The Art of Falling

There is only one way to put this… skateboarders don’t get enough credit for their smarts. Though never articulated, it’s shown. I can’t think of a better example of teeth grinding toughness and balls to the wall commitment. Usually not “formally educated”, it’s not uncommon for them to come from rough backgrounds with complicated upbringings, parental voids, drugs, general loneliness and outcast-ness, the list goes on. These guys are total redemption stories, who made it in a world that is certain they wouldn’t. If it weren’t for skating these guys would be totally written off by society. But in their expertise they are the most talented there are, and the mainstream writes them off as uneducated, unrealistic and immature anyway. You don’t get to be a professional in such an intense field like this without understanding some sort of eternal truth. Professional skateboarders understand life lessons that a majority of us are never taught.

Take professional skateboarder Tommy Sandoval for example. Who has one of the most epic and jaw dropping tattoos I think I have ever seen, which perfectly encapsulates a core principle of skateboarding, and life.

“DIE TRYING” – in huge letters – across his chest. 

Given what Mr. Sandoval does for a living this guy inherently understands a lesson modernity doesn’t teach us. Life is lived trying. Not necessarily succeeding. Most people ask “Try what?”. Well that should be up to you. But whatever it is you try it’s optimal that you die trying it, metaphorically.

Most people – especially our superiors – are only interested in telling you not only what you should try but what you need to succeed at. Being told to try and being told to succeed are two completely different things. It’s hilarious how they think trying can be just skipped. We all know these types of superiors who think you need to quit with all the trying and get on with the succeeding because you’re “wasting your time”. They are impatient, and have no appreciation of the process. The ultimate irony is that if you don’t fit their vision of what they think you should be doing, you get labeled as “wasted potential”. What does that even mean?

It’s hard to not feel beholden to the advice of someone you respect and maybe someone you even love. When you take your own path and carve out your own way of being – following your “intuition” – there is no “wasted potential”. I am struggling to decide whether wasted potential is even an idea that’s worth acknowledging. Maybe it is a real thing. I don’t know.

Tommy Sandoval and others of his profession are certainly familiar with being labeled “wasted potential” and maybe even guiltily believed it for some time after being called it most of their lives. Their teachers, parents, various counselors. The thing is that those who spout the idea of “wasted potential” usually don’t understand what it means to “Die Trying” at something you feel you innately have to follow.

Skateboarding and combat sports (fighting in particular) seem to be the only forms of sport that consist of an unbelievable amount of possible physical pain upon failure. To outsiders it seems the downside of injury far outweighs the upside of landing a trick. This is because most newcomers to skateboarding can’t tell one trick from the other, and don’t know what it is like to “stomp a clean 360 flip”. The sensation of sticking a trick far outweighs the possible pain. It’s a kind of club you can only enter by training your eye to knowing how to distinguish one trick from another trick. There is a certain knowledge level one has to have to fully appreciate just what’s going on. There is a lot to learn, not just all the technical maneuvers and their combinations but you also have to learn that, in order to execute these maneuvers at a high level, there are life lessons that have to honed and learned before any trick landing at a superior level happens.

One of my favorite things about skateboarding is that it doesn’t teach success, it strictly teaches failure. Via Negativa. And how skateboarding does that is it teaches you how to fall … physically. But that lesson you learn physically gets burned into you mentally and translates to other aspects of life. After taking so many hits to the ground on your arms and wrists and knees, you start to realize the technique has to change. When skateboarders fall – particularly good ones who have fallen a lot – they don’t try to catch themselves with their hands or arms. They try not to extend any limbs if possible. What they do is bring their arms and hands in close to their chest and try to almost roll off the ground. Watch professional skateboarder Nakel Smith fall in this video. He has mastered it so totally that it’s become a meme in skateboarding circles. (Don’t worry, nothing brutal or graphic in this clip.)  

This is a trained failure. An untrained failure breaks their neck attempting this same maneuver. These guys learn how to succeed by learning what doesn’t work. You break your arm by extending it while falling? Never again. And when things don’t work, how to fall as gracefully and as minimally as possible. Limiting your downside risk to avoid ruin. Don’t extend your arms, that’s how you break not only your wrist but your arm too. After mastering how to fail it makes success easier to obtain. This isn’t something that’s taught. It can only be learned by trying and failing. 

There is nothing that will teach you this more intensely and more quickly than slamming one’s body on the concrete over and over and over again. No book on riding a skateboard can teach you how to ride a skateboard.  There is some kind of deep and irreplaceable truth that can only be taught from eating shit in front of 10 people. This is exactly what professional skateboarders do for a living. Everyday. They get paid to try and fail. With the knowledge that if you try enough times you might succeed. It’s never a guarantee you’re going to land the next trick.

Skaters know more about risk taking, failure, and trial and error than most politicians and leaders of our institutions do. They have a lot more to offer than we have been led to believe.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Falling”

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