Caution: our kids are in the fast lane.

(originally published in full in Concrete Wave: 100% Skateboarding, Vol. 8, no. 4, January 2010.) under name Lorrie Coleman… that’s still me.

It’s morning in Golden Colorado in the Staub family kitchen.  Mother and Father sit at a table with steaming cups close at hand, a newspaper spread out in between them.   It is a weekend and no one is in a hurry to go off anywhere, until Calvin comes into the room.  The seventeen year old clearly has something on his mind, and it isn’t the news that his parents are pouring over.  Their conversation unfolds something like this:

“Mom, Dad,” he shuffled at the floor in his socks. “Can I go to the mountains to ride?”

They looked up from their paper.

“Ya, there’s a ‘Mountain Session’ today.”

“And?” his mother asked as she cools the liquid in her cup with a quick breath.

“Well, I’d like to go.” He looks at them, “I’m not going alone; I’d be with another boarder.”

“What’s this guy’s name?” his father puts down the paper and looks at him in the eye.

“Jim Callahan.”

“Well how old is this, Jim Callahan?” his mother asks.

“Around thirty,” Calvin adds, “And I don’t think that’s his real name…”

“And where did you meet him exactly?” his mother’s voice reveals her concern.

Calvin was quick to put his mother’s concerns at ease, “on the internet.” He said.

His father pushed his cup aside, “And what does he do for a living?”

Again, Calvin attempted to reassure his parents, “I think he skates and might be unemployed.”

Calvin could hear his parents’ tones lightening, assured it seemed with his in-depth knowledge of his new found friend.

“So, where are you two meeting?” His mother asked, now having resumed sipping her coffee.

Calvin held his breath and let go with a “Somewhere on the top of Loveland Pass,” a nearby mountain they all knew well.

His father smiled, “Okay, Have fun.”

“Call us with updates,” his mother added.

“I don’t think there’s cell phone service,” Calvin called as he grabbed his board and bag and dashed out the door.

What struck me as poignant about this scene wasn’t that the parents questioned the identity of their son’s riding partner, or that they were concerned about a friend almost double his age, but that they sounded just like me and my husband as we spoke to our son Wolf Coleman in his early days of riding here in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I am not for the moment advocating for hustling our kids off for an afternoon of fun with just any unknown adult whom they met on the internet.  Nor am I suggesting that everyone with a longboard snugly tucked under their arm, or sliding under their feet is by virtue of their sport a quality friend to be trusted without question.  But what I am saying, not just suggesting, is that the longboard community is an exceptional one where the young and old mingle over a common desire to conquer new pavement, take on the gnarliest hairpins and go as fast as humanly possible with the aid of only gravity and a good set-up.  Our kids have found homes away from home with other longboarders where they share campsites, trucks, and tales of their mountain conquests.

In this digital era where kids have thumb cramps from social network texting, carpal tunnel from game controller over-use, and suffer from obesity at an unprecedented rate, parents ought to be thrilled to see their kids out and active.   The group of parents I have spent the last several weeks chatting with over the phone, over beer, as well as exchanging e-mails, and notes on, yes, social network message boards, are parents like us, parents of high-velocity kids, (a kid being anyone who still goes home for the holiday to get mom to cook up a nice fat roast, turkey, pot of chilli, or whatever the kid’s favourite dish is).  So some of these kids are under 16 years of age, and some are over.  But once you are a parent, they are still you kids, and age doesn’t define that.  Here several parents share their stories, hopes, fears, and the support they offer their own speedy offspring.

I set out to learn what other parents make of their children’s sport, what goes through their minds as their offspring suit up head to tail in leather and aim down their road of choice, and the advice they’d offer other parents.  I started by asking my husband, Graham Coleman, what his advice to other parents would be.  He put it rather directly, “Longboarding is a crazy sport, discourage your kids before it is too late.  But failing that battle,” which clearly we have, “support them with everything you’ve got.  Keep them safe, and cheer them on.”  Every one of the parents I interviewed had a different story to tell about what supporting their longboarder meant.

