Skating: Finding balance, and flow

The best thing about inline skating is that with some very modest safety equipment, you can push it past the limit without much consequence. Falling becomes almost intentional. You start to think, if I’m not falling, I’m not trying hard enough.

The first time I fell hard, and realized I didn’t really break anything, I felt stronger than the world around me. Watching minor injuries heal, sometimes by the hour, reminded me I am very alive.

With roughly 80mm wheels, and a good set of bearings, a reasonably able person can become a rocket. If you commit to all out sprints, and glides, and dance every step to make some useful forward progress, you become a building wave function, and the highest energy object in your local area.

There is a state on the edge of sprinting, and gliding that is naturally flowing, and artful. Plot your race line theory, and use your own ergonometry to pendulum through it as swiftly, and effortlessly as possible. You become the domestic swan goose in flow state.

I once had a knee injury, and thought I might never walk again. I knew I would never inline skate again. I knew there was way too much lateral tension on the knee ligaments, and it was lateral tension that had immobilized me for almost a month. This was 2015. It had been about two years since I had last skated. I never mindfully quit, but the thought of never being able to do it again felt like a marked level of disability, and meaningful loss.

By September 2020, I started seeing people skating around Lake Merritt in increasing numbers. These people were happy. My knees were weak, loose, sensitive, and fragile, but I could feel the ligaments were good enough for a trial, as long as I kept everything in a straight line, and didn’t pull any spins. So I set off by immediately plunging into a steep decent of 3 blocks to the flat lands.

First time in skates in eight years, and I’m plotting the race line across the immediate valley intersection that switches from downhill to uphill. Maybe at 15 I’d bomb the entire thing in a straight run, but experience suggests I carve it up into swoops that control speed. First swoop is 100 yards steep down, cross an intersection, slow roll steep up. Just as I approach the intersection, a raced out Honda Civic comes flying over the crest of the hill from above, and is now 100 yards from that same intersection, approaching head on at 60+mph. The driver saw me, and immediately hugged his right, to within inches of the corner curb, the same spot I had plotted for race line theory. Lacking confidence in my ability to turn, I pulled the emergency downhill brake, which is the backwards fall stop, utilizing the wrist guard, and elbow pad. There was still some blood, and I was done for the day.

The next day I walked my skates to a nice redwood bench on the main street through the lake flats. The lake itself is a very well paved 3.3 mile loop. 97% of it is paved smooth, and wide, and there are many wide open stretches in the off hours. Late at night, you almost have it to yourself. In the early evening it’s a slow roll on the sidewalk, or race bikes, and cars in the street. It is the interaction through everything that feels most alive. There are wide open garages with pavement smooth as glass, but after a lap, or two, I saw why I would rather skate elsewhere. Variety, chaos, merging with the unpredictable.

Watching yourself learn a new skill is awesome. Feeling how it happens. Noticing the parts of your brain that can switch from very conscious focus, to autopilot. After falling down around the lake many times, some of which sidelined me for a few days, I noticed a couple patterns:

  1. Every fall involved getting stuck in a groove, getting distracted, or both
  2. There was one particular place around the lake with zero falls

There is a closed parking lot that has become a skating rink. It is well lit, well paved, has just enough places to sit, and is beautiful. Since at least the end of 2020, it has been the place in Oakland where life finds a way. It is a safe space, created from the goodness within everyone.

By October 2020, I was in this parking lot almost every single day. The main limiting factor became my knees, legs, and awareness of “overtraining.” “Days off” became going slower than usual for two hours instead of five. I noticed that at a particular speed, and angle, the vibration through the plastic boot was therapeutic. I could feel things healing, and recovering faster than if I kicked up on the couch.

A month in, my knees felt stronger. Concerns of shredding ligaments were replaced by feeling as stable as shoes, but riding a springy bounce I’m continuously adjusting. Each stride can be imagined as bouncing off the arc of your own wave function so that you can naturally keep muscles and tendons under stress, without subjecting them to shock. Imagine the spectrum of running on concrete, running on asphalt, running in a grassy field, running on a trampoline, running on inline skates. If you get a feel for it, it becomes flying.

My heart feels healthier. In the depths of 2020 isolation, I noticed distinct rhythm, and beat irregularities. Skips, misses, stutters, maybe 3-4 noticeable blips in a day. Never noticed prior to 2020. I also noticed elevated resting rates compared to pre-2020. Skating to push your wave function can sustain extended periods in 70-85% of max heart rate.

But sometimes happiness is slowing down, and syncing up with the overall orbit of skaters that are in the same wave of music. It is duality of oneness and individuality, observer and observed, and the unpredictable interaction between. It is life, and it is more alive than staying inside, and fearing the other.

Selling fear is selling darkness.

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