Mumbaiwale: Want to try skateboarding?
At the city’s only dedicated hangout for skateboarders, the community is chill, the lessons are free and it’s ok to fall. One long-timer offers tips on getting startedUpdated: Mar 30, 2019 00:10 IST
Here’s a column that’s been right under my nose. Right at home. Always underfoot, truth be told. My brother, Russell Lopez, 34, has been going reliably missing every Sunday for the last three years. And he invariably returns home in need of a bath.
Here’s where he spends his precious few weekend hours, week after week. Russell is a self-taught skateboarder – an enthusiast who got on to his first skateboard at age seven and, as the whole family will attest, didn’t quite get off it. He heads to Khar Social, the city’s only purpose-built skateboard park for Mumbaikars to practise their skills. There, between 3pm and 7pm, he and a few others offer lessons, encouragement and, often, the use of their boards to newbies for free.
Russell has helped more than 2,000 people try skateboarding over the last decade. He’s not an official trainer (more on that later). He does it for no reward. He hasn’t injured himself seriously yet. (Oh dear! I’ve jinxed it, haven’t I?)
Here’s what he’d like to tell potential skateboarders about the activity:
It’s not the same as roller skating or roller blading. Whether you’ve mastered or sucked at them, it has no bearing on how you’ll do on a board.
Forget what you’ve seen on the internet. “To understand what happens, you need to see it live,” Russell says. “It’s not just complex tricks. You need to understand how much time we spend, how we prep, how we use the location.”
It’s okay to fall. “I tell people this over and over,” Russell says. “Eight out of 10 people who get on the board for the first time will fall, so you probably will too and that’s all right. No one’s a pro and we’ve all been there.” He says that on average, it takes about 40 minutes of practice on flat ground (propelling yourself forward by kicking off with one leg) before you’re confident about your sense of balance.
It’s okay to be afraid. “We hear this from everyone who wants to try the board,” Russell says. “But everyone here understands that. We’re all coming from the same place and the skateboarding community is about support.”
It’s okay if you don’t have a skateboard. On a typical Sunday, there are anywhere from three to 14 enthusiasts hanging out with their boards and they will let you try theirs for a few minutes. A good skateboard costs ₹3,000 and up. So don’t buy one unless you know you’ll enjoy using it.
Girls are welcome. “I think there are three passionate women skateboarders in the country for every hundred guys,” Russell says. But don’t let that statistic hold you back.
No, there are no courses or fees. “This fees and classes business only serves to make parents happy and kids miserable,” Russell says. “Adults want paisa vasool and will push kids. Even if you’re an adult paying for yourself, you end up looking for a return on the investment rather than enjoying yourself. Get money out of the equation and you’ll be free to do what you love.”
Kids will pick it up faster. They just don’t tense up or fear falling off as much. “They also have a knack for following movement. A kid will copy my jump exactly, including how high my knees go. An adult will just jump generally.”
Mumbai roads aren’t board friendly. “Sure you can use a skateboard on a road, but that doesn’t mean any road, anywhere is skateable,” he warns. “You need a reasonably empty street, long but not necessarily wide, free of traffic and a surface that is as smooth as possible.” And because board wheels are small and hard, look for a road that has not been concretised and has a surface of soft tar.
But at least we have one spot for boarders. Delhi’s only park was underground and shut recently. Chennai has one and Bengaluru has three, which explains why they have more, and better-trained enthusiasts.
The media likes to portray skateboarders as daredevils. But Russell sees them as more of a community of people sharing what are essentially solo experiences. “We know what it’s like to drop [90 degrees] into the bowl. We know what it’s like to polish a trick. We’ve all felt that same fear. We want you to do it.”