Learning to Skateboard and Ghetto-Couchsurf


I bought my first skateboard on a Saturday afternoon at an East Village skate shop. I’d never skateboarded before, but I suddenly wanted to be like those devil-may-care skaters landing varials while weaving in and out of midday Manhattan traffic. I figured it wasn’t too late to start. I had no idea what components to pick, so I just went with the recommendations of the guys at Reciprocal Skateboards: 8.25-inch wide deck, Independent trucks, and Bones Reds bearings.

$160 and an hour later, I’m stumbling down the sidewalk trying to maintain my balance on the board while avoiding pedestrians and cars. I was too timid the first several days to go on the street, so I went to Washington Square Park every night after 11pm to practice. Everytime I saw experienced skateboarders I hoped that I wouldn’t fall or lose balance.

I knew it’d all be a matter of practice, and I was diligent about committing at least an hour every day. My excitement over this new mode of transportation helped. Streets were no longer simply cement and asphalt. They were now harrowing roads full of potholes, pebbles, sand, bikers, and New York cab drivers. Within three weeks I had already flown off my skateboard in the middle of intersections, almost had cars run over the board as it shot out from under my feet, and nearly cut down an old lady at the ankles.

I landed my first ollie in the park one night after getting tipsy at a bar. Soon after I bought a pair of Van’s skateboarding shoes that I didn’t care about scuffing up, and within a week I burned two holes in fabric of the left shoe by relentlessly rubbing my foot against the grip tape.

Last week while skateboarding down the sidewalk near Union Square, I saw two other skaters and nodded to them. They shout out to me as I pass them. I stopped and turned around. They asked about a good place to skate, and I point them to Washington Square Park. They’re not from New York and ask if I can take them there. So I ride with them to the park and point out the park fixtures on which skaters usually grind.

David (Dizzy) Dixon and Alex told me they’re part of a skate crew from Boston that’s sponsored by a new skate shop. Although these two strangers are much taller and bigger than me, they seem alright and I didn’t have anything to do so I stick around. We rode around a bit and Dizzy gave me some pointers on my ollie. “Do it slower. Don’t put your foot down so fast. You’ll get a higher pop that way.”

The fountain turned on and made the pavement slippery with its water droplets. Alex complained about the wetness so we decide to skate back up to Union Square Park. We stopped to walk, and Dizzy noticed that I’m carrying my board by one of the trucks. He said that’s the amateur way to carry one, that if I carry it like that it means I don’t really skateboard. He shows me the various legitimate ways to carry one.

At Union Square, he and Alex practiced ollying and kickflipping up and down the stairs in the plaza. Alex is a bit better and landed several kickflips up the stairs. Dizzy practiced riding up and down the stairs and eventually hurt his big toe on one attempt.

“In order to get really good at skateboarding, you have to accept that you’ll eventually get hurt,” said Dizzy. I thought I knew what it meant to accept this, but then Dizzy showed me his right index finger. The part from the second knuckle down was missing. “Hit my hand on a rail while grinding. It got infected. Doctors said it’s your finger or your hand.”

They asked me to buy them beer. I asked them if they were 21 yet. Dizzy said he’s 24 and Alex 21. Hm… We walked into Duane Reade, they point to some of the shitty beers like Bud Ice, but I refused to buy that and picked up a six-pack of Toasted Lager. Then for some reaon I decided to take them back to my apartment’s rooftop. Probably not the best idea since I met them no more than an hour ago. We relaxed into the white, plastic Adirondack chairs on the roof. They finished the beers so fast, I’m not even sure they tasted any of it.

I found out they were pretty broke when I asked them to give me $4 for their share of the beer, and Dizzy barely had $2. Alex said he sold his $2,100 camera for several hundred dollars to fund their trip to New York. I realized I should’ve bought the lower quality but cheaper beers. It was a bit awkward when I pulled out a wad of cash to make change for Alex’s $5.

Dizzy asked to use the restroom, and while he’s taking a leak, it occurs to me that I could be easily robbed right now. So I sent my roommate Gary a text message: “When you back? I’m with some people but not sure if they’re safe to be around.”

Alex kept asking to use my phone. I asked why. To coordinate with his friend who’d film them tomorrow at the LES skatepark. “Your phone doesn’t work?” I asked. “Metro piece of shit,” he said. I laughed and handed my phone to him. They also asked about cheap hotels. I told them no hotel would be cheap and that their cheapest option would be a hostel. They looked at me funny, and I realized they’d never heard of the word “hostel.” I called around for them because they asked if they could stay at my apartment. I wasn’t prepared to let them sleep over. I called around to various hotels and hostels and found not there was no vacancy at prices they could afford.

“It’s alright. We’ll just sleep in the subway station,” said Alex. “It’s part of skate life.” It was 50 degrees that night, and I felt bad turning them out onto the streets like that - no money, no phones, no idea how to get around the city.

When Gary returned, I asked him if it was okay letting them crash. Gary was more comfortable around them after getting to know them than I was. He said it was okay with him but that we’d keep an eye on them.