Raising a Grom:

Erian Baxter of British Columbia, has supported her son, Quinn, through his induction to the world of longboarding.  Since Quinn was barely nine when he first started racing, she is very on-hand at his events and practice runs.  She found that “the Vancouver longboarding community to the concept of already had the concept of ‘Grom’, but they were mostly  teenagers; the community didn’t have a lot of experience e with kids less than ten.   Since it can be a bit of an ‘alternative’ community, we all worked together to find our way.  They were all a bit weirded out by having parents around, but also accepted us and Quinn quite gracefully.  In turn, we have tried to not impose a whole lot of judgement or other issues on them, since we are coming into their world.  They have all really looked out for Quinn throughout this process.”  Erian, her husband Kevin and their kids Hannah and Quinn are firmly fixed in our local longboarding scene.  While Quinn raced stand-up again, Hannah rode classic luge with the encouragement and support of the local crew at this year’s Maryhill.  Then at the most recent KOTF, Quinn, Hannah and their dad all participated—a total family event.

While continuing to encourage Quinn and advocate for him with other riders and race organizers, the sport itself has evolved.  Quinn’s first race was in 2008 when Mischo Erban added a junior’s category in the Vernon DH race.  Next, Erian worked with the Maryhill organizers to discover that with a signed waiver their race could accept riders as young as Quinn…nine-years old.  Erian noted that “the IGSA has welcomed and embraced the growth in the Juniors categories, even if they haven’t been quite prepared for it.  Longboarding as an organized sport has grown so quickly that understandably, there are some growing pains, yet everyone we’ve met really loves that the young groms are coming out more.”

Dad on the run: Mark Staub.

Being an advocate, a cheerleader, a driver, and volunteer is all part and parcel to being the parent of a longboard racer.  But to Mark Staub, supporting his son Calvin meant actually getting on a board himself and riding the roads together.  Calvin taught his dad how to foot-break and carve a hill.  After a while they were bombing 12000 foot mountain passes at 60MPH/hr! (That’s 100km/hr for us Canucks—that’s fast).  They bought him NJK’s and a Charlie.  Calvin’s parents set the bar high; Susan and Mark would drive him up to Lookout Mountain at 6:00am before high school and shuttle him for an hour.  At dinner, they’d talk about his trip in Colorado High Country or a session at a local hill.  They love the details, the speed, the descriptions of the ride, the crashes—all of it.  Then there are the races they take him too; when he was sixteen, he asked to take a couple of kids to California to race the Outlaws for a week, which of course, his parents agreed.

Then in November 2008, Calvin and Mark Staub raced each other in the same heat at the IGSA race in San Dimas, California.  A Kodak moment at the finish line to be sure—one of the rare, if not only father-son heats in the IGSA circuit.  This past September, Calvin took second spot in the 14-17 age group at IGSA’s Maryhill’s Festival of Speed!

Girls will be girls, (whatever that means)

Another rider-parent I spoke with is Jessica Galli from Maple Ridge, British Columbia.  You won’t find her daughter Hanna’s name in any of the IGSA stats—yet.  Hanna is a typical kid in many regards.  She likes vampire movies, would live off pizza, if given the chance, listens to Metallica, Romones and Green Day.  When she’s not hanging with her friends, she’s longboarding or bugging her mom to take her longboarding.  You see, Hanna is just seven years old.  She’s been riding since last February, and she’s hooked.  This spring she walked up to her mom with a very serious face and said, “Mommy… I want to bomb hills like you.”  Jessica was so happy to hear these words come out of her little gal’s mouth that she cried.

When I asked Jessica what reaction she gets from other parents in her community, she said, “Well, they already think I’m nuts… I get a lot of comments like, how I should be getting her involved in more appropriate things for little girls, like dance classes or something.  Yuck.”  The more I heard about Hanna and her family, it seems less surprising that at first glance.  Her older brother, Trevor, has been skateboarding since he could walk.  Riding is something they do as a family; how can you go wrong there?  Jessica hopes to be able to enter a few races with her daughter sometime in the future.  That would be awesome.  She would have taken Hanna along with her when she volunteered at Ride the Giant, but wasn’t sure it was such a good idea, especially while camping, as there is a certain amount of ‘adult’ humour and recreation that happens at race campsites.  Until Hanna is a bit older, they’ll have fun bombing their local hill.

