Skateboarding as an exercise

It’s important that the thing you choose to do as an exercise is fun.

You could go to the gym and do one of the following:

Run on a treadmill /row a rowing machine / pretend to walk up steps on the moving-steps machine.

These things are not fun. They just recreate an everyday activity, without the benefit of changing scenery. In the case of a rowing machine, actually rowing a boat in the water would be far preferable.  And at least after you’ve gone up 500 real steps, there should be a good view to be had.

Learning to skateboard is a physical and mental challenge.

It is addictive.

It will keep you coming back for more, and physical fitness is a natural by-product of this.

Every time you step on the board, your body and mind are becoming more familiar with the necessary muscular movements to be able to keep you upright.  This is reinforced and conditioned by the shock and pain of falling off.  There is nothing like the swiftly administered schooling of cold concrete to sharpen up your reflexes and correct your posture.

F=ma

The beauty of skating is that the there are hard and fast rules about the way your skateboard has to be ridden.

Isaac Newton put these into some kind of order in 1687. We now refer to them as the Newton’s laws of motion.  Attempting to deviate from these laws of nature will put you on the ground with little mercy.

On the other hand, abiding by the universal laws of nature and going with the flow of gravity and Newtonian physics is one of the most satisfying things you can do as a human being, and spending time learning its ways is one of the few routes I know to genuine happiness.

Not only that, but the desire to keep trying and progress will tighten your tendons, tone your muscles, and supercharge your cardiovascular system.

If you do it regularly (and why wouldn’t you?) The following health benefits are sure to follow:

  • Flexibility: You can’t skate very well if your limbs are stiff. As Bruce Lee said of the martial arts: “You must flow like water”. If your calf muscles, Achilles tendons, and hamstrings aren’t flexible enough, you’ll find it difficult to propel your board in a straight line, and ollies tend to take off and land askew.   You’ll find yourself stretching before skating, and finding a much easier, graceful pose on the board.
  • Full body workout: On the flat, you’re balancing, you’re pushing with one leg whilst maintaining a balanced body weight with the other.  You’re twisting your torso and swinging your arms. Congratulations, you’re simulating an elliptical trainer in the gym, with the added excitement of changing scenery and rolling surface,  and the added danger of being flung onto the ground from rolling over a tiny stone.  If you’re riding the transitions of a bowl or half-pipe, then you’re overcoming the forces of gravity and inertia by pumping kinetic energy through your legs until you reach the coping. Your heart and lungs will be asking you to stop after a while, and sweat will dampen your brow.
  • Precision: It looks easy when done by a pro, but we know it’s not. The slightest misplacement of the front foot when attempting an ollie down the steps at speed will send you and the board in different directions. A rogue swing of the arm as the trucks contact the coping can result in a bail out.  You try, you fail, you try again – this time with new knowledge in mind to cue the body: ‘keep the weight central’, ‘turn more before grinding’, ‘put the back foot in the centre of the tail’ ‘relax the front foot before flipping’ etc.  We are programming a robot of meat and sinew to perform ever more elaborate tricks.   It learns through a process of verbal cues and punishment.  Precision is key, and only through this understanding will a skater progress.
  • Coordination: Playing the drums is one of the hardest body-coordination tasks there is.   Asymmetrical and independent use of the limbs is a real mind-bomb until the programming takes hold and the subconscious takes care of it through repetition and practice.  In the case of drumming, feedback is provided to the learner through the misplaced thud of the kick drum, or the irregularly-spaced 16th beats on the hi-hats. Aesthetics inform the progress. The same is also true in skateboarding to some extent, but with skating, there is the added bonus of physical pain to speed up the learning process.  As mentioned before, there is nothing like the hard ground to teach us how to stay upright.   When were toddlers, we used the same frustration of hitting the ground to help us place our feet in the right places in order to stay vertical.
  • Overcoming Fear: # 1  – Learning to live with the fear of being laughed at. Falling off a skateboard, especially for us older skaters, can be pretty comical.  A middle aged human on a skateboard is a fairly ridiculous spectacle in the first place, and the mirth is multiplied if they get it wrong and suddenly eat pavement.  If you can pick yourself up after decking yourself outside a busy supermarket, with all the disapproval and shame that goes with it, then you are well on your way to not giving a toss about anything that life can throw at you.  Wisdom will be found along the path of the dedicated skateboarder.
  • Calorie Burning: 150-500 calories per hour, depending on the intensity.  Be warned though, this can easily be offset by consumption of pizza and fizzy drinks during breaks from skating.  If losing weight is your thing, it’s probably better to address the calories going in than trying to burn them off with exercise.  This small fact helped me lose 70 pounds in 18 months or so.
  • Skill Transfer.  I found that my cycling up the same hill every day to work seemed easier after a long weekend of skating.  Also I found it slightly easier to pick up snowboarding and surfing on my first attempt after years on a skateboard. My bass playing became 5% funkier also. Flow like water.
  • Physical Endurance:  Exercise + Fun = Free endurance training.  The more fun you have, the more benefits you receive.  Is there a better deal in life?   When I was 18, I skated all the daylight hours on my free days. Intersperse intense skating activity with fun times with friends, and you have a recipe for life-long fitness.
  • Patience: You can’t get good just like that. It’s a long game. It’s an enjoyable fun game, but it’s long.  Any kids taking up skating will learn that it’s much harder than it appears on screen, and progress comes much slower that it does in the Tony Hawk video games.  They will be taught the value of persistence, patience, and the proper application of an ice-pack and antiseptic.

