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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Safely skateboarding at any age

I'm 41 years old and I skateboard every morning except when it's raining. As I've discussed before on this blog, skateboarding, just like any sport, can lead to injuries. And, just as with any sport or, indeed, any activity, injuries can be mitigated or prevented by taking certain measures. Some safety precautions I follow are:

  1. Progressive Improvement. 
  2. Equipment Preparation. 
  3. Bodily Protection
Progressive Improvement
The most important safety precaution is progressively increasing your skills at a pace that allows your mind and body to progress when they're both ready. 
Sometimes, your mind is sure your can do something but your body isn't ready yet. This means: train your body. In this case, you start slow and small with the maneuver, and build speed and size over time as your muscles get stronger and trained. 
Other times, your muscles are strong and well-trained but your mind is not yet convinced that you can perform a maneuver. The solution: train your mind.  Study the maneuver. See if you can build on other maneuvers. Look at the maneuver as a series of steps; each step has a point of no return where you'll know whether the maneuver will or will not be unsuccessful. Decide what the ultimate desired outcome will be, and then set interim outcomes that can make you feel like you're making progress toward the ultimate outcome. You're trying to convince both your emotional mind and your rational mind that the maneuver is meaningful and possible, respectively.  
When I coach myself, I don't use the word "trick". Instead, I talk to myself like "I'll swoosh down there, pop up and over the edge of pyramid, then do the thing there with the sliding, then I'll swoop down and then up and out on the lip there." When I talk to other people, though, I call them "maneuvers". You can call it a "trick" if it works for you, but I try not to call them tricks because I think "tricks" entail an unhealthy reliance on luck. I train hard to make sure that luck is something I've made and nurtured instead of something I chance upon in statistically improbable moments. 

Equipment Preparation
The next most important safety precaution is properly preparing your equipment: your skateboard, your wearable gear, and the skating surface itself. 
My carefully selected skateboard.
I've carefully selected the perfect skateboard that gives me both high performance and high comfort-of-use (i.e., ergonomically accurate to my body). With the skateboard, equipment selection is most of the preparation. I don't do much to prepare my skateboard on a daily basis, because just picking it up I can tell right away if something is loose or otherwise not right about the skateboard. Same thing with the first push of the day: I can tell within seconds if something isn't right with my board. Long-term maintenance items are grip tape, wheels, bearings, axle nuts. I replace grip tape about every 5-6 weeks. My wheels last about the same amount of time. I've been using Zealous bearings with integrated spacers, which are awesome, and they only cost like $14 to $16 so I replace them when they wear out, usually about 8 or 9 months. The loctite on the axle nuts wears out after about 20 to 25 wheel swaps; I replace them when they spin too easily or otherwise unscrew themselves. I used to replace my truck bushings a lot, but I haven't had to do that with my Bear Trucks Polar Bears. I've been skating the same pair of Polar Bear 180 (10") trucks for about a year. My Polar Bears could probably use some new pivot bushings, but the kingpin bushings (which are the stock 92a blue bushings) are in good shape. My current deck is the Earthwing Hightailer 43. I've been skating it almost daily for 6 months and it is still good, so not much maintenance there. I have another Hightailer 43 on standby, but I'm thinking of shrink wrapping it in case I don't get to it as soon as I thought.      

For my wearable gear, I have my shoes, my clothing, and my protective gear. To prepare my wearable gear, I focus on comfort and utility. I make sure my shoes fit comfortably and haven't worn down to an unusable condition. Since I switched to Lakai MJ Echelon sneaks, I haven't had the issue where the insole wears out before the shoe. I have like 4 pairs of Echelons on standby, I'm wearing a pair for about 2 weeks now, and my last pair I wore for 3 months of almost daily skating before they got holes in the outsole. I cut the tags out of my shoes and wear them without socks: I feel the board better, my feet are better protected because they can move around more, and my feet stay cooler and drier. I wear sweatshorts or sweatpants with a t-shirt when I skate: Old Navy sweats are my favorite because they have pockets and the don't have the stupid elastic at the bottom of the legs. Most of the time I wear a headband under my helmet because the helmet lining that most skate helmets come with really sucks for sweat protection. When the sun is low on the horizon, I wear a hat underneath my helmet.

Preparing the skating surface is important, too. This is simply looking for things that might get in the way of your skating. If you're at a wooden skatepark, check for loose obstacles or loose components on obstacles. At any skatepark, look for stuff on the ground that might get in the way. Here are 3 of the skate stoppers I cleared out from my local concrete park in the last week:
Ball bearing

Somebody's rusted out mounting bolt with nut attached.