All the way to the top!

Girls just wanna have fun is tune that my nine year daughter, Chloe and her pack of friends bop to around the upstairs.  But race star, and reining Women’s Downhill Skateboarding Champ, British Columbia’s Brianne Davies, gives the phrase a whole new meaning.   A few weeks prior to Brianne’s most recent win, I shared stories over a pint at a cafe along Vancouver’s Commercial Drive with Theresa Davies, Brianne’s mother.  I asked her where she thought these kids, our kids, get their guts, their drive, and their fearlessness from.  So, she told me:

Brianne’s dad, Wayne Davies, and I met at the drop zone we were both skydivers for about a decade, so Brianne comes by her drive to push herself into an extreme sport honestly. As well, her Dad was a member of the Canadian ParaSki (Combination event consisting of parachute landing accuracy and downhill ski racing) team and where he travelled to Austria to compete internationally.  He also raced cars at Westwood in Coquitlam and in Portland, Oregon. These sports require a high level of concentration and accuracy, along with the speed.

If there is anything to the genetic link in the adrenal rush addiction, maybe this is it.  I looked back to my own rather timid roots, and if you skip me, my father is a single engine pilot and a motorcycle rider—no not a biker, and my grandfather flew a Spitfire—one of the fastest planes in the air at the time.  He was also reckless on a motorcycle with the injuries to prove it.  Perhaps Wolf has acquired my caution with his great-grandfathers desire for speed.  Who knows?

They need their speed:

When I asked Peter Lang of British Columbia, where he thought his son Nate got his drive for longboarding, he told me: Nathan has always liked to go fast.  When he was eight or nine we would tow him around the bay on a tube, affectionately know as a biscuit.  Naomi his older sister would shake her head back and forth for us to slow down and Nathan would be frantically giving the thumbs up sign – speed up, I need more speed.

There are a lot of ways we parents can support our racing kids, for example, Peter Lang takes some serious photos of Nathan and others riders at various races.  That in itself is an accomplishment, especially at the kind of speeds that Nate clocks in at.  His father is proud of Nate’s accomplishments with making four finals this year, including second spot at both Gold Rush and Vernon DH.  Peter told me that :

Being a dad of a longboard racer has its challenges.  I’d be a fool to suggest I didn’t worry about Nathan when he’s training on roads that aren’t closed like Cypress, Mount Seymour, or the Rash.  But then driving from Squamish to Vancouver is very dangerous too.  So is being a bike courier.  We just have to trust his common sense and his ability to make good choices.  We love watching Nathan race and get nervous every heat he’s in.  It’s fantastic to see your kids do what they love, be passionate about it, and get a sense of competency from a sport, and Nathan’s made a bunch of friends – people who are not arrogant or self important, just kids having fun and enjoying being together.  We’ve met a lot of great kids who do this sport.

Sharing their Glory and Pain.

Like Peter Lang, Theresa Davies also keeps track of her daughter’s accomplishments, and she’s there when she’s needed.   She makes the point that it is different when they are adults; she says hat they still want you involved, and they want to share in their glory and in their pain.  She’s right, that’s what we do as parents.  Theresa raised her daughter to believe she could do and be what ever she wanted, and she’ doing it now.  “I keep in touch with her achievements and activities.  I go to some of the races and regularly ask how she would like me to support her and then I do it.  Since she has a car and a job and lots of sponsorship; she never asks for anything.”  She has also had the opportunity to understand and appreciate her daughter to the fullest extent when she takes time to be with her at Brianne’s races. “I see firsthand the respect she is shown and gives to others, her extraordinary longboarding skills and the dedication and love she shows for the sport and her friends. This makes me feel so proud and lucky to have her for my daughter.”

A new dimension to parental support:  jumping in with both feet.