  • Learning to fall: Failing to stay on your board brings with it the unexpected advantage of learning how to fall over properly. That confident, upright relaxed pose that you’re assuming while casually carving around on a sunny Saturday afternoon can be cruelly snatched away from you at a moment’s notice by the tiniest of obstacles (basically any hard object small enough to not get pushed out of the way by the wheel, but large enough for the wheel to refuse to ride over it. The object gets scraped along the riding surface for a few inches, dramatically reducing the speed of the board. The skater usually carries on through the air at the same speed as before).  After a few instances of this, the subconscious mind comes up with a routine for avoiding broken bones.   Tuck the head in, put your nearest shoulder to the ground, and do a commando roll.   It’ll be too late the first few times you try it consciously, but after a while, like the hand retreating from a heat source, the conscious mind is bypassed, and the whole routine is triggered before the board has even stopped moving. Like everything else, this skill is transferable, and for me has come in handy several other times in my life. Tripping over kerbs, etc – especially whilst under the influence of alcohol (I don’t drink anymore, but the routine is still there in my repertoire).
  • Stress Relief:  Thinking about staying upright whilst mastering the forces of gravity has an excellent quality of emptying the mind of anything else for the duration of the activity.  All exercise is good for the mind, and beneficial for the blood pressure and general stress levels, that’s true. We’re talking about skateboarding though, and it has an aesthetic quality that at its simplest level, is just purely good for the soul.
  • Overcoming Fear #2:  Dropping into a bowl or even a small mini-ramp will put ice-cold fear right into your soul.  The prospect of hitting hard concrete or even relatively forgiving laminated plywood with your horizontal body makes every cell in your body scream ‘Don’t do it!’.  Overcoming that fear and doing it anyway is one of life’s greatest lessons, and will inform the rest of your life in ways that you can only imagine.  Mastering your own mortal fear informs your own subconscious that you are capable of anything you put your mind to, and earns you a place alongside the Gods.
  • Overall Health: Scars on your knees, calluses on your hands.  – All mere surface effects of skateboarding and falling, over and over.   Under the flesh though, lies a healthy heart, a healthy fun loving alert mind.  Blood pressure, cholesterol and neurotransmitters are all within normal levels.  Skate hard, be happy. If you fall, get up and try again.  Flow like water, and become master of the forces.

Overall, skateboarding gives me the will to get up and have one more run in the bowl, one more attempt at the grind, one more go at a perfect 50-50. Whatever it is you’re trying to acheive, you’re guaranteed it will be more fun than ‘3 more minutes on the treadmill’ – that kind of effort takes real stubborn desire for bodily changes.  For the rest of us, the more fun the better, and just let any increase in fitness come naturally.

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