The Athletic is BACK! We treasure your support and appreciate your patience as we practice shipping orders straight from our house to yours.

On Skateboarding

On Skateboarding

Intro and Photos by Brett Rothmeyer 
Story by Dan Langlois

Jake Phelps, the infamous editor at large for Thrasher Magazine was once quoted “skateboarding doesn’t owe you shit, it owes you wheel bite in the rain.” If you understand that sentence it is likely that you, in return, owe everything to skateboarding. What skateboarding offers goes way beyond the physical act of rolling on four wheels made of urethane. What was once a toy compared to the hula hoop in its early days has created it’s own distinct way of being. Skateboarding allows you to see the world differently, from the ability to asses the urban landscape — not just as buildings but as potential skate terrain — to thinking creatively within your surroundings. Skateboarding gives you a language, a place to be, a friend when there is no one else around, a commonality with a stranger who knows what you know and sees what you see. Skateboarding's popularity with the masses rises and falls like the tide of the ocean, fashion trends will come and go but the willingness to fall down in the streets over and over again for the act of landing a trick is a sickness some of us can’t shake. The skateboard is singularly the greatest influence on my life, the friends I’ve made, the music I listen to, my attraction to art and photography, it’s why I ended up pursuing cyclocross, and why I ended up in Delaware a few weeks ago.

When I looked around the Glasgow skatepark on the outskirts of Newark, Delaware this past Saturday, I realized without skateboarding I wouldn’t have been there, I never would have met Dan and Marc, and certainly wouldn’t be conveying my debt to a trivial activity. If you are lucky, skateboarding might owe you “wheel bite in the rain” but likely it owes you nothing. 

----

Dan Sweats to the Oldies in the Legend's Collection Steffi Shirt

I remember spending an hour or two sitting on the fire escape of a building I lived in. I was letting a stifling summer day cool off around me. The breeze was stingy but gentle. The open metal grid of the platform I was on let the air move around me easily. Sweat was drying off of me for the first time in what felt like days. It had been another binge of riding, working, drumming, skating and more riding. Summers are busy.

An old friend joined me and brought beer down to share. It was a familiar meeting spot, this makeshift porch. The open warehouse space we lived in was long on creative opportunities, but short on comfort. We’d meet here often. The peer group I lived within was quite tight-knit. I lived with and around a ton of artists. If I had to try to remember, it seems like I always have. People like that produce. They create intricate pieces and installations. They attempt to make tangible things from ideas, feelings, and concepts. It all seemed so important.  I had a place with all of them but usually not among them. I envied the boundless nature of expression their gifts gave them access to. In contrast, my outlets of emotion and articulation seemed myopic. Generally all of my creative expression gravitated to physical outlets. When I dig into my past, the earliest articulate example becomes clear. I can pin it all on skateboarding.

You could call my energy level abundant. This has always been the case. No impulse ever materialized gently that I can ever recall. Most any cause to express myself needed to be acted on by throwing my whole body at it. Soon after I found myself kicking a skateboard down the street, I found a new calmness. I was exhausted. I would skate up to ten miles away to spend time at a skate spot. Often, but not always, I’d meet friends to skate, but the miles getting there I ticked off by myself. That sort of travel shaped a lot of what I came to want more of as I got older. My endurance and stamina grew from these journeys. It was harder to tire myself out. My awkward teenage body became more sinew than bulk. There was no way around it; my marathon skate days were making me athletic. In the world of punks and artists that I lived in, this was not something to celebrate. It was regarded as self-indulgent and jock-ish— not important. I felt stuck. Skating took a back burner for a good while. I focused on riding my bike more and more. All the while my fitness and strength began to hone to an even sharper point as a by-product.

I hid it until I couldn’t, or until it just didn’t matter, I’m not really sure when the difference became clear. What was clear, was that my energy outlets would likely always be physical in nature. I needed it, I loved it. It gave me a headspace and calmness that let me accomplish finer tasks. I knew that if I sat down to write or draw and couldn’t make the fine movements that a pen requires to mark the paper, I knew I had to get up and get myself tired. Skating never left my life totally, but riding a bike let me cover new ground.

As I come back to skating now, I realize what it’s possible to express through it. What I create by skating has little staying power. Its’ power and profundity is in mere moments. An artist tries to create what they envision. Skating is no different. 

Previous Article Next Article
Sign up for our newsletter
We know how sacred your email inbox is. The Athletic only sends meaningful emails with great journalism and fun announcements.