Balancing on the brink of control and overcoming fear.
The half-pipe, to my mind, is an ideal medium of expression. A wooden, U-shaped canvass to paint with audacity and self-control. Leaving aside the counter-cultural overtones that are often packaged with skateboarding, I believe that it is a sport and art-form well-worth considering seriously. It is an art of subtle control, both of the tools and the self.
I find that at the core of skating, more than any other sport I’ve personally experienced, is the overcoming of fear and learning via experimentation. The self-discipline of endurance training (in sports like distance running) and the refinement of technique (in sports like Golf) are all very well in their own right, but skateboarding is exceptional in that it puts those elements in the crucible of danger. Often one finds that safety lies in the counter-intuitive. One’s normal, deeply engrained reflexes must be consciously observed and questioned, as they are designed for circumstances rather more mundane and are often the causes of failure. Similar remarks could probably be made for sports like hang-gliding, mountain climbing, surfing, sailing, and skiing; and more abstractly about every endeavor that pushes the frontier of human experience.
There are situations where what to do is pretty straight-forward, and the question becomes “can I maintain control of myself sufficiently to do what I know must be done.” For instance, dropping into a twenty-foot half-pipe is effectively the same, technique-wise, as dropping in to a four-foot half-pipe; the difference lies in overcoming the strong fear-response to the prospect of falling twenty feet vs four. One can know, very rationally, that all one needs to do is lean forward and orient one’s body to the surface of the ramp, but the challenge of translating that rational knowledge into action can create paralyzing fear. An analogy could be made to the undertaking of a major project requiring a deep investment of time and resources: one can know what must be done, but must have the strength of character to be able to actually execute the plan. Further, one must know in advance that one has such strength of character in order to be able to initiate the execution; a charming self-referential loop. I would posit that the act of translating knowledge into counter-intuitive action is an instance of the ultimate mastery of Self over instinct and reflex.
“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” The skater obeys like a pendulum, and commands like acrobat. Gravity binds, but also enables; it is within a system of constraints that one can act; think of the relation to axiomatic systems.