Am I still a skater if I suck?

'Through all the embarrassment, anxiety and uncertainty I face as a beginner, the separation within the community only makes me want to succeed more'

It’s always the same: try, get up, fall down. 

Learning how to skate when you’re an adult can be intimidating, especially when you feel like an outsider in the community.

I got my first skateboard when I was 11 years old. At this time in my life, I loved playing sports, and when my dad took up skating again — a pastime he took part in as a kid — his love for the sport passed down to me. 

After I got some of the basics down, we hit the skatepark. Hours ticked by, but it felt like minutes. By the end of the night, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.

I was flooded with anxiety, forgot everything and wiped out. My back ended up taking most of the fall. The wind was knocked out of me, my shoulders bled and my back and tailbone were bruised. When I caught my breath again and tried to get up, I could hardly walk. 

Although things could have been much worse, the experience was enough to keep me off my board for the next eight years. 

At age 19, I was willing to try again. But there was a caveat — I was so far behind the skill levels of my peers who had been skating for the past decade. It’s hard to feel like a “skater” when you’re still a beginner and everyone your age is so much more advanced. 

When someone asks me if I skate, I stumble for the right words. Usually, I end up going with something like, “Well, I mean, I skate, but I wouldn’t really say I’m good enough to be a ‘skater.’” 

For me, the term "skater" implies something much more than owning a skateboard and knowing how to ride enough to not fall off. 

If you’re referring to yourself as a "skater," it better mean you’re really good. A single term defines my place in the community. 

Such immediate alienation can be discouraging. Why should I try to get better if I’m too scared to go to the skatepark in fear of embarrassing myself in front of my peers?

When I muster up the courage to practice at a skatepark, it doesn’t feel right. It feels like all eyes are on me, waiting for me to eat it on the concrete. 

No matter how often I practice, it never seems to cut it. On my most recent outing to the skatepark, I tried to tighten up my ollie — a trick I can do here and there — but I never consistently nail it. 

Although I was out of the way, trying to have as few eyes on me as possible, a totally stereotypical "skater dude" came up and showed me how easy it was. 

While it may be in my head, the divide feels tangible. When everyone your age is tired of walking you through each trick, and you’re tired of colliding with the pavement every five minutes, faking confidence is nearly impossible. 

Through all the embarrassment, anxiety and uncertainty I face as a beginner, the separation within the community only makes me want to succeed more. Falling in front of everyone when doing something new can be humiliating in the moment, but with every new trick I try, I get closer to evolving into a “skater” myself.  

Embarrassment is inevitable when trying something new, but as I face each fall head-on, I know I’m closer to the finish line. 


Reach the reporter at swindom@asu.edu and follow @SaraWindom on Twitter. 

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