My immediate thought was that I had broken my arm, or at least dislocated my elbow.
I picked myself up off the ground, grabbed my board, and limped over to a bench to sit down. A hot wave of panic crept into my body. I don’t have health insurance right now. Do I need to go to the ER? What was I thinking? I wasn’t even planning to skate today. How am I going to pay for this? How did I just slam so hard on a fakie rock? Did anyone see that happen?
Somehow, mercifully, I remembered to give myself some good advice: Breathe, idiot!
I went into amateur mediation mode. Having managed the feat of intently focusing on my breath for all of four or five consecutive seconds, I could feel the physical manifestations of anxiety diminish almost instantly.
Eighteen years as a skateboarder and I’ve never broken a bone. I smacked my head on concrete pretty good one time learning smith grinds on a flat bar when I was a 16. But other than that, I’ve been fortunate enough to get by with nothing worse than some sprained wrists and scabbed shins.
Recovering on the bench after I slammed, I thought back to something I overheard one skater say to another recently. He said he’d never gotten hurt doing the biggest, gnarliest things he’d ever tried. The only times he’d actually gotten really hurt, he reported, was when he wasn’t paying close enough attention while trying basic tricks he’d already done a million times before.
I laughed to myself a little bit, as this is exactly what I had just done.
I’d come to Sheldon that day to meet up with Johnny Lozano from Salad Grinds and Bean Plants. He was in town for a few days from Texas and on this particular Saturday morning was filming some clips of Minnesota native Tom Rohrer.
Already super sore from a full week of skating, I wasn’t even planning to get on my board that day. But when I pulled in, I grabbed my Vision fish-tale cruiser out of the trunk and settled into the idea of simply carving around the park for fun.
Yep, just take ‘er easy! That was the plan. But boys will be boys, after all. And after getting all juiced up watching Tom stick a frontside bigspin heelflip on the hip, then seeing Johnny getting closer and closer to pulling a nollie frontside 360 flip on it, my willpower collapsed. I impulsively went to my car, ditched the cruiser and returned to the session with my normal popsicle board.
One moment I’m feeling good, warming up with some basics on the hip. Then next thing you know, I’m sprawled out on the cold, unforgiving concrete.
The cause of the slam, in short, was that I made the mistake of thinking when I should have just been skating.
Lost in thought about something I wanted to bring up in conversation, in an instant I found myself unprepared as I was flying towards a five-foot quarter-pipe. Just a fakie rock, I thought. But I had forgotten that there’s a slight dip in the run up just a few feet before the transition starts. By the time I got up on the coping, in full fakie rock position, my feet weren’t set up right and my balance was off. Time seemed to slow down in that moment. A fraction of a second before it happened, I knew that I was about to go down very, very hard.
Center of gravity too far forward, I lifted my back trucks to come back down the transition and shot out. My left arm extended to break my fall, and upon contact with the concrete, I felt and watched my elbow joint somehow slightly bend in the opposite direction it’s supposed to.
Minutes later, after having had some time to breathe, lick my wounds and assess the damage, I realized that the injury probably wasn’t as bad as I had originally feared. No blood or bones were visible after all, and although I couldn’t touch my left wrist to my left shoulder, I could at least make something close to a fist. Could be worse!
Relieved, I walked over to Tom and Johnny to tell them I was heading out. Johnny, uncommonly put together for a skateboarder, even happened to have some spare ice packs on him and hooked me up right there on the spot.
I got in the car and drove off thinking about how funny thinking is.
Because for me, unless I’m actively fighting it, my natural default tendency in life is to be lost in thought basically all of the time. And although I experienced a little hiccup that day, generally speaking, skateboarding is one of the most powerful tools I’ve discovered that helps me break out this cycle.
I’m icing and heating my elbow now. I’ve got some Advil and am generally taking it easy for a few days. But soon enough I’ll be back at the skate park, and soon enough I’ll be finding myself rolling up into a fakie rock once more.
When that moment comes, I hope I'll have the wisdom to remember how simple the task in front of me really is.
In other words, I hope I remember to just skate, and not think.