This Summer on the East Coast has been hardly a Summer. Lots of rain, some stiflingly hot days, lots and lots of skate parks closed for the day because of weather. At some point I gave up on going to the local skate park because they couldn't keep it open long enough to make the trip worthwhile. I'd get there and skate for 20 minutes, waiting out the occasional rain sprinkle, then the park attendant would announce the park was closing for the day. What a waste. I put my soft (94a) wheels on sometime in August, and the fact that I haven't taken them off yet indicates how much I wasn't able to get park skating in. Just street skating.
But now Autumn (or Fall, if you prefer) is here. Aside from avoiding wet leaves, Autumn skating on the East Coast has its charm. For one thing, you don't sweat yourself to dehydration in less than an hour. The skate spots aren't nearly as crowded (most notable is the absence of razor scooter riders). I personally like going sliding in the cooler weather, because my wheels seem a little less mushy.
Big Pops Decks
I watched the video below with interest at the beginning of the summer. In the past few months, I've seen more and more local skaters skating bigger and bigger decks. I've been skating big popsicle stick decks for about a year now. Because of the versatility you see in this video, I am completely hooked on big pops. I will probably never going back to tiny freestyle size decks again. What do you think?
At the park, I was skating the Earthwing Yoni 41, which is 9.3" wide and 41" long with a 20" wheelbase. However, doing mostly street skating lately, I've found more comfort on my Riviera Thai Fighter, which is 10" wide, 38" long, and I redrilled the stock 20" wheelbase to give me a 19" wheelbase. My legs are long (34" inseam), my feet are big (Size 14 US), so bigger boards fit me nicely. I've just ordered a Bustin Yoface 39, which is nominally 9.5" wide and 39.5" long with variable wheelbases from 19" to 21". I'll let you know how that goes.
As for trucks, I skated Bear Grizzly 180 RKP trucks in the park. On the street I shuffled among lots of different TKP trucks: Bear Trucks Polar Bear 155, Theeve TiAX 6.5 V3, Paris Street Truck 169, Independent Stage XI 169, Surf Rodz TKP 159 and TKP 177, Gullwing Grinder 9.0, and Mini Logo 8.75. I also took each of those trucks to the park at least once.
My hands-down favorite 9"ish TKP truck for the park is the Polar Bear, with the Gullwing Grinder 9.0 coming in second and the Independent Stage XI 169 third.
On the street, it's a little harder to choose, but I ended up skating the Theeve TiAX 6.5 V3 the most, followed by the Polar Bear 155 in second, and the Surf Rodz TKP 177 in third. I like the strength of the Surf Rodz, but I wish I could find a bushing set up that worked for my heavy weight. Any suggestions?
As for the Paris Street Truck 169, I still haven't decided. I rode them in the park and on the street, and I changed out the stock bushings to see what else might happen. I don't think they're bad trucks, but so far I haven't really found what they're good at. By virtue of the taller baseplate - the way it should be, and not just a longer pivot - they're really high trucks, which helps if you need more height but don't like risers. I don't know, I think they're just not my cup of tea, but I admit that I have exotic preferences. So I've decided to reset my expectations for the Paris Street Trucks and review them with the mindset of the typical skater. More to come on that, to be sure.
Muscle Memory and Motor Learning
There's a duality to my skating, and it has everything to do with the fact that I grew up street skating and bank skating. Curved transitions were hard to come by in the 80s: I skated a friend's poorly made half pipe about a dozen times (what a nasty monster it was: 8' tall with no coping on one side, 6' tall with plastic coping on the other, and about 4' of flat), I skated lots of small and mellow quarter pipes, I occasionally got some time in an empty fountain. But I spent a lot of time going down hills, skating on curbs, skating in ditches, sliding on rails and benches, and ollieing gaps. All of that contributed to a muscle memory, I'm told, that is easy to build when young but more difficult when older. My muscle memory is firm with street skating, but pretty much absent with curved transitions. Hence, I'm more comfortable on the street and on banks and less comfortable on curved transitions, which leads to the duality. What I like the most on street are medium-loose, fluid, surfy trucks. In the park, where I'm far less comfortable pushing the limits, I prefer tighter, more stable, but still good turning trucks. I must look totally confused when I'm skating the RKP Bear Grizzly trucks on a big popsicle stick deck at the park and TKP Theeve TiAX on the big pops in the streets. But, hey, I'm just going with what works for me.