Parental support takes all forms, from driving to early morning skate sessions, footing entry fees and funding safety gear, to cheering from behind the hay bales.  But some parents have a unique level of support; I cheer them on for their extraordinary efforts.  Judy Edmondson, a self-admitting super enthusiastic mom, was the powerhouse behind the creation of Cathlamet DH Corral.  Her son, Addison Fox, a fourteen year-old longboarder had an idea that he’d like to start a push race around Puget Island, WA, where his grandfather lives.  He set out one morning to prose how long it would take, and by the time he returned two hours later, his mother and grandfather had dreamt up the three day event that went without a hitch this past August.  Addison competed in the push and downhill races.  His mother found it ‘a rush to see him racing with the likes of Kevin Reimer and Patrick Switzer.’  The event and all the experience was a great boost to her son’s confidence.  She could tell he was really concentrating on his race, even though he didn’t expect at all to win.  She thought that maybe she should have been nervous with his racing with such a high calibre set of racers, but she wasn’t.  ‘As much as Addison claims to love speed, he’s very cautious about it.’ A sensible lad, I’d have to say.

Cheers to Judy and all the organizers that went into that event! Starting a new event is a challenge for even the most experienced crew, but to start one based on the dream of you fourteen year-old son, that has a special bit of heart in it!

Guilty, that’s me.

I missed my son’s last event, King of the Forest, an annual endurance race through the Seymour Demonstration Forest, in BC.  He was Grom of the Forest last year, when he was 14.  He headed out the door to the race with the souvenir cheque in hand that he had won at last year’s race, ready to hand it over to this year’s reining Prince of the Forest.  But, Wolf proved to be of Forest royalty after all when he took title of Prince.  I cheered for him and his older brother Akask, (who was in his first longboarding event) in my heart, quietly from home.  My support is more of the driving, cheering, and bragging variety.  Though I am proud of his skills and his fortitude, I still wish for balance in his life—it isn’t all racing, it isn’t all longboarding, but at the same time it is his passion, and I am there for him on that front.  After all,  I was there cheering the throngs of sweaty and exhausted guys and gals in pink as they rode into the Totem Pole parking lot at Stanley Park after a three day push from Hope, BC to Vancouver to raise funds and awareness for  The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation—and event not to miss if you’re a coastal longboarder.

Push for the Cure.

Lori Friesen, mother of Raggie (Rylan) English, has become the Event Coordinator for the annual Push for the Cure Hope to Vancouver.  One of her proudest moments was “watching Rylan and Bricin meet the four guys from Push for the Cure for the first time.  The boys had gone in opposite directions across Canada, and by fluke, they never met on tier trips… so when the first annual finale came along, the boys met in Hope, BC.  There was a lot of emotion rolled up in that moment.”  For Lori, how these sometimes considered ‘misfits’ pour their hearts and souls into something that is so important and selfless, is very emotional.

Riding with Heart.

I can attest to the impact that this kind of an event has on riders and their supporters alike.  Heather Slota of Vancouver Island BC, mother of fourteen-year-old, Mike Slota, is immensely proud of her son and his efforts.  For the third year in a row he has been top pledge collector for the Push for the Cure.  Mike is passionate about this cause as he lost his grandmother, Heather’s mom, to terminal cancer when he was just five.  She’d lived with Mike and Heather right until she passed away.  Heather says that if her mom were here, she’d be so proud of him.  He knows it.

Mike has been riding since he was nine, but his first race was 2008, King of the Forest with is first downhill event was 2009 Shawnigan Shredder—an event that hosted a junior category!  She would “love to see him fulfill whatever dreams he has… and one that he has is to stand on the podium amongst his peers and heroes.”  In the meantime, she says, “I am with Mike 200%!!! If he wants to go somewhere and bomb a hill or go to an event, I’ll always do whatever I can to get him there.”

Fear Factor…

At the other end of emotions, an area that we parents would rather not admit looms all too closely, is the fear factor, and I don’t mean the television show.  We are afraid of our kids getting hurt, or worse.  That’s it.  What else is there?  Health is critical and so is well being.  So when I read Lori Friesen’s email about Raggie’s crash, my heart lodged itself in my throat and squeezed until it hurt.

