Meet the Sunset Sliders: the self-described "funkiest skate crew this side of the solar system." Last weekend I was introduced to the world of downhill skateboarding, a sport I'd heard of only in passing at our friends Dave and Liz's house in the Sunset District of San Francisco. Dave is the amazing designer and creator of Somos Skates. Plus he knows a lot about reptiles and has a wicked record collection. He and his lovely lady Liz, a talented dancer and teacher, often let Ryan and me crash when we visit San Francisco. Last weekend, it finally dawned on me why he calls his skate crew the Sunset Sliders: there really isn't a more graceful way to take a 15% grade than to slide, in a way that appears effortless but is far too loud to be so.
I grew up around skateboarders. My brother and all of his friends spent hours every afternoon after school at the end of the block, the sounds of their boards scraping the street until dusk. When I was too young to stay home alone, Josh would "babysit" by sitting us both down to watch skateboarding videos. There was a nuanced drama to it all: the way the young guys (and sometimes girls) would spin the boards between their feet, through the air, seemingly unaware of the rawness of the asphalt underneath. There were always boys missing teeth. There was always an outtakes reel. But more than anything, there was an innate understanding of how gravity works, and how thrilling it was whenever anyone defied it. Though the sport itself scared me, when Josh and his friends graduated and went off to college, the afternoons felt hollowed somehow, deprived of the sounds of wheels bouncing off concrete. All the old surfaces that they used to climb - the curbs, the driveways, the planks and the makeshift jumps - seemed forlorn in their lack of use. Creative use anyway.
I had long forgotten my nostalgia for skateboards by the time Ryan and I were atop a steep park in the Sunset last weekend. Dave had organized about 30 different competitors, many of them teenagers, some of them girls, all of them in helmets and knee pads. We helped the best we could by brushing the sidewalks of twigs and dirt, sweeping the "tears" from the morning sprinklers (Dave's words) back to the grass. Dave and his crew started the day with a complementary tour of the park by shovel, picking up stray dog litter and gaining good park karma in return. And then, as soon as the course was ready and the requisite safety teams were set up at the top and bottom of the hill, the races began.
What a thrill, to perch above the course and watch the skaters as they shimmied their way around narrow curves and dodged small puddles. Here was a love not just for the sport, but for those fleeting moments when the force of the wind billowed their hair out, when the ground gleamed so ferociously back up at them with a menace that only the right kind of threat can offer. It is both a threat and an allure, one that doesn't beckon me the way that it does Dave, or my brother, but one that I can certainly hear and understand. It's the acknowledgment that there are things out in the world that we can harness and exercise, if only we have the desire and the skill.