What do you all think? Older skaters, do you find that your muscle memory dictates your present-day skating style? Younger skaters, what will you do to make sure you have muscle memory for the type of skating in which you find the most satisfaction?
For shoes, I've been trying to find comfortable shoes to skate in. I'm older now, and although my feet are healthier than they were when I was a kid, I'm more affected by pain. Some readers may remember that I've been plagued by turf toe for a long time now. Well, after throwing off my shoes in frustration one day and skating in just my socks, a light bulb went off in my head. I finally started blaming my shoes instead of my technique. So I've been trying to find shoes that give me the most natural feel, as close as possible to the natural way the foot moves. I have found that my feet are healthier when I have absolutely no added support, i.e., no arch support, no heel padding, no heel rise, no ankle bracing, no special straps, and so on. I actually wondered for a few moments what it would be like to skate in shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers - those shoes that have individual toes. But that's a moot point, because my big Viking toes don't fit in those shoes anyway.
I've been skating Vans Chukka shoes at the park. The Vans Chukka comes in a standard version with the normal glued-in insole, plus they have a version with removable Ultra Cush insoles. Like many vulcanized shoes, the standard Vans soles can be "lumpy" sometimes. On my most recent pair of standard insole Vans, there is a lump in the rubber that is right in the middle of my heel, and is very annoying. On the Vans with the Ultra Cush insoles, as well as the Core versions, I seem to never have any problems with anomalies in the rubber. No matter which sole I have, with Vans I have to cut a hole by the big toe because the toe box is too narrow. I have found that for size 14 and larger shoes, a lot of shoe companies just make the shoe longer but not wider. Feet, however, get bigger in all directions. And the more I go barefoot, and the healthier and straighter my toes get, the less I'm able to wear shoes with pointed toes.
For a while, I skated a pair of Altra Zero Drop shoes, the Instinct 2.0, but the pair of Altra Instinct shoes I had were defective in that the sole was bonded to the shoe crooked and it put my ankle at a funny angle. I developed a sore ankle after a few sessions. I was bummed about the defect, but I felt like the Instinct 2 had too much sole padding and support anyway. I also have a pair of Altra Instinct 1.5 with a thinner sole stack and that fit really great and that I wear for regular sneaker stuff like running, but that wouldn't last long on the skateboard because the sides are mesh. Interestingly, at the skate park, the Altra Instinct 2 shoes got a lot of interest from the hard core skaters, who explained that their feet are pretty much always injured and they would appreciate shoes that either have thicker soles or are a little wider in the toe to mitigate the debilitation they get from hammer toe and other similar injuries. I have a load of pictures of the Instinct 2 on the Google+ page.
For street skating, cruising around, carving, and sliding, I have been wearing Vivobarefoot Freud or Ra shoes, which are minimalist shoes that have only a 3mm thick sole along the whole foot and feel really fantastic to skate in. The Vivobarefoot shoes impart so much board feel, so much control. And they're tough, too, not wearing down so quickly like most shoes. Surprisingly, ollies and other air tricks feel pretty awesome with the Vivobarefoot shoes. I've had to be careful to stick my landings on the balls of my feet, but that's how I should be landing anyway. A heel landing is bad for you no matter what shoe you're wearing. (As an aside, watch Chris Haslam and Daewon Song in Cheese and Crackers. Their foot placement discipline is amazing. Their feet are always perfectly positioned on their boards, with the toes right at the toeside edge.) I would really like to try the Vivobarefoot shoes at the park.
When it comes to shoes, what do you all think? I'm interested to hear from the older skaters as well as the younger skaters.
I also want to apologize for not blogging during the Summer. It was a challenge to get any quality skating time in, which left no time to write. Sorry 'bout that.