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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Big Pops = skateboards for adult-size skaters

When I got back into skating in 2009 after about 18 years of sporadic skateboarding, one of the biggest challenges was the small size of the skateboards. The largest popsicle stick shape board I could find at the time was 8.5 x 33 from Zoo York or Beer City, then, in 2010, Creature started having the 9.0 x 33 that was a decent size. But many of the decks I skated at the time were around 8.0" - 8.25" wide, with wheelbases between 13.5"-15". The three most common problems I was having was "duck walking" when my front foot was unexpectedly on the nose of the board, "ollie northing" when my front foot unexpectedly came off the front of the board when I was ollieing, and foot injuries on the arches, big toes, and heels of my feet from landing with my feet half off of the board. Duck walking was caused by my front foot being unexpectedly too far forward and me not knowing how to keep my weight centered to prevent the tail from lifting. Through practice, I was able to overcome duck walking. Unexpected ollie norths were an issue, though, for the longest time, as were the multiple foot injuries from landing on such a narrow deck. Over time, I started searching and scouring to find bigger decks that still had proportions like popsicle stick shaped decks. At the same time, a piece of longboarding and a piece of skateboarding were converging in the sliding discipline. Longskateboarders were crafting slide decks that started having symmetrical nose and tails, called double kicks at times. Bustin Boards, Earthwing Boards, and Rayne were out in front on the big double kick discipline, with Arbor and Sector 9 coming up close behind. Longskateboarders started ollieing these big decks, doing shove its, and even eventually kick flipping and 360 flipping these big decks. The nose and tail of slide decks grew longer until the proportions started evening out, and the big popsicle was born. I call them "big pops" for short. Once I started skating big pops, I didn't want to go back.

So, for those who, like me, enjoy skating larger decks, here's a current (partial, to be updated after finals next week) roundup of big pops decks:

Earthwing Boards is a favorite of mine. I have 5 of the Hightailer decks to last me a long time. I'm still skating my first Hightailer that is still straight, stiff, and poppy after daily skating for almost a year. I started with longboard specific traditional kingpin trucks, Bear Trucks Polar Bears 180s, then moved to Newton longboard trucks 180s, which are a low version of reverse kingpin trucks.
Earthwing Hightailer. 10x43, 23" wheelbase, 8.4" nose and tail. Perfect fit for my size 14 feet, 34" inseam, and 46R shoulders.

Earthwing Hightailer. I used Bear Trucks Polar Bear 180s 9.8" trucks for a long time. Good trucks, but I was having wheelbite issues on sharp carves in bowls.
Earthwing Hightailer. I'm now skating Newton longboard trucks 180 - check them out at
Another pic of my Earthwing Hightailer. 

My Earthwing Hightailer. It isn't East Coast skating unless you're dodging puddles stained dark by fallen leaves.

Arbor Longboards is a consistent provider of plus size decks, most around 9" x 36":

For this one, I'm estimating the wheelbase is around 21.75" - 23.75". Skull Skates Diehard Wizard 9.25" x 42":

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. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Off topic: Getting Megam to work in NLTK on Ubuntu

Just a helpful tip for others out there learning NLTK programming using's book at . Chapter 7 has a chunker algorithm called MEGAM that gave me all sorts of trouble. I followed all of the advice I could find on the Internet, most of which was written for OSX unix (like Apple Mac computers), and very little of which helped me with my problem. Specifically, NLTK had trouble finding the megam file. Then, following some of the advice to point NLTK to the megam file using config, NLTK ran into permission issues.

First, I had issues with NLTK not finding MEGAM...

... then I had permission issues. PermissionError: [Errno 13] Permission denied
The config didn't work with the 32-bit version, nltk.config_megam('/home/richard/MEGAM/megam') , either.

The permissions thing got me thinking, though. So I opened up my terminal (Ctrl+Alt+t on my Ubuntu Thinkpad x120e) and made some changes. First, I signed on as root and changed mode of access permissions for all of the files NLTK mentioned:

:~# chmod 777 /usr/lib/python3.4/
:~# chmod 777 /usr/local/lib/python3.4/dist-packages/nltk/classify/
:~# chmod 777 /usr/local/lib/python3.4/dist-packages/nltk/classify/

This didn't make any difference in NLTK. Thinking deeper, I thought about the config pointer command, and decided to locate everything in the same place. I navigated to where I put the megam downloads and moved the megam files to my local binary folder:

:~# cd home/richard/Downloads/megam_0.92
:/home/richard/Downloads/megam_0.92# cp megam /usr/local/bin
:/home/richard/Downloads/megam_0.92# cp megam-64 /usr/local/bin
:/home/richard/Downloads/megam_0.92# cp megam-64.opt /usr/local/bin

I first tried it with just the 32-bit file - megam - but NLTK didn't like it. My system is an AMD 64-bit SOC. Then I moved the 64-bit megam files into the binary folder. After that, all was well with NLTK using megam.

It took both cores on my AMD E350 SOC about 10 minutes to chunk the training set, but my megam location issues were a thing of the past. Thank goodness.
Hope this helps!

