The Joys of Surfskating

The Joys of Surfskating

There’s a really good surf shop just down the road from where I live called Freeriders. Back in April, I bought a Kernowfornia sweatshirt for my brother’s birthday and something else caught my eye while looking around the shop: a Mindless longboard. I used to skate a little back in my teens though I was generally more into BMX, which I think is why I enjoy mountain biking so much. I’ve done a bit of surfing and always enjoyed it when I got the chance, which is why this particular skateboard caught my attention for it is actually a ‘surfskate.’ Interesting, I thought, and subsequently looked into this curious sounding sport online. The YouTube videos seemed like fun plus quite a few of the locals spoke highly of it. I needed a hobby and figured ‘what the hey’ and bought one.

I have been surfskating for a few weeks now and I am really starting to get into my turns and the whole ‘carve’ manoeuvre. I can see why it’s so popular with surfers; it’s a great workout for core and lower body. More than anything, it’s just really good fun! Surfskates are different to skateboards in that they’re best suited to a flat (or relatively flat) open surface such as a car park. You can ride them along streets and pavements, but the more open space you have (ideally with no one around — like a nice long wave all to yourself) the more you can really get into practising those carves!

To support studying to be a Personal Trainer at Cornwall College, I have been doing a mixture of jobs from washing pots ’n’ pans at a beachside café to working for a housing association as a Relief Worker helping the homeless. More recently, I have been working for the NHS on a psychiatric ward in Redruth; a job that can be as much high stress as it can be strangely isolating (not least when doing night shifts), particularly when you find yourself amid a pandemic living in a place where everything — and everyone — is totally new.

I like living in Falmouth; it’s a friendly town and being by the sea is great plus there are some ideal spaces for surfskating within a community that seems to love all things active and outdoorsy. I find the Cornish considerably more laid-back and much younger in spirit than elsewhere in our jolly kingdom, a quality that endears me to this county over other places (though it can drive you a bit mad if you rely on its public transport, which runs on ‘Cornish Time’). Nevertheless, I was looking forward to visiting family and friends for a week across the border in grumpy old Devon. I suppose, like a lot of people, I was finding yet another lockdown a bit lonely to the point where it had been affecting my mental health considerably.

My course broke up for half-term on Thursday 27 May and my 42nd birthday (that’s right, I surfskate at 42 — I’m not ready for lawn bowls just yet!). I got the train from Redruth to St. David’s that evening. On Friday 28 May, I decided to take the board out after doing a recce around Exeter earlier that day for some decent looking car parks to continue practising my carves. There is quite a long cycle track to get to the Quay, which has some ideal empty spaces located nearby. As I was heading down the cycle path, I noticed a cyclist coming towards me. I then heard a bell and saw that a number were also approaching from behind. I figured the best thing would be to get off the board, step aside, let them all pass and then continue on my way to the Quay.

Now, as I said previously, surfskates are different to conventional skateboards; the former it’s best to step off the front (particularly if you’re a beginner), whereas the latter you usually stop by using the tail of the deck, as it’s much more stable and generally lower to the ground (I have quite large wheels to increase speed, plus I find larger wheels to be more versatile when carving on rougher surfaces or if the ground is slightly wet). Unfortunately, for me, I forgot that golden rule; I casually stepped BACK off the board with my front (left) foot at which point it shot out in front of me carrying my right leg with it over a grass verge, swiftly followed by a ‘snapping’ sound and I immediately thought I’d twisted — and possibly broken — both my knee and ankle, ouch!

The lady cycling towards me stopped and asked if I was okay. I was in a sort of heap on the grass verge (the cycle path runs by a flood plane towards the Quay) and in considerable pain at this point. Another lady walking along the path to my left heard the snapping sound and also came running over to see if I was all right. After about a minute or two, I was able to bend my knee (not broken, phew!) but my ankle was hurting a lot. After a few more minutes, I gingerly got to my feet and limped about half a mile back to the bridge whereupon I was able to get a lift home.

I used to play a lot of football as a teenager when I injured my right ankle; it was quite a severe sprain that kept getting injured to the point I had to stop playing. I was gutted as I thought I had done something similar and would, in all likelihood, not be able to do any more surfskating. The next day I woke up feeling sick and unable to put any weight on my right foot. My Mum wondered if I should go to A&E, but I was content at this point to see my GP when the surgery reopened after the bank holiday weekend. However, by Sunday, I was in a lot of pain and unable to put any weight on it. Mum convinced me to go to A&E where I sat in a wheelchair for over three hours in an overcrowded waiting room surrounded by a motley crew of the walking wounded, which included a number of crying children (one young girl was sat on her mother’s lap — who was doing her utmost to comfort her — clearly in terrible pain, poor thing).

I was X-Rayed after waiting for about an hour, then a nurse came to get me over two hours later. I hate being poked and prodded and so I found myself feeling a little awkward and annoyed at the nurse merely doing her job — ‘does it hurt here? Does it hurt here?’ blah, blah. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t check my X-Ray first, but hey, I’m not a medic. A&E staff were considerably overwhelmed and I could see she was likewise quite stressed too; the ward sister had even come into the waiting room about thirty minutes earlier to say they were so overrun that anyone who felt their problem wasn’t urgent was advised to go home if they didn’t want to wait a long time.

After sitting in a chair for more than three hours, at this point bursting for the loo but unable to walk, I very nearly made a phone call home! I’m glad I didn’t; turns out I had sustained a closed ankle fracture on the bottom of my right fibula and so my leg had to be put in plaster and I was not to put any weight on it, hence I’m currently getting around on crutches. The nurse asked if I would like to take a photo of my X-Rays. When I asked her if I’d be able to skate again, she replied ‘sure’ … but then made a comment something along the lines of ‘aren’t you supposed to quit at some point?’ evidently in reference to my age. What I didn’t tell her was that I’m only just getting started!

I wasn’t offended by her remark (that would just be silly), but I nevertheless find it strange — and somewhat arbitrary — where these ideas come from i.e. things we should be doing at certain ages. I’m single, never married; I do not have a mortgage or kids and have never held any real interest in acquiring the aforementioned. And what sport should I be doing at 42, precisely? I’m not going to get all deep and philosophical, but I can’t help but think of Heidegger’s notion of what ‘one’ does as prescribed by the ‘they-self.’ At 42, ‘one’ plays squash and sits behind a desk, whereas, at 42, ‘I’ surfskate!

I am still hoping to finish my Personal Training course in June although right now I don’t know how long I’ll be on crutches for. The exam is very practical, which will be difficult to do if I’m limping around and there’s no way I can safely work on a psychiatric ward. Fortunately, my tutor is very flexible so I can finish it late if necessary. More than anything though, I hope it won’t be too long before I can get back to surfskating. Yeah, it hurts if you fall off badly and it’s a pain in the arse getting around on crutches (so much for walks on Dartmoor during my — since extended — stay), but surfskating sure is a lot of fun! Yeah, I surfskate at 42, but I recently read about 76 year-old Bombay resident, Tripat Singh, who got into weightlifting at 60 after losing his wife — this guy lifts barbells while hanging upside down! I suppose Tripat might say ‘at 76, “they” go lawn bowling; at 76, “I” deadlift in beast mode!’

Don’t act your age.

4 June ‘21

© Christopher Sharp