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I wrote recently about my struggles as an aging skateboarder. Tonight I went out for my first session since the one that inspired that post, and was dismayed to find a new thing to feel old about...

There is always a certain hesitation when approaching a new skatepark -- Is it built well? What kind of skaters frequent it? Are they nice? Will I be disturbing the homeless man living behind the quarter pipe if I skate too early? Tonight I tried Hazard Skatepark in east Los Angeles, and felt that familiar anxiety as I walked up. It was moderately populated, and had a very unique layout. But I immediately felt different in a few ways, all leading up to one blaring observation -- I'm kind of old.

I wear a helmet most of the time now, mostly because I have two kids and my wife reminds me that I need to be a good example for them (as well as keep my brain intact). This headpiece right away sets me apart from about 99% of skaters at the typical skatepark in Los Angeles, because most of them don't require pads. Combine this with my high socks (to protect my shins) and Avett Brothers t-shirt, not to mention the color of my skin (or lack thereof), and I stick out like a sore thumb. But whatever...I can deal. I've been skating a long time and can hold my own against most kids.

The whole time I never felt quite comfortable, though. I am kind of used to this feeling, being a 32-year old skateboarder, but tonight felt exaggerated. And that's when the "cool kids" showed up, and this level of nervousness accelerated. Listen, I know this is all dumb. These were a bunch of high school kids rolling up in a little posse that resembled Lords of Dogtown, smelling like weed with the sassy looking "skater chick" girlfriends in tow. But something about them just made me feel like I had to prove myself. I found myself in high school all over again...

Speaking of high school...this is from a 2002 skate competition I did not do well in.

Of course it only took about ten minutes before I almost ran into one of them, crossing the park going for an awkwardly placed arched quarter pipe while he was heading for the fun box. I apologized and went out of my way to hand him his board, but he hardly said anything, seemingly having an adolescent heart attack as he described the near-death experience to his friends. So then I felt like all eyes were on me, the weird old white guy with the helmet. Eventually the kid I almost sent to the hospital set up a barrier sign off of a kicker for people to jump. My feeble knees weren't feeling the rails and ledges I was working, so I decided to join them. This was my chance: kids were struggling to get over the sign, but I knew I could jump it easily (sometimes experience has its advantages over a youthful physique) -- and I did. Then I kickflipped it before anyone else, and after that backside 180'd over it. And though I may have shamed the other kid who was also trying to kickflip the sign, I felt a little redeemed, like I can still keep up.

The reason I am writing all of this is because the whole experience just felt really ridiculous to me, but also somewhat relevant. I am pretty old to be skateboarding still -- that goes without saying -- but with that age comes the golden ability to not care what others think of you. I remember my mom telling me years ago that age brings a wisdom to acknowledge that it doesn't really matter what anyone thinks of you, and with that comes freedom to be who you want to be. It is a shame that for most people this takes about forty years to come to fruition (if not longer), and I am certainly no exception. I have come a long way in this regards, particularly compared to the peak of my skating career, where I would just shut down and stop skating if a few really good kids showed up. Now I typically don't let it bother me.

But tonight showed me a new layer to this journey: In my younger years, ability dominated my thoughts. As an adult, I learned to not care. Now, as a skateboard-geriatric, I am realizing my age and therefore my difference from everyone else...and it has become distracting. So is that what it all boils down to: not wanting to be different? We all desire belonging -- I know I always wanted to fit in within the skateboarding world, though I never quite did -- but shouldn't it not be important now? Or is this all just the desperate meanderings of a man who can't quite let go?

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