Never Ride Downhill Looking Backwards

A skateboarding dad shares life lessons with his son

Wrtiter David Thornton works on the finer points of skateboarding with his son, Jackson, at the new Tobey Park.

photography by Lindsey Rowland

Any activity you put your heart into will teach you lessons. Thirty years of riding skateboards has sure taught me a few. I’ve chosen six I feel are important to share with my son. He’s only 4 now, still a bit young for such big life lessons, but his mom and I will tuck this article away to share with him in a few years. So Jackson, this is for you, buddy:


1.  Skateboarding is all about balance.

Not only do you stand up on a moving object with no handlebars or brakes, but you must learn to navigate around and over obstacles. This is comparable to life. Life hands us neither handlebars nor brakes, so our challenge is to figure out how to stay balanced and standing as we navigate our way each day.  


2.  Never ride downhill looking backwards.

When you ride a skateboard, looking behind you will almost always make you lose your balance and fall. One of the key rules of riding a skateboard is one of the most important life lessons I can give you: Always look ahead. The past is behind us, and dwelling there won’t move us forward. We must keep looking ahead to see where life is taking us and anticipate our next move.


 3.  It doesn’t matter how many years we skate, or how good at skating we become; sooner or later, we all fall down.

And that’s okay. If it weren’t okay to fall, nobody would be able to skate. The key is in getting back up, and trying once again to land that trick. If it came easily, there would be no sense of accomplishment. Keep dropping into the ramp, and heading for the coping at the top — no matter how many times you fall. One of these tries, you’re going to make it, and I promise, it will feel amazing.


4.  We skaters like our swimming pools empty; we get excited about freshly painted parking curbs, and your dad here has spent countless hours having a great time in a concrete ditch.

Other people don’t think twice about spaces like these, but if you continue to skate, ordinary objects will take on new meaning. And that is exciting. Looking at everyday objects in new ways is how inventions and great art happens. I hope you’ll embrace this different world view that skateboarding offers, and that you’ll keep looking for new ways to see old objects. 



5.  You probably don’t remember now, but when you were little, everything was a contest.

You raced me to see who could get in the car first, get to the house first, and even who could finish eating dessert first. While I love your competitive spirit, I look forward to the day I can tell you one very special thing skateboarding has taught me: winners aren’t always those who finish first. Everything in life isn’t a contest. Enjoy the ride; enjoy living. Smile. Laugh. Love. I’m not sure who said it first, but this is what I’ve come to believe: “Whoever has the most fun wins.”


6.   The last thing I’ll leave you with today might be the most important lesson of all.

When I was a kid, skateboarders were ostracized, and often bullied. Other kids at school didn’t like us because we dressed a little different, and listened to a different type of music. Yet, a few years later, what we wore became fashionable.  Life is like that. So combine the lessons I’ve mentioned here, and you’ll become a more balanced, forward-looking individual, one who knows perseverance and has a fun-loving way of looking at the world. This may be more than some people can handle. But despite what anyone thinks of your original spirit, always be — and believe in — yourself. You are amazing just as you are; don’t let anyone try to take that away from you.

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