Freaking pebbles.
Bodily Protection 
Protect your body through a combination of crash skills and crash protection. Crash skills are ways that you can protect yourself when you fall. The best way to learn to fall is to learn to convert your forward momentum to angular momentum: in other words, learn to roll your body so you don't slam so hard. I learned rolling as a kid, like somersaults and stuff, then I learned tumbling and falling by taking judo classes when I was in college. Those skills come in handy. For bails, learn to run out, turning as you're running as necessary. For slams, learn to barrel roll, judo tumble, judo hand slap, I've heard that aikido has a roll or tumble, and other types of rolls. What other ways are there to fall? Let's hear about them in the comments! 
For crash protection, I strongly recommend a CPSC helmet. Helmets are a good idea always, because traumatic brain injuries mess you up for life. It's hard enough learning to walk normally again after a broken leg or something, but if you damage your brain, you might never again be able to feed yourself, walk normally if at all, see, hear, speak, remember information, sleep, not be in pain, or perform any other number of bodily functions that you might lose due to brain damage. CPSC helmets are helmets that have been certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In my years of skateboarding, I've hit my head three times in falls. Every time, I had a helmet, and had no injuries other than a headache. For 2 of the 3 falls, the crash would have severely injured me if I hadn't been wearing a helmet. Once, I fell doing a 50-50 on a concrete bowl and hit my helmeted head on the coping on the left side of my head above my ear. I have no doubt I would have cracked my skull and lost executive function if I hadn't had a helmet on. Wearing a helmet is another way of making your own luck. 
Other than a helmet, wear crash protection for whatever you end up injuring when you fall. For me, in addition to my helmet, I wear Hillbilly hand and wrist protective gloves and G-Form elbow pads. When I've fallen in the past, I've injured my elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands the most, so that's what I protect the most. 


  1. Tell me more about those elbow pads, please. Do they really work for a hard slam?

    1. Yes. I was skeptical about them at first. I thought for sure I would merely mitigate abrasions but still have bruising and swelling if I slammed. But when I slammed, the elbow pads did their job very well. I had no bruising and no pain. It was pretty eerie, but it made me a believer.

  2. Great piece, thank you.

  3. Great read! As a beginner i also wear padded shorts and knee pads. I have found the sector 9 knee gaskets to be a good compromise beteween protection and comfort. As for G-forms they do work but the only problem is they don't resist asphalt abrasion. Best thing is to use them under the pants or put duct tape on top if you use them on asphalt (when freeriding for example).

  4. Why would you put same truck but one year later ? what did you think the molecular structure would break down like an old man gets shorter

    1. Yeah, I thought the molecules would break down but the dilithium matrix is now stable. Thanks, Star Fleet.

  5. Replies
    1. They look like Shitfire (yes, that's a company's name, not to be confused with Spitfire Wheels). Shitfires themselves look like Santa Cruz Speed Wheels.

  6. Well said, re: progressive improvement. I'm a big fan of trying to "rough out" transition tricks on slightly curved curbs (we have lots of them in Texas). Getting most of a trick down on a 9" "halfpipe" before trying on a larger ramp at the park helps avoid the hard slams that come from getting a trick all wrong on a taller ramp.

    1. That's a good idea, because everything about the lip trick becomes clear when you finally get up on the coping, and if that clarity results in a slam, it's way better to fall on a little curb.
      I have a question for you: I have a lot of confidence doing lip tricks on concrete and painted concrete curbs and coping, but I am way less confident trying new tricks on metal coping. The main reason I lack the confidence is because there's nary a skatepark out there where the metal hasn't been waxed to oblivion. How do you adapt from learning on concrete or painted concrete and then taking the same trick to slippery metal coping?

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  8. Now this seems very difficult to select which type I should purchase? I have gone this Site Longboards Review But can't select the perfect one. She is very unfamiliar and usually rides in the backyard or neighbor.

  9. We all friends are crazy all about skating but not so much that we forget to wear the safety gears. That need to be alright and need some protection before start. I always give fully emphasis for the beginner rider to wear safety gears before ride on.

  10. Hey guys! Love The Site! Here’s my thing… My son carter is 4. He rides my board right now, until I am able to order one from your site. He is only 4 years old and I read the above article by the American Society of Pediatrics but what am I going to tell him “NO” ? HECK NO Im ot going to tell my son he’s not aloud to skateboard! He wants to do it! I am thrilled!!!! I just help him.Teach him. Make him wear pads. (knees, and helmet right now. Elbows and wrists gaurds are next Its not like hes out there alone. Hes just now starting to get three pushes in and coasting, with me running next to him. HAHAHA Its a Blast. Would I not let him skate? NEVER! Thanks SkateXS


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