My software:
I'm using Python3.4 in the IDLE shell. I got Python3.4 from the Ubuntu Software Center.
I loaded OCAML using sudo apt-get install ocaml .
I loaded nltk using sudo pip3 install nltk .
I loaded megam through the download page at . This megam didn't work.
I got the 64-bit compilations of megam from by loading from the following link:

My system:
I'm using a Lenovo ThinkPad x120e with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr operating an AMD E-350 1.6 GHz System On Chip and 4 GB of 1333 MHz DDR3 PC3-10600 RAM and 120 GB of SSD storage. (A great combination, by the way. All drivers work, I have absolutely no issues with this computer. The x120e was, at the beginning, a tolerable-because-of-the-price slug with Windows 7 Pro and the 5200rpm spinner drive, then it became slower and slower as Windows updated it to death. It operated Windows 7 reasonably well when I replaced the spinner with the solid state drive. It became a powerhouse when I wiped the drive and installed 64-bit Ubuntu using an ext3/ext4 file system. The computer has been completely reliable ever since.)

Search keywords:
ubuntu linux 64-bit megam nltk python python3.4

Search phrases:
PermissionsError: [Errno 13] Permission denied
NLTK was unable to find the megam file!
megam not working on nltk
nltk book chapter 7
megam chunker algorithm not working
linux "[megam] Error 2"

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Downtime from Injuries, Public Parks

Over on the Skateboarding Is My Lifetime Sport Google+ page (which, by the way, is becoming a far easier method to post photos and updates), I've been uploading photos from morning sessions at my local concrete skatepark. It has been fun and healthy. I skate the park every morning from 6:00 AM to about 7:30 AM. I am the only one there, so I get a good rhythm and pace to have a relaxing workout and fun times skating. Here's a picture of the board I've been skating:
Earthwing Hightailer 10" x 43", 23" wheelbase (actual wheelbase 22.3" with the trucks on the alternate mounting holes). Bear Trucks Polar Bear 180 trucks: 9.7" width x 49.5 mm height. Divine Trailblazer 60mm 92a wheels with Rush ceramic bearings. 
Here's how well the board fits my body: very nice fit! I'm a big dude: 6'2", 34" inseam, size 14 shoes, size 46 torso. This board is a very comfortable board for me. Earthwing Hightailer 10" x 43", 23" wheelbase (actual wheelbase 22.3" with the trucks on the alternate mounting holes). 

The county decided - finally - to allow the skatepark to be open all the time and have instituted a "skate at your own risk" policy. This is the best way to run a public skatepark. Pad nannies, membership management, even people to unlock the gates - these all cost money. Once the skatepark is built, the less personnel the government uses to run the park, the cheaper it will be. In fact, the only major costs the government will incur at an always-open skatepark are quarterly maintenance costs or, for concrete skateparks, annual maintenance costs. Additionally, skaters and skater supporters will volunteer to help with the periodic maintenance of the park. The government will incur minor costs for sanitary services (garbage, portable toilets), but with a skatepark collocated with other government recreation facilities, these and other indirect costs allocated to the skatepark will be minimal, and in any event far less than the direct costs associated with staffing the skatepark during opening hours.

So now I'm skating a big pops deck every day it isn't raining. I'm feeling fantastic, with no stress and also no pain. This is nice, especially considering that I spent the entire winter trying to heal up turf toe on my right foot, which is my primary push foot. The best things I've done for my foot are stretching and strengthening. The next best things are not wearing socks in my athletic shoes as well as getting skate shoes that give my toes lots of room and that don't let my feet slide forward in the shoe and cram into the front. My favorite skate shoes remain Lakai shoes, and I'm skating the MJ (Marc Johnson) shoes in size 14. Lakai generally has sizes consistent with normal sizing; most skate shoes are sized small, meaning I have to buy a size 15 to have the specifications for a size 14.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Crazy Summer, now on to Autumn skating

Seasons Changing
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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

We interrupt this summer to bring you a special message

Not much blogworthy this summer, too much skating and sweating, and I'm waiting and waiting and waiting for Theeve to release the new TiH. (Come on, Trev! My big pops deck is wearing the 6.0 TiAX for too long now!)

But then I just noticed this: Independent finally has their new bushings available for purchase. The return of the barrel boardside bushing! Thank goodness.

Skate safe. Peace out. Bertrand

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Removing wax from griptape

by, Johnny

One of my pet peeves is getting wax bits stuck in my griptape. It's a small but annoying thing.
I've tried everything, but this is the only thing that really works, and leaves no trace of wax and doesn't harm the griptape at all.
It will fully remove all of it, quick and easily too!

All you'll need are these things -
- an electric iron
- paper towels
- a few minutes of your time

First, let the iron heat up for a few minutes.
Lay a paper towel or two over the area with the wax smushed into the griptape.
Put the hot iron on the paper towel right over the area with the wax on it.
Push over and over the area to really heat up and melt the wax. Keep doing it.
The heat will melt the wax and it will stick to the paper towel, pulling it up and off the griptape.
Repeat until all the wax is gone. Use a few clean paper towels when repeating so you don't get wax on your iron.

That's it! It only takes minutes and leaves no trace!
Enjoy this fast and easy tip to solve this small but aggravating issue we all deal with.