The Grit of Skateboarding and Coding

Illustration of the author skateboarding.

The end of this month (November 2020) marks 6 months since I got my own skateboard and started on an awesome and inspiring journey.

I started skating at the end of May 2020, around the time of the decline of the first wave of the COVID pandemic here in the Northeast US. I was looking to gain a new skill and way to get around the beautiful parks and newly shared roadways in my neighborhood. At the start, I only had in mind to learn just to cruise around, but I’ve exceeded anything I thought I was capable of, now learning how to navigate obstacles in a skate park and do tricks.

In this post, I will rewind back to my first encounter with skateboarding and delve into the parallels between learning to skateboard and learning to code (there are many!)

Venice Beach, New Year’s 2016

My first encounter with skateboarding was in Venice Beach, CA when I was visiting the Los Angeles area for New Year’s almost four years ago. My now-husband and I had settled on a trip here because he is fond of the Santa Monica area, and I have family just south of there.

We were meandering around Venice Beach and came across a skate/surf rental which caught his attention. He rented one, and cruised around while I walked. It was a totally glorious day.

We also went to the skate park here, which I now know is one of the most famous ones in the United States. While my husband skated here, I sat nearby and drew the bowls which was enticing and challenging. Knowing absolutely nothing about it, or how the skaters were able to navigate it, it captured my imagination. While I was there drawing, one of the skaters came up and sat with me and thought the art was totally awesome. While he was a stranger, and this was a new kind of place for me, I felt at home being around someone who was so jazzed about art.

Plein air drawing of the Venice Beach Skate Park, January 2016

It wouldn’t be more than four years later until I stepped foot on a skateboard, but I have carried this wonderful memory with me all those years.

Working Through the Hard Stuff

The thing about both skateboarding and coding is you can’t do either without a substantial amount of hours under your belt i.e. both have steep learning curves. This isn’t to say that other things I’ve pursued aren’t challenging, it’s just that there are ways to engage in them fairly immediately (and of course, all of this varies person by person). For example in yoga, there are modifications to poses to fit level of flexibility, balance, mobility level, etc. For painting, there are coloring books where artists can paint within pre-drawn shapes but still use their creativity to get a great color balance.

The things I spent time on in the earlier part of my life — visual art, dance, music, and the sciences — are all things I am naturally good at. I wasn’t purposefully trying to do things that were easy (I genuinely did and still do love all these things!) but perhaps I naturally gravitated toward them because they provided immediate gratification. Coding (which I encountered in college, pursued with a lot of effort in my mid-twenties, and had my major breakthrough in my late-twenties) and now skateboarding (which I started a little after my 30th birthday) required me to put in a lot of effort to get started and were not immediately rewarding. With both, I had a feeling I would enjoy them, but wouldn’t be able to really understand why until months of effort. I trusted my gut and am glad I stuck with them.

Both skating and coding can both be incredibly intimidating to a newcomer. Something like jumping and flipping a skateboard 360 degrees in the air or creating a mobile app from scratch can feel surreal and very much out of reach.

A great deal of courage is needed. With skateboarding, the sensation of your wheels moving up or down an incline (rather than flat on the ground) and of course the fear of falling, can be frightening. With code, I think one of the scariest feelings is not knowing why something you created won’t work, and further down the rabbit hole: the fear you won’t be able to figure it out.

Another parallel is gender. Both skateboarding and tech now have more female representation, but are still male-dominated realms. It was perhaps due to my experience as a part of an underrepresented group in tech that I did not feel any hesitation to jump into skateboarding. Happily, I have seen many girls and women at the skate park in my city.

Being a petite female who innately looks like and moves like a dancer, others immediately identify me as one whereas with skateboarding I am reinventing myself a bit — but that’s part of the fun of this new phase in my life. 🙂

The expanses of free time that opened up with COVID this year was a great advantage for getting started in skateboarding. If I didn’t have so much free time, I doubt I would have had the patience to get through the slow (and sometimes embarrassing) process of getting down the basics. For example, riding around in a basketball court for a while before skating in places I’d normally go (such as around the pond, along bike paths, etc.). The ollie, which I still haven’t 100% mastered, required several weeks of trying over and over again before anything came even close to “good”.

I went through a similar process going in-depth with JavaScript (and scripting fundamentals) about 3 years ago. I followed the Watch and Code curriculum for several weeks, completing a chapter every week, going through so many fine details rigorously to make a fairly simple example project. If you miss one tiny detail, the software doesn’t work. This fall, I am working on Python programming challenges and Unity/C# projects which are much more advanced and I have much better stamina for them compared to a few years ago. The perseverance of learning to skate has furthered my focus and fearlessness to get to the next tier of programming ability — I feel like the two are working together these days.

Learning to Fly

Over the past years, learning to code — and more specifically, learning how to meld it with my artistic passions — has been by far the thing that has given me the most confidence. I feel invincible knowing not just what is possible, but all the intricate inner workings and the energy to make my visions reality. I feel empowered to be able to create things that make the world a better place, or say, when someone on a team ponders an idea: “I know how we can create that!” Momentum and and lots of ideas are side effects of this technical competence.

While I’m just a half year into skating, I’m getting a taste of what it feels like to fly (really, quite literally) as I start to sail around the skate park here in Boston and see other skaters master the physics of it all. I’m not intimidated because I have been at the ground level toiling away at it, and know they needed to, too, to be able to do the incredible things they do.