How skateboarding kept this old man sane, smiling and mentally stretched.

In late January 2020 people were starting to get tetchy about the news of this emerging virus called COVID-19.

As a commuter who would spend roughly 3 hours on a train or a tube per day my wife was a little bit nervous that I might be putting myself in a vulnerable position and heightened risk of catching it. So she encouraged me to look on secondhand websites for a fold-up bike or something similar to avoid crowded spaces.

I ended up buying a skateboard.

Silly really, as I had never stood on a skateboard in my life. And at the age of 44, I wasn’t exactly as gung-ho as I used to be. But it was cheap and I was able to pick it up on my way home after finishing a meeting in Walthamstow.

However, I spent most of February and March before lockdown began carrying the bloody thing around as I was both scared of injury and of looking like someone going through a public midlife crisis. So yeah, a bit self-conscious. Oh, and it turns out that skateboarding in London is impossible unless in a park or on the south bank.

So then, Lockdown kicks in.

We’re all sticking to the rules of social distancing and short periods of exercise outside once a day. I’ve got 2 kids and it wasn’t long until they were getting a bit of cabin fever. Times were weird indeed but on the plus side, the weather was amazing.

So the combination of a bad lockdown, great weather and good intentions to keep physically and mentally fit, we ended up all getting skateboards. It was great! We’d walk to a local car park with our boards, snacks and water to play for as long as we were allowed to. I genuinely believe that skateboarding and good weather got us through those early pandemic months.

Then when we moved to the Netherlands in July 2020 I quickly discovered something I hadn’t realised. Much of the country has a strong beach and surf culture. Hardly surprising really, most of the coast is beautiful sand dune, white-sand beaches. It also turns out that skateboarding is the norm for people, of all ages.

So since living here, we’ve continued to skateboard. My kids are ridiculously good, throwing themselves down concrete bowls and ramps — which are everywhere. Where I’ve gone more towards using my board to cruise around.

In fact, in order of use, my transport modes are firstly, obviously, a bike followed by my skateboard followed by my car. I seriously don’t know why I need a car by the way.

Anyway, now you’re all up-to-date here is why I wanted to share this post.

Firstly I was inspired by this post on LinkedIn by Angie McQuillin who has also hopped on to 4 wheels and shared her reflections about the need for fun.

Secondly, as Angie's post made me reflect, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on why skateboarding has become ‘a thing’ for me at the ripe old age of 45.

  1. It clears my mind. Honestly, you have no idea how much I’m scared of injury. So when I take my board out, my concentration is on nothing but moving forward and staying upright. There’s no distraction, no phones, emails or anything. I’ve noticed that when I’m low or stressed that even something as simple as taking the board out around the block, helps me to find balance. It’s a form of meditation, genuinely.
  2. It forces me to develop. As an advocate of all things agile, skateboarding is in my mind, the physical embodiment of learning through the iterative process. I put the short burst reps in regularly to get 1% better each time. I often fall and lose confidence and take a while to build confidence back up, but when I do — I’m a little wiser and a little more skilled, a little better. This learning is true in all I encourage, progress over perfection and of course becoming is better than being.
  3. It’s the opposite. Honestly, I love the fact that some might smirk or be cynical. I love the fact I’m doing the opposite of those people or what is the norm for my age. I think that doing the opposite of what is expected often shows you and others who you are and what you’re made of. Doing the opposite is rich in its ability to expose creativity and move the dial slightly towards something new. And of course, it keeps us curious and challenging the status quo.
  4. It’s fun. Going back to Angie’s post — skateboarding is fun. It’s also something that I can do with my kids. So for me, skateboarding has created some great memories from the last year. Ones of simple fun. And if I’ve learned anything from the horror of this pandemic, it’s that we have no idea what the future holds — so f**k it, might as well enjoy the here and now as much as possible right?

Overall, most of my reflections on skateboarding boil down to how it’s helped me to remain mentally ‘OK’ over the past year.

Of course, I’ve had highs that didn’t come from rolling around on 4 wheels and of course, I’ve had lows, low lows in fact.

But I think on balance, I’m doing alright and some of that comes down to the focus required to skateboard, the learning it creates and the fun it offers.

So whatever it is that you find fun, do more of it. Don’t care what other people think or say or do. But it feels good to you then just do it.

Your’s sincerely, old man on a rolling plank

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Matt Barnaby

Matt Barnaby

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A person who likes to do great things with great people so that together, we can make a bit of a difference to the world