I was standing on Carnage corner at Danger Bay, where I was volunteering, and there was a reported crash on turn number one.  I was waiting for the report when I saw the ambulance take off up the hill.  No one would say on the radio who it was and I realized it was Rylan.  I wasn’t going to worry to badly until my daughter’s boyfriend came to get me.  His helmet was split in three.  His speech was slurred, and he couldn’t feel much below his waist. They were bringing in the Helijet to take him to Vancouver General. I was able to see him to the helicopter and I watched them airlift my son away.  I raced to the ferry, demanded they let me first off and arrived at the hospital in record time… that was the longest ferry ride of my life.

By the time I got to the hospital, the doctors had already examined him and amazingly enough, found only some swelling in his neck!  He climbed down from the stretcher and little wobbly, but excited to get back on the ferry and make the awards concert at the end of the race.  That day, and every day since, I count my blessings.

Lori sums up my fears, and undoubtedly many other parents worries.  We are proud of our determined and highly skilled kids.  We trust they know their limits, but there is no accounting for chance, for the random accident.  Safety gear, and solid skills go a long way to comforting me, at least, and likely others.  But we have to be realistic; from time to time, bones will be broken, skin will be embedded with bits of asphalt and rubble.  These are the inherent risks of this sport. Mark Staub, both a parent and rider, puts it bluntly:

Whether you support it or not, they will ride if that’s what they want to do, so I suggest treating longboarding as if it were any other sport or activity. Pay for good leathers and a good helmet. Longboarding is different. You have to adjust and live with the knowledge that as responsible parents you are condoning breaking the law, raising the risk of serious injury or death, just for perfecting a tuck, for a little more speed, some more skills, a new experience.  If you can’t live with that, than you will have a hard time with the sport because racing is only a small part of the scene.  Accept the fact that your kid will have permanent bruises and road rash, constant dings and pains and twisted limbs and broken bones and near misses.  He’ll also be a part of something that only a few people will ever experience.

What are you thinking? What was I thinking?

Erain Baxter quoted some of the common questions that we parents hear all too often. Oh my god, how can you let him do that? She answers that one the same way I do; how can I stop him? She also raises some important general parenting concerns: “How can I try to make him safe? How and I help him to make good decisions in his longboarding and his life… Well… you just try to do your best navigating your way, and you hope your kids will do their best on and off their longboards.” Another question she responded to was:  How can you watch?

Okay… first race, Vernon DH 2008, Quinn’s barely nine years old.  I almost threw up when he did his first qualifying run, and then for his first heat, my heart was in my throat until he cleared the corner… I relaxed a bit only to hear over the walkie-talkie that there was a rider down on corner two…heart back in throat and nowrunning down the road…ok… not Quinn, but as I watched the rider in total pain of a dislocated shoulder, I was seriously questioning my own judgement as a parent for aiding and abetting Quinn’s entry into the longboarding world.  Then this year at Paskapoo, Quinn crashed and it was caught on the Jumbo Tron where they showed Quinn being splayed out on the pavement forward then backwards, then again in slow motion, and again… That was hard to watch, but he got up and rode it out and was no worse for wear.  So you don’t make a big deal out of it… but you do give thanks for gear helping to keep him safe.

Our kids have changed our lives.

Theresa Davies said it best when she said, “Having kids makes you desperately aware of your fragile existence and your mortality and helplessness; it’s magnified…”  Longboarders, who are our offspring, have forever changed many aspects of our lives.  We’ve become even more aware of the delicate nature of life, and have been sensitized to stigma that our kids wrongfully endure due to oft public misunderstanding of the sport, of the community and culture.  But they’ve also changed our everyday, very average encounters with the outside world.  I will never see a stretch of highway, a curve of freshly paved black-top in the same way.

Describing the road, literally and figuratively.

Kim Ramsay from Chilliwack, BC, Nick, Ternullo’s mother, fondly remembers driving Nick, his twin brother Justin and older sister Emily, along with a couple other longboarders, to Maryhill, WA for a free session over a weekend.

