A Winter Survival Guide
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I started to skate when I was 8 years old. My first board was of the plastic banana board variety. It was soon replaced with a “Max Headroom” department-store special; at least it was made out of wood. I spent summers skating at the newest spots, panhandling for soda money and lying dehydrated after getting demolished by a session in the midday sun. Fall always came too soon, and on its breath the scent of winter. As a skater in Canada, I did not look forward to the cold, ice-glazed streets and the dry asphalt patches seasoned with sand and rock salt. The seasons may change, but the desire to skate does not flee with the summer. The streets still call your name – the streets that you skate only in your dreams. Skating is about dreaming and then putting a reality to that dream. Envisioning a 360 kickflip down a 10-step staircase is only a dream, until you land it and roll away. Learning how to ollie is a dream until, bang, you’re ollieing over garbage cans and grocery carts. Starting as a skater takes a positive frame of mind. If you can’t imagine yourself sticking the trick, you will not stick it.
In Thunder Bay, Ontario, where I started skating, we had plenty of time to dream as the snow filled the streets of winter. Surviving the winter wonderland took patience, genius and the ability to dream. We passed the hours watching skate videos – yes, on video tapes – until we wore them out. I think we even had some Beta skate videos. The Search for Animal Chin was on constant rerun, along with Wheels of Fire and Ban This. The worst part was watching a trick in slow motion over and over again, and then not having a patch of concrete in sight.
So we headed to the basements with boards in hand. Having a 6-foot-tall basement didn’t lend itself to skating, but we still found a way to practice kickflips, ollies and handplants. Handplants were especially practiced time and time again, mostly with pillows; we would wear ourselves out with every conceivable handplant variety. After the basement sessions it was back to the videos to see where we
were going wrong.
California Cheap Skates and other skateboard catalogs became worn and dog-eared from use. We scanned the pages for the sweetest new decks. We all had our favorite pros and waited anxiously for their newest deck models. The kid that introduced me to real skating was a Christian Hosoi follower, but I was at first drawn to the original Lance Mountain boards. We circled and highlighted decks, trucks, bearings and wheels. The same was done in the clothing section of the catalog. After hours of scouring the catalogs, we would order our winter completes. It sucked ordering a complete, putting it together and letting the virgin deck stand solemnly in the corner.
It was time to search for the only dry spots in town: parking garages. Bundling up with toques, gloves, hoodies and jackets, we were off to the places where we knew we went only to be kicked out. But we had to get our new decks broken in; the wheels needed to be touched by concrete; the trucks yearned for waxed curbs. The parking garages were usually dry, but full of sand and salt. Still, it worked. Our sessions would average 10 or 20 minutes before security was called and we were cockily told to leave – run-of-the-mill, cliché kick-out sessions. Back at home it was time to play Skate or Die. It was no Tony Hawk Pro Skater, but the vert ramp and jousting were insane, and the lingo was cutting-edge for the day. I don’t know of any other skate video games from that time period, except Skate or Die 2.
When my family decided to move to the United States, I thought we were headed to warmer climates and a longer skate season. I was wrong. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan had fewer places to skate and a winter to match Ontario’s. I made some skater friends, at least one in particular, and we started with the same winter survival plan, with one added asset: a makeshift mini-halfpipe in his barn. It was a sorry excuse for a mini, but it served, and we spent hours and hours sessioning. Even though we had a place to skate through the winter, the skating was different. The below-freezing temperatures caused it to hurt worse when you smacked your shins; kingpins broke regularly; and to be bundled up in layers of clothes stole the aesthetic from skating. When we were bored with the winter skating, we frequented the skate shop, buying stickers and new bushings and dreaming about owning one of the five to 10 decks in stock.
When snowboarding entered the scene, we never felt it was an adequate substitute for skating. It was similar enough, but not the same. It did take the winter edge off. Of course, we never paid to skate; indoor skateparks were a rarity. Going to the ski hill to snowboard was a little bit hard on the wallet of nonworking teenagers. Instead, we would find steep hills and build kickers that could keep us
busy for weeks.
Winter was the time when non-skating friends would decide that they wanted to give this skateboarding thing a try. They would get all set up through the winter with a complete deck, shoes and maybe some pads. Then come spring they would find out that their dreams did not come true; they couldn’t ollie, kickflips were impossible, and falling hurt way more than they thought. If you worked it right, you could inherit their deck or buy it at a low price.
Since those early skating years, things have changed. Indoor skateboard parks are increasing, there are different practice tools like the Indo Board, Ollieblocks and Softrucks. There are also snowskates, which are like mini-snowboards without bindings. And snowdecks, which are similar, with trucks and a mini-snowboard attached to the bottom. Skaters can also keep themselves busy with skateboard forums, although talking about skating can make things seem even worse. The one thing that has not changed is this: Every skater in a cold climate needs to find a way to survive the death grip of winter.
Two springs ago I was trying to make it through the winter as a skater in Wisconsin. There was one small indoor park in town. It was in the back of a skate shop. It had a mini with a spine, various moveable rails, a box with two roll-ins and other haphazard obstacles. Once I got over continually banging my head and hands on the ceiling of the building, I was pretty into the scene. It was dry, and there is nothing better than the sound of skate wheels echoing in a building. After a while I got the itch to skate without a roof and ducking every time I got air. Every spring warmup we got, I was out searching for skateable spots. Summer was on its way and the local outdoor skate park was drying up. I drove by it daily to check if it had opened, because the city officials never said when it was going to open for the year. One day I passed and was pleased to see a group of skaters inside. The doors were locked and shut, but the fence was climbable.
As would any skater who’s been confined by the cold for six months, I hopped the fence. The session was soon cut short by the authorities, but I survived the winter. CW
Written By CLINT CHEREPA