If you think skateboarding is just for teenagers, think again. Middle-aged people are taking it up for the first time or returning to it after a long absence.
Not only is skateboarding good for you physically, but it offers many mental and emotional health rewards as well. Sociologist Dr. Paul O’Connor interviewed thirty skating enthusiasts who had left their teenage years well behind them to find out what’s so special about skateboarding.
Skateboarding has been in decline over many years but in 2020, sales of skateboards soared by an astonishing 75 percent over the previous year in the U.S.
Of course, this was most likely motivated by the pandemic. While indoor social activities were considered unsafe or banned, skateboarding provided an opportunity for fun with little risk from the virus.
Jackson Reidl, a salesperson at the Fairfax Surf Shop, Fairfax, Virginia, said “It wasn’t just kids and families. It was older guys who skated back in the day and couldn’t go to a concert or football game, so they decided to take up riding again.”
The pandemic may be one reason for the new explosion in interest, but Dr. O’Connor, from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, found it goes beyond just having fun.
A Profound Experience
Dr. O’Connor carried out his skateboarding research in different countries, taking up skateboarding himself at the age of 46.
“For those I spoke to, skateboarding was more than about looking after physical health,” he said. “Indeed, the notion of sport was regarded with caution. To them, skateboarding seemed to mean more.
“For a lot of middle-aged people, once you have responsibilities, like a mortgage and kids, it’s nice to have an identity away from that kind of stuff.”
But it goes much deeper than this.
“Skateboarding provides a serious emotional outlet for people who have experienced personal trials in the collapse of long-term relationships, career challenges, parenthood, and substance abuse.
“Older people talked about the profound experiences they were having…a sense of meaning, community, and ritual.
“On at least two occasions when I asked informants to try to explain what skateboarding meant to them, I was confronted with grown men fighting back tears, literally lost for words in grasping to communicate the importance and gravitas of their pastime.”
One 46-year-old said, “I recaptured the feeling of achievement and the sense of freedom when I was young.”
A 58-year-old said, “…it helps me keep in touch with my core spirit. Skating for me is celebrating freedom, the feeling, the flow, and the philosophy. It just makes you want to smile and definitely helps with balance.”
One man with a clinical diagnosis of anxiety and depression said it was a “big tool for mental health.” It gives him self-confidence and improved wellbeing.
Skateboarding isn’t just for men.
Middle-Aged Women Love Skateboarding, Too
Lisa took up skateboarding at the age of 40. She was self-conscious at first, but because other skateboarders are so supportive and motivating, “I realized that my age and skill level didn’t really matter,” she said. She finds skateboarding a great way to “switch off from the demands of everyday life… It’s just so much fun.”
A group of mothers from Cornwall in South West England also took it up. One of them said “we’re all buzzing for each other. It’s very addictive. My kids are also very proud and think it’s very ‘cool’ that I keep my skateboard in the back of my car.”
Her coach explained the lure of skateboarding, saying, “Skateboarding can be for anybody, any age or gender. The older women here are pushing it just as much as the younger lot.”
I’m not sure about “any age”, but for those wishing to try their hand at skateboarding, bear in mind that falling over is to be expected and it’s easy to get injured. It’s best to get lessons from a coach that works with older skateboarders, be part of a group, and for protection, always wear a helmet and elbow, wrist, and knee pads.