"It's like riding a bike—you never forget." There are so many situations applicable to this oft-repeated pearl of wisdom—sex, serial killing, soufflés—but I would never guess skateboarding.
I still have scars from skateboarding as a teenager, some physical and some mental. It's pretty faint now, but for many years there was a strange patch of dimply and saggy skin on my wrist from where it was trapped between my deck and the sidewalk as I used my full body weight to execute a blistering, g-force-defying turn after flying off the stairs next to the school gymnasium.
If the phrase were "it's like crashing a bike—you never forget," it would feel more applicable to skateboarding. In part, though, that's because of the mental damage. I had good access to a half-pipe near my house, but it was ruled by older kids in the neighborhood who knew about secret things like punk rock, marijuana and how to actually ride a skateboard. I know, I know—it sounds like a fast track to skate skills, addiction and years of musical bitterness, but in reality it was expedient only in terms of getting my ass kicked.
Thus the mental scars.
By the time my runty determination was tolerated around the half-pipe, I had resolved myself to never really developing as a skateboarder. I had noticed, in fact, that riding a bike was easier and orders of magnitude more efficient as transportation. I still kept my skateboard and, when needed, could kick turn my way across clean, level surfaces well enough to convince anyone who didn't know better that I was actually kind of good. On a day with perfect wind conditions and with God pulling marionette strings, I might have managed an ollie. But I was a half-pipe weenie and still thought of grinds as a reference to coffee beans. In other words, I was a 16-year-old skate poser.
Strangely, 17 years later, I can still kick turn well enough to make small children, the ignorant and elderly assume that I can skate, but it's a lie.
According to scientists Peer Wulff and Bill Wisden, who announced the reason this past July of why no one forgets how to ride a bike, I'm still good at the things I was always good at and I still suck at the things I always sucked at because of a particular kind of nerve in the brain. The molecular layer interneuron apparently translates learned motor skills into a code that then gets pasted into the cerebellum. What we think of as specialized motor skills aren't really any more complex for the brain to manage than, say, walking or brushing our teeth—including skiing, race-car driving and skateboarding.
This is excellent news for the science fiction buffs among us who cannot wait to be able to stick flash drives in the backs of their necks and instantly be able to fly a helicopter or bust out some kickboxing. But it's also good news for middle-aged guys like me who wake up thinking ridiculous thoughts like, "dude, maybe I should start skating again."
I don't have any geriatric Tony Hawk fantasies or anything, but I have gotten into snowboarding in recent years and I've noticed that my physique runs in a cycle counter to those of many of my friends: They are lithe and graceful with summer athletics and become doughy after Thanksgiving. I tend to do more of a Jack Black summer and a Bruce Lee winter or, you know, something along those lines.
For cardiovascular exercise that could keep me in shape through the summer season, but also hone my snowboarding skills, nothing beats skateboarding. Thanks to my interneurons, I don't even have to start from scratch—I've got a leg up via the brain code I carved when I was 16.
Skating and snowboarding definitely complement each other as skill sets, according to the experts at Santa Fe's Skate School, and skating can offer a comprehensive workout as well.
"If you're running the banks and ramps at our school or you're out at the skate park, the only thing that's not getting a great workout is your arms," David Price, one of Skate School's main instructors, says. Price, who does downhill long board racing professionally around the world—routinely achieving speeds of 50 mph and more—says long boards are surging in popularity, even among casual commuters and campus cruisers.
"The board is longer, there are bigger, softer wheels, different turning dynamics and a more stable ride, but you're definitely working your legs and your cardiovascular system when you ride around town," Price says. Not coincidentally, Skate School offers long boarding lessons as well.
But what about the danger? If I was a half-pipe weenie at 16, what about now that my body doesn't exactly spring back from injury like a Viagra-addled monkey?
"One of the first things we teach here is how to fall," Price says. "There's a difference between falling and crashing: Crashing is wiping out and getting hurt; falling is having the proper safety gear and having the tools to make it effective. Skating isn't any more dangerous than snowboarding or football or any other common sport."
Dropping into Skate School for a neural tune-up and a fresh batch of cerebral coding could be just the ticket. The lessons—even factoring the cost of gear if I decide to get serious—aren't any more than dicking around at the gym and it's bound to be a hell of a lot more fun.
Of course, there's always the chance that it's not really skateboarding that's embedded in my neurons—I might just have never forgotten how to be a poser.
825-H Early St.
Summer skate camps annually
Year-round private lessons start at $25.