The Road to Europe #3

After a full week of resting my lower back, I got back on the freestyle board last night. No pressure – mostly just did some footwork, shove-its, etc. I did practice my 50/50 fingerflip, a trick I rarely do, but I feel like if done smoothly it isn’t too bad. I don’t like “pogo” tricks where you bounce around on the tail a lot.  So I don’t bounce. I get up on the truck, then right back down.  Just my personal preference. Here are just a few clips I shot with the GoPro.

The Road to Europe #2: A Slight Setback

Besides the fact that we’ve had a lot of rain that has made it hard to practice, this last weekend I strained my lower back pretty badly at Aikido. I was just helping someone warm up for a test, before practice even started, and I felt the lower back muscles and spine just stiffen up. Not good. So I quietly told our instructor I was going to head home. I spent the day laying around, taking lots of ibuprofin. Woke up feeling a little better on Sunday, and though the drive to Fort Worth’s Modern museum as a little rough, all the walking around helped. I continued taking 800mg of ibuprofin 3 times a day, and now it is Tuesday and I finally woke up not feeling my back aching.

So I’m going to take this week totally off from skateboarding and Aikido and just let the muscles and inflamation go away. It’s raining this week anyway.

My lower back has been a problem since I was 18, when I herniated the L4/L5 disk and required surgery. Then when I was 28 I herniated the same disk again. It was really bad that time, but they went back in and got it “fixed”. I had a better doctor that time. But once you have something like that, your muscles are never quite the same. I’m sure I have some arthritis in that part of my back. I’ve been dealing with it for 32 years now, so it’s just part of my life. It’s always part of the background noise. Normally it doesn’t hurt, but I’m always aware. I just press on and live life and do what I want. When it gets strained, like this time, I take some time and rest it and get it “well”, or at least “well” by my standards.

The truth is, you can strain your back by sleeping in a bad position. The best thing I can do for it is remain active, try to stay in shape, and not be stupid.

But it has been frustrating. In 2013 I was unable to practice for the Philly Freestyle contest because I had really jacked the lower back up pretty bad. I went anyway, but really didn’t get to give a good accounting of myself. I had fun, but I’d of course rather skate to the best of my ability and have fun. So I’ll admit, when I felt this current strain, I was very upset. I said some bad words when I got home. I was pissed that I’ll be missing some practice time. But then I realized I will still go, still have time to practice. I’ve been practicing already. I don’t suck. I’m not practicing to “win”. I’m practicing to have fun, not suck, and have a blast. So there really isn’t any pressure. There are a few tricks I’d like to learn and lock down before the contest, but I’m already prepared for my main goals. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

As of this moment, I feel like a full week of recovery time will be enough. I think that Sunday I will probably be able to get back on the board and start skating. Will probably give it another week before I start hitting the “bending over” tricks like fingerflips, and also the lower-back intensive Space Walk, but as long as I can be on the board, doing footwork and shove-its and wheelies, that’s fine.

The Road to Europe #1: Mode Freestyle Board

Inspired by my friends Tommy Harward and Sean Burke, I am doing a series of posts about my preparations to go on a skateboarding trip to London this summer, to skate with my friend and podcasting partner Tony Gale for the first time, and road trip with a bunch of British freestylers to the Paderborn contest, in Germany.

My posts will not be as funny as Tommy and Sean’s videos. Sorry.

That being said, I’m practicing my various English accents like a madman in order to fit in. I’m using the word “lovely” a lot. And “bollocks”.  I’ll get up to speed on inappropriate phrases in German soon.

Since buying my tickets, there has been exactly one day in which I have had good enough weather to get out and do a little freestyle practice.

Anyway, I decided to try out a slightly longer freestyle board than I normally ride. I say “normally” because sometimes over the last few years I’ve chosen to ride a standard 7.75″ wide newschool street board for freestyle from time to time. It has room for my feet, and the 14″ wheelbase seems to lend itself better to the way I ride. My friends mostly seem to think my skating has better flow on a board this size.

However, there are certain aspects of the newschool board that are not ideal. The nose and tail are really too long for freestyle. Not only do you not need them to be that long, but they get in the way.

click image to embiggen
click image to embiggen

Sooooo… I ordered the Mode Skateboards double kick, the board my friend Terry Synnott designed and rides. He’s refined this shape over the last 10 or 12 years, over various sponsors, until finally he started Mode Skateboards and produces this board. It’s the one on the right that says “Mode’ on it. Compared to my older Small School “Sarge” model, the wheelbase is a little longer, coming in at 13.75″. That may not look like much difference, but it is significant. The board is also a bit wider. The nose and tail are symmetrical, and 5.75″ long. This is a good length, as it provides sufficient leverage, but is short enough I can raise the nose/tail high during wheelies without scraping the ground too quickly. As you can see, the ends are blunt/square, which helps with a lot of freestyle tricks.

Also relating to leverage of the kicks; the kicks don’t start right after the truck bolts. There is a little distance between the bolts and where the bend of the tail/nose starts. Obviously this is because it is made on a newschool mold, but I have come to like this. It keeps the nose and tail from seeming excessively steep. I don’t think you want a really steep tail/nose for freestyle, and until we can get some custom molds going out there, this seems to be a good alternative. So, my point is that the nose and tail really work well, providing the right amount of kick and leverage without making your feet feel too locked into place.

As you can see, I don’t use a front skid. This board is symmetrical, but I still prefer to have a nose and a tail, with the trucks adjusted a little differently on each. I don’t like the feel of a tail skid when I do fingerflips, so I just sacrifice the nose to get the feel I like. This also allows me to lift the tail higher on nose wheelies and g-turns without scraping the ground. It is a trade-off.

I’m using some old Destructo Hi trucks. Looking at the Destructo website, I don’t see that they even make the Hi models anymore. Tony Gale has been preaching the superiority of “high” setups to me, and this feels pretty good. My first inclination is to go low, but I think I do that more out of desire to skate like Terry than out of a realistic view of how I actually skate. I’m using the hard purple Khiro insert bushings. I like them. They’re hard. Depending on some lines I work out and how these break in, I may go to the next softer one down. Trying to balance the stability of a hard bushing with the fact that I like to turn and carve, even in freestyle.

The wheels on the Mode are the Seismic Focus 97a freestyle wheels. I’d like to thank Dan Gesmer for making these wheels. I really like these wheels. They look really big and wide, but the slide and break free for shove-its really nicely, while retaining appropriate traction at other times. I got the wheels and bushings from Decomposed. Witter has excellent fast service.

That’s about it for my current setup. I don’t do any weird modifications – though I do cut the “freestyle hole” in the middle of the grip to help with footwork. Of course I have a little grip tape in the casper spots.

OK, so I took the Mode out for my first serious freestyle session in quite a while, and immediately tried a 360 shove-it, and immediately made it. So that’s good. After a couple of hours, I determined that I am not totally sucking, and with some practice I should be able to give a good accounting of myself at Paderborn. I have some ideas for a unique approach to my runs that I will work on over the next few months. If it ever stops raining.

Here’s one of those first 360 shove-its. Pretty much perfect. I just need to make it a 540.