The drive was hours and hours of funny dialogue with ‘oooohs, and aaaah from for the back of the vehicle every time I took a sharp corner or started down a steep part of the highway.  Longboarding of the brain as they wished they were out of the vehicle and riding their boards.  When we arrived at the lookout spot at Maryhill, Washington, I saw awe and excitement on their faces as they took in the vista of the winding open road; it was a longboarding holy moment.  Longboarders gathered from Alberta, BC, Washington and Oregon that weekend just to free-ride the hill for a couple days.  The camaraderie was strong and the event was memorable.  No trophy, no winner, just the ride for the love of it.

Theresa Davies also talked about camaraderie among the longboarders along with her own excitement of watching her daughter race.  “The first time I went to a race was Danger Bay 07. I will never forget the thrill of watching her fly around the upper corner, in the tuck looking so strong and sure of her line as she navigated the hairpin curve and continued on out of my sight.  I was impressed with the level of safety provided and the skill and speed that is required for all longboard racers to successfully navigate the course.  I was also very taken by the warm, friendly atmosphere at the race and the high level of consideration the racers show toward each other during the race and the camaraderie off the course.”

All the parents have found something ‘special’ about the longboarding community; Erian said, “I love the quirkiness of the longboarders and their huge hearts: Coastlongboarding’s Annual Santa Toy Drive Skate, and Push for the Cure fundraising skate… these are great examples for my children and ourselves as how to give back while doing something you love… what’s not to like about that…”

Whether their love of the sport follows them through their lives, or whether other passions take its place, it really doesn’t matter when you are the parent, so long as our kids are following their dreams.  Theresa, and her eloquent and yet succinct way of putting things, sums up my feelings as well when she states her hopes for her daughter, Brianne’s future: Theresa  hopes “ She lives a long and healthy life being true to herself and living her dreams.” Here, here, Theresa and other longboarders’ parents,  and here’s to our kids, may they all live long, be true to themselves and live their dreams.

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2 responses to “Caution: our kids are in the fast lane.

  1. Amazing article. I’m a 40 yr old avid longboarder, and have a lot of friends who’s kids have taken up the sport. I know from experience how important safety gear is, and how often kids head out without protective gear in secret because their parents wouldn’t understand.

    Kids are gonna skate, parents permission or not. They’ll hide their boards, leave ’em at friends and the like. If parents accept that their kids are going to do it, and get behind them, and encourage the use of safety equipment and responsible approaches to boarding, and the development of safety fundamentals, the kids will respond. They will ride safe and protected.

    I won’t ride with anyone who doesn’t at least wear a helmet, and refuse to teach or coach without knee and elbow pads. I’ve even bought helmets and safety gear for some kids who’s parents wouldn’t because they disagree with the practice of the sport. I’m sure they’d be furious, but the simple truth is, that without protective gear and adult encouragement to skate safe, and skate smart, these kids are going to do it anyway, and they are going to get hurt.

    It is so important for parents to take an active role, and interest in the sports their kids get involved in, and it’s vital to recognize that we as adults are responsible for giving kids the values and smarts to play safely. That’s what makes your article so important.

    Longboarding attracts people from 6 to 60 (I acutally even know one 76 year old who’s quite good!), so there are a lot of older guys and gals that encourage the younger ones to skate responsibly (having made all the mistakes ourselves), but it really is the parents that the kids will listen to when it comes to safety and attitude.

    The one thing that I’d suggest for parents who are nervous, is find someone in the local longboarding community who’s a bit long in the tooth, like me or my crew, and talk frankly about risks, safe locations, what kind of protective gear works, reputable equipment and so on. And if your kid is really young, either get on a deck yourself and learn with them, or find a trusted adult to go out with them at first. There are a couple of groups in Vancouver where I live that offer junior lessons, which means a supervised and safer environment.

  2. lorrie

    Thanks for the kind words, Kim. Safety is so key to having fun in this sport, along with parental and adult support for the younger riders. Nice to hear that you are a part of the supportive longboarding scene here in Vancouver. We feel lucky that our son connected with some good people when he first started out. It makes such a difference for the comfort of the parents, as you said, along with nurturing the young riders in their skill and skate-sense. cheers

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