Jade: Welcome to downtime, the podcast where Northwestern students discuss their hobbies, passions, and other cool things they do in their free time. I’m your host, Jade Thomas.

I know finding free time during college is hard, and even harder when we’re taking classes on the quarter schedule. But despite that, people still manage to make time for activities that enrich them, even activities that might not be academic or professional in nature. Hopefully, in listening to this podcast, you’ll feel empowered to make time for your own happiness and peace of mind.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear from all sorts of skateboarders – including two friends who met randomly on the street, a reformed snowboarder, a man who went flying on Sheridan and more. You’ll learn about different types of boards, the transitory nature of memory and why you should try out some wheels for yourself.

Jade: Weinberg second-year Naomi Gizaw says she started skating from a really young age but didn’t pick it back up until last year.

Naomi: So I actually started originally in middle school. Like we’re talking fifth grade, Disney XD – the primetime. It was really hard to get into it, especially because I didn’t really have any older siblings, and my parents did not know how to skateboard or whatever. So it was just taking me to the park and trying to figure it out for myself.

It kind of plateaued after a while, so I didn’t really get into it as much. I think like this past summer, and including spring quarter of freshman year, so last year, I really got into it. I kind of started with longboarding first. So I had a skateboard in middle school, and then I got into longboarding through my roommate, actually. And we would longboard all around campus. So this past summer when I went back home, I got a couple of my friends from high school and we just went all around the Detroit area, hitting up different spots and skating, and longboarding, you name it. It just felt a lot more comfortable.

I felt like when I was going to skate parks when I was younger it was very male-dominated and I was also young at the time, too. It was very intimidating. I feel like when I approached it now I already had that community.

Jade: Like Naomi, McCormick first-year Otis McCallum says he started skating when he was younger, but only started to take it more seriously when he was in high school.

Otis: My first, I guess, brush with skateboarding was through my godparents. They were both really into that graffiti scene in the city. They both skated, and they’re both really good at it too. I got my first skateboard when I was a really young kid but I never kind of touched it.

So, I didn’t actually come back to it until like, freshman year of high school, where I kind of met a group of people who were super into it and they ended up becoming my best friends in high school. And we just ended up skating all over the city. Going from place to place and just exploring new areas was like a huge part of my high school and just like, social experience growing up in New York City.

Jade: Everyone’s path to skateboarding is a bit different, but sometimes it might not start with skateboarding at all.

Vanessa: So, I started it because I like snowboarding a lot. I started snowboarding at 11. I’m really into snowboarding, it’s like an addiction, but obviously you can’t do that unless it’s winter. So I‘ve found an alternative which is skateboarding. It’s actually pretty similar. Not that similar – snowboarding is more fun.

Jade: Vanessa Ma is currently a first-year student at Weinberg. Despite her bias towards snowboarding, she says she still enjoys being on dry ground.

Vanessa: Sometimes, I just feel like doing it. Like it really makes me happier. It’s really helpful for relieving my stress.

Jade: On the surface, skateboarding seems like a disjointed community with people starting the sport for all sorts of different reasons. But at its core, some say that it’s the friendship and family that is forged through late-night skate sessions, random meet-ups and spontaneous practices that brings everyone together.

Otis: I think I skate better by myself, but I always have the most fun when it’s with other people. It’s such a community sport, too. You can walk down the street and see someone with a skateboard – that’s actually how we met. I literally – we both have decks from this brand called like Fucking Awesome. I literally was like, “Oh shit, he has the same brand,” and I ran up to him and just started talking and that’s how we became friends and shit.

Jade: The person that Otis is referring to is Mahan Malhotra, a first-year in the School of Communications. Malhotra is from Hong Kong, a place where he says that despite the sport not being all that popular, at least for now, he was still able to build up that close circle of fellow skaters.

Mahan: In Hong Kong, skating is not too big – it’s getting big now – but back when I was growing up it was really small, there was like, one skate store in town. And I remember like me and all my friends when we first started out, we saved up money the whole summer and decided to get our own boards and build them together, which was super fun. Those guys are my best friends for life.

Jade: The bond that Mahan is referring to is very strong, but it’s really flexible, too. Not only can you meet new friends in your area, you can even develop close connections with people who don’t even speak your language.

Mahan: People are so nice. You know, in Hong Kong, there’s not a single, nasty skater. I only spoke a little bit of Cantonese, so I couldn’t communicate with most of the local guys back there. But like we got on through skateboarding, you know?

Jade: Well, maybe I exaggerated. It seems like skating is really an entire language of its own. Skaters communicate with one another, of course, but they communicate with their boards too. These crazy loud pieces of wood with four wheels sort of melt into their character, and ultimately paint a picture of who they used to be and who they want to be.

Otis: In my dorm, I have a wall of kind of like, I just kind of hung up old boards as decorations, but each of them is not like I have a long history with – it’s more of like snapshots from like a certain month or two period in my life that I look back fondly on, just because they are made to kind of get destroyed.

Mahan: I mean, yeah, like skateboards are made to break. I’ve snapped like, at least like 20 decks by now. It just happens. But the thing is I could look back at any of those old, scratched up, you know, snapped boards, and I could tell you exactly where I was in my life during that period. Because, you just remember it so, you know, fondly – especially like learning a new trick. It’s all like, ingrained in your head because it’s such a feeling. It’s such a feeling landing, especially even if you’ve been trying it for like, ages. That’s the best feeling in the world.

Jade: The distance that Otis and Mahan have with their boards does seem to translate into a greater sense of intimacy than someone would expect to have with a material object. I mean, isn’t it awesome that you can look at a beat up piece of wood and see who you were in middle school? High school? To be instantly reminded of all of the times you were elated or insecure? I just feel as if you have to have so much trust in yourself, but also in the board – in this vessel – to be able to merge your heart with it. So, I guess, maybe it’s not where you take your board, but where it takes you.

Naomi: I feel like I place more value on where I’ve been with the longboard, or like where I plan on going.

Jade: The type of trust I was talking about earlier obviously isn’t cultivated in a day, or a week, or even a month. Learning how to use your board and maneuver your way through the world with it is definitely a learning curve. Weinberg third-year Tomer Cherki says he’s had his fair share of bumps in the road. And road in this context, is exclusively referring to Sheridan, by the way.

Tomer: So I bumped into, like, an uneven tile. And I went flying off the board and then the board went flying into the streets, right? Like, with cars. This is actually a testament to how strong the boards are. A car ran over the board. But it still didn’t break. Right. It’s flexible enough that like even with the full weight of a small car, it survived. Thankfully, I did not fly into the street. I was on the sidewalk. But yeah, that was a more extreme one.

But obviously, you know, with more practice, I just became more comfortable and confident. It’s not that I don’t still fall – of course I do. But I have more of a... sort of like with driving, right? You have more of an understanding of the car, how you can move it. And so you can start making maneuvers with more confidence, right? Like the difference between someone who’s 16 and just got their license making a left turn and someone who’s been driving for 10 years making a left turn, right? They both could be making good left turns, but one just does it with a lot more confidence and ease and it’s almost automatic.

Jade: The wild thing about skating is that every single person I talked to said that confidence – that trust in yourself – really is dependent on whether or not you have that support from other skaters. Naomi says she’s trying to create that kind of environment for skaters at Northwestern, free from exclusivity and judgment.

Naomi: So the club that I was trying to start, like a skate club here, which is inclusive of not just skateboards, but longboards, pennyboards, nickelboards – you name it. I think what I was trying to do is replicate what I was able to have this past summer and create that on campus, but not in a way that’s as exclusive or male-dominated as what I experienced when I was in middle school. I feel like there’s not a lot of opportunities on campus to meet people outside of your major, or even just your residential area, too. I think there’s been some clubs that are starting now that are able to do that, which I’m really happy about, but I feel like what I’m trying to start is just one more club that could possibly do that as well.  

Jade:  And if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you should give skating a try, Naomi says don’t sweat it.

Naomi: So it’s like if you don’t kind of grow up in that environment or are very exposed to it or kind of start at it at a young age, you kind of like, missed your opportunity. So I would just like to say PSA: that’s not true. You can start as late as you want. I’ve even met people who’ve started and they’re whole adults, you know? You just have to remember, at the end of the day, it’s a hobby. It’s not like it’s something that’s like, outrageously difficult to pick up. If you work at it, you know, maybe twenty minutes a day, you’ll actually get really good at it.

Jade: At the end of the day, it is a hobby. And at schools like Northwestern, it’s so important that students have hobbies and outlets where they can be bad at stuff, and then maybe get good, or maybe keep being bad, but ultimately having fun anyway. Thank you so much to Naomi, Otis, Vanessa, Mahan and Tomer for opening up about how you spend your downtime and a special thanks to McCormick first-year Jonathan Chan for rolling his skateboard around in front of my microphone. Much appreciated.

Lastly, thank you all for listening and please let me know how you spend your downtime. For NBN Audio, I’m Jade Thomas.

Graphic by Billy Kirchgessner. “Aced It” by Ketsa is licensed for use under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.