided this was the best company to contact. Feeling awkward, I repeatedly mentioned that the lessons were for myself, not my imaginary child. They were confused by why I kept repeating my age, but they were more than happy to get me started.

Week after week, I came to work with new bruises and injuries. After a month, I had fractured my elbow. The number of concerned looks among my colleagues grew, to the point that one concerned woman kindly inquired about my injuries and hinted at whether I was in an abusive relationship. She didn’t seem to believe me about the skateboarding lessons — the idea of a grown-ass woman repeatedly falling on concrete for fun was simply too absurd.

A few lessons later, I wanted to quit.

When you are a kid you have boundless enthusiasm and a slightly naïve understanding of your own abilities. Having dreamed of skating since I was a kid, my inner child expected me to become an expert by my second lesson. All the dudes at the skate park would be staring in awe while I, a female newbie, would be killing it on the ramps.

Things played out slightly differently in reality. When I asked my instructor how to improve, all he said was practice. Practice—that tiring, repetitive, time consuming activity. Irritated by the answer, I politely thanked him for his revolutionary advice (my sarcasm was not present in my response to him) and took it with a grain of salt.

Last week, my instructor scheduled our lesson at a popular DC skatepark. I was embarrassed at my attempts to go up and down these minuscule ramps in front of all these experienced male skateboarders. I tried a few things, fell on my butt again (used to it at this point), and took a look around. Everyone else was caught up in their own skateboarding.

That is when I noticed that no one cased.

Sometimes we give ourselves too much credit in respect to the how much we think others are thinking about us. I thought all these guys would be harshly judging me, both for being a newbie and the only female skateboarder in the park. But everyone was in their own world, trying to master flip tricks or grinds. When they paid me any attention, it was to come over and give me pointers.

We live in a fast-paced, stressful world where all we want is to be praised for how quickly we pick up new skills. But actually, we should be praised for the effort we put in and the hard work (dare I say “practice”?) that we dedicate to achieving what we want. When I started skating I realized how wrong the media and I were about skateboarders. They may be jokingly seen as “stoners,” but they are not lazy and their skill does not come naturally. They work hard and consistently challenge themselves to do better. When you fail an exam, you are disappointed, but you have the opportunity to pick yourself back up for the next exam. When you fail at skateboarding, there is a good chance that you’ll hurt yourself, and quite severely at that. But skateboarders keep pushing after an injury. They have more factors working against them at that point, but they push back on them. Every time I skate I meet someone who is coping with the pain of their last “failure.” But they keep practicing because it’s a passion they can’t live without.

It’s easy to make yourself feel good about being “a natural.” But that mindset makes it easy to quit when the new skill you are trying to acquire takes a lot of practice. I really enjoy skateboarding; it allows me to be free and careless, which is largely excluded from my increasingly grown-up life (whatever that means). And yet I almost quit because I felt judged for wanting to explore this hobby and worried I wouldn’t be good enough, quickly enough. Which is silly. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about trying it in the first place.

Skateboarding has now become a conversation starter for me. I’ve acquired a whole new vocabulary of skater slang that obviously makes me even cooler than I already am. I can explore new cities that in an entirely different way, and I can meet new people that I would otherwise walk past without blinking an eye.

I am 23. If all goes well, I have my whole life ahead of me, but I don’t want regrets on my deathbed, having not tried all the things I wanted to, because of embarrassment. Don’t let your gender, age, or fear of judgment keep you from something that you’ve always wanted to try. Invest in your own personal development. Go out and find your next adventure. I promise, you won’t regret it.

As for me, I’d recommend skateboarding. It may be the passion you cannot live without.

Maryam Ghariban didn’t know what to write for her bio so she asked her Danish friend to write it. She spends her weekdays traveling for work, and her weekends exploring and eating her way through DC. 

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