Like fried Oreos and not wearing pants in public, skateboarding is best picked up as a kid, when the bones are green and that part of the brain where common sense lives is severely underdeveloped. It’s a great way to learn physical coordination, toughness, and determination