We don’t love exercising just because it makes us stronger, faster or more resilient, we’re also hooked on the rush of feel-good hormones that flood our systems at the end of a workout.
Fitness has helped me escape the overwhelming sadness of grief, the claustrophobia of mounting deadlines and everything else in between. But, when the loneliness and boredom of living in quarantine began to affect me at the beginning of the pandemic, the last thing I wanted to do was pick up a kettlebell and deadlift my dejection away.
Cramming work, leisure and workouts into my living space just made exercising feel like a joyless chore. So I joined countless others in binge-watching hours of my life away, starting with a nostalgic favourite – Dogtown and Z-Boys. The epic documentary recounts the story of the Zephyr crew, a southern Californian collective of skaters whose fearless, surf-style of skating revolutionised what was considered a preppy sport prior to the mid-70s.
After watching Skate Kitchen and Betty – a film and TV series, respectively, that each fictionalise the lives of a real-life, all-girl skate crew from New York, I found myself drawn to the idea of picking the sport up as a way of getting out of the house and learning something new. My boredom inadvertently drove me straight back to fitness, just in a way I never expected.
And I wasn’t alone because according to various reports, skateboarding – much like roller skating – is enjoying a revival as people look for ways to pursue fitness outside of designated workout spaces like gyms. Thirteen-year-old, Sky Brown’s recent win at the Olympics has also raised the sport’s profile considerably.
Picking up skateboarding during the pandemic wasn’t easy. Pre-lockdown, I may have been able to book a one-on-one skate session with an instructor, or join a skate collective, but I was entirely on my own. So I bought a cheap board off the internet, watched hours of beginner-friendly YouTube tutorials and set about teaching myself the basics.
I was so embarrassed about my neighbours seeing me attempt to remain upright on a board that I’d go on 7am practice sessions – after the early morning runners but before the dog-walkers.
For the first few months I doubted myself a lot so found it hard to commit to a schedule, and it showed. During every single one of my hour-long, twice-weekly sessions, I flew off the board while trying to master how to kick out and push the ground away; the basic motion that allows you to gain momentum on a skateboard.
Unlike my old gym routine, where I could just watch myself in the mirror to perfect my form, skateboarding requires hours of play and practice that are hard to dedicate yourself to in adulthood. But every time I remembered to bend my knees when I wobbled, or tilted my feet to swivel into a new direction, I revelled in the high that I had been missing from my indoor workouts.
Popular culture may have immortalised skateboarding as a pastime reserved for teen daredevils and dropouts, but this sport is an intense workout that requires every moving part of your body to work in tandem with your mind for the entirety of the ride.
I feel the burn most in my obliques and quads, but the biggest improvement I’ve seen is in my balance. PT and nutrition expert, Aimee Victoria Long explains: “If you ever stand on a skateboard for the first time it feels weird, unstable and unorthodox. However if you stick with it you will soon get used to the movements and balance. Your hands, eyes and feet all have to work together – improving your coordination.”
The most important thing skateboarding has taught me is that physical exertion isn’t the only marker of a great workout. Adapting to a new kind of mind-muscle connection has been the most rewarding payoff for me.
After taking winter off from skateboarding, I’ve spent most of this year focusing on building a strong foundation before I learn any complicated tricks. I’m a confident cruiser now and can whizz around the park without being too embarrassed if I take a tumble.
I might not be able to grind down a stair rail, and my ollie is so low to the ground it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trick, but knowing that I still have so much to learn makes this journey all the more exciting. My next goal is to visit a skatepark and learn how to drop into a bowl – not bad for an adult beginner with about 8 months of on-and-off skateboarding under her belt!