Most afternoons this time of year, a young boy passes by our home riding a skateboard. I would guess he’s 11 or 12. He comes from the south, heading north, pushing a bit with one foot to generate speed on a flat section of the street.
When he passes our house, the street begins to descend at a modest rate, and the skateboarder’s speed picks up. Now he begins slaloming left and right, his body leaning just enough to initiate the turns. It’s fun to watch. He rides the board with confidence and control. He seems completely relaxed, like a downhill skier gracefully carving turns on a mountainside.
Fortunately, our street carries only moderate neighborhood traffic. The boy continues to pick up speed as the hill drops away before him. I can only imagine how good it feels — the increasing speed, the exploration of equilibrium, the mild centrifugal forces in his turns, the air rushing past his face and arms and legs.
He sometimes makes these runs in late evening, when twilight is deepening. My parental instincts kick in, and I think, Dude, be careful there. What if … but 11- or 12-year-olds have to figure out on their own where the line lies between risk and reward, between success and scabs. My brother and I learned it long ago, in the pre-skateboard era, by building ramps in our backyard and riding our Schwinns off them.
What happens after a certain point on the boy’s ride down our street, I do not know. He disappears beyond a neighbor’s hedge and I lose sight of him for the duration of his ride.
A grocery store sits near the outrun of his ride, and I’ll see him coming back up the hill — walking now, skateboard under one arm, a grocery bag dangling in his free hand. Sometimes, he holds the skateboard and the grocery bag in the same hand so he can check his smartphone with the other.
I don’t mean to be sexist in my skateboarding observations. My sample size is small. I suspect plenty of adolescent girls also ride skateboards, exploring the delicate balance between speed and control. I remember one girl in our neighborhood who became proficient on her longboard. But lately, it’s just the boy on his skateboard.
The mode of conveyance in this flirtation with balance and risk-taking hardly matters. It might be a mountain bike or a snowboard or a stand-up paddleboard. The venue might be a wooded trail, a local ski hill or a lake up north.
The common denominator is the same in all its variations — that heady sense of living on the edge and the intoxicating sense of satisfaction that comes with success.