Spread the stroke

The nastiest concussion I’ve ever had was a long time coming. It happened because I was stupid and excited to do something I loved. That’s a place everyone’s been, it’s practically a state of being for more than a few college students. We are at pivotal points in our lives where we are learning to live with our newfound freedoms and responsibilities; it’s a time to begin chasing your passions.

And we do so with all the energy and stupidity—things that may as well be infinite at this point in our lives—that we carry through the transition from adolescent to adult.

For me, the day I got my first longboard in the mail—that was love. I rode that thing around everywhere, all the time. I’d turn down rides from people with cars, which isn’t something that a lot of 13 years olds will do.

But I liked the identity, the freedom, the pure adrenaline rush that comes with skating, and I still do.

I’ve been riding for five years now, I’ve pushed on sunny days from point to point with a few friends, bombed hills in the pouring rain by myself, held with packs through corners in tight heats and raced cars in a national park until we got kicked out by federal marshals.

Extreme sports are a huge part of my life; I’ve immersed myself in the culture like so many others my age.

But I’m not proud to say that I did most of it without a helmet. I was that guy, the one who banked on luck and an inflated opinion of his own talents to save him. I caught a lot of flak from parents, friends and the longboarding community for it and rightfully so.

As with all extreme sports, where a dozen things could go wrong at any second, the reckless image wasn’t doing  any favors for us with the public. I certainly wasn’t doing any favors for myself by refusing to prepare myself for the inevitable consequences. They hit home for me when I slammed headlong into a friend a few years back. Broken noses and slashed lips aside, we had both done some serious brain trauma to each other. I walked around with gray spots in my vision for a few days, and we’ll both admit we’re still not quite the same upstairs.

A lot of people quit riding after their first bad fall simply because they’re afraid of getting hurt again. But if you aren’t afraid of trivial things like the minor scrapes and breaks of youth, things don’t just stop there. The consequences that really matter include hospital visits, lawsuits, negative press coverage and interactions with  friendly law enforcement officers that we’d all rather avoid.

All of these things have happened to people I know, people who have skated on this campus and walked the halls.

Extreme sports are incredible; I’ll support anyone who pursues them. But don’t make the same mistakes—be smart, be safe, spread the stoke.

And wear a damn helmet.