I tuck my handbag under my arm and hold a book in the other hand as I make my way cautiously across the concrete landscape of the skate park. Teenage boys on scooters and skateboards weave politely around me, giving space to the thirty-something woman who is of no interest to them. I feel as if I’m crossing no man’s land, it’s not my territory, it’s dangerous. But I press on, aiming for a seat on the far side, somewhere I can sit and read, a sanctuary.
My son yells “Mum!” at my back and I turn to yell “What!” I’m stuck halfway. “Watch! Watch!” he yells, adjusting his scooter in my direction. “I will! Just let me sit down.” “No! come and watch!” He waves his hand towards one of the ramps metres away across the concrete. At seven, everything worth doing is worth demanding Mummy’s close attention for. He doesn’t understand I’m not comfortable being in the skating area. I don’t belong here, I’ve got no wheels.
Once seated, I let out a sigh. Off to the side, with my bum parked comfortably and a book beside me, I adore the skate park. The sunshine bouncing off the concrete and the rhythmic sound of skateboards and scooters slapping against it gives everything a dreamy quality. There’s conversation, but it’s sparse, the guys are more interested in skating than talking. I sit back and watch, rarely needing to even open my book. I admire the skill and bravery of the skaters, their weight low on the board and one arm raised for balance as they drop into the huge bowl, disappearing for a moment while I hold my breath for them, then shooting up the other side like a cork from a bottle – flying, their board somehow still beneath their feet, as if it is not an inanimate object but a bodily extension.
The first time I took my son to the skate park he was maybe four years old. He barely knew how to ride his scooter. I expected him to wobble around on the flat concrete for half an hour and then leave, intimidated by the bigger skaters around him. But he took a quick look at them, sizing it all up, then headed straight for a ramp at the far end, dragging his scooter determinedly up the rise, then turning it at the top to face the downhill. I watched as he tipped the handlebars forward, leant his body back, and rode his scooter down as if he had been doing it for years, his face breaking into a joyous smile as he sped towards me, riding out the momentum of the slope. I clapped.
We’ve been going regularly ever since. I’ve come to feel a connection to the skate park, although I’m one of the few women to ever appear there. Sometimes there’s another mother or a girl aged eight or younger, but aside from that it’s predominantly boys and young men. Perhaps girls over eight have no interest in skating, or perhaps eight years and under is the golden age of fluidity, where gender boundaries are not fully realised – or don’t really matter.
I do like the masculine energy of the skate park though. There’s no strutting, and I’ve never seen a fight break out, or even any mocking or shaming occur. Instead there’s a kind of hushed pride, the boys pulling off amazing tricks with barely a shy smile. They stand at the top of the bowl – such a huge drop, like falling off the end of the world – and in they go.
I like how they say ‘drop in’ to describe the action. It’s a physical and a metaphorical description. They drop in mentally, too. They are so in tune with themselves, with their own physicality. There’s no resistance, they go with it, their body balancing out the fall perfectly, trusting in the laws of physics. When they do crash, they land loose-limbed and rolling to absorb the impact, then almost immediately they’re up and back on the board – to drop in again and again and again.
I admire their Zen-like persistence. The apparent ease with which they pull off their tricks is the result of hours and hours of practice. It’s the kind of practice that I would think is easy to prolong. It’s not work when you love it. They watch each other with their heads tilted – a gesture of understated praise. Then another one steps forward to show what he can do, and the last skater steps aside, props his board up against his leg and tilts his own head to watch on. I can see how it’s possible to spend all day at the skatepark and not know where that time went.
What an amazing place it is, to have a group of boys and young men in such a state of peaceful interaction. The outlet of adrenalin is just right. It’s risk without conflict. Of course, I’m sure fights must break out occasionally, as they do everywhere, but I have never seen one there. Sometimes I tense up watching as my small son rides his scooter across the path one of the other skaters, but the older boy always shifts effortlessly around him, unperturbed. They don’t seem annoyed at the little ones getting in the way – it was not so long ago, I suppose.
Only once has my son been knocked down, by a boy of about fourteen. They crashed together and my then five-year-old came off second best, landing hard on his elbows on the concrete. He howled, and I ran to him. The poor teenage boy looked at me aghast, his face white beneath a baseball cap. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” he stuttered. “It’s fine,” I told him, scooping up my son. I carried him to the edge and cradled him until he stopped crying. Soon he was back on his scooter, no hint of the tears just gone – and I know that soon they will be gone for good, as he learns to roll with the falls like the others. He’ll no longer even need me at the sidelines watching on, it will be his world to enjoy without me.
I realise I’m jealous. It might not be my territory, but I still want to know what it’s like to stand on the edge of the bowl or the half-pipe, to look down into another world, and without fear, let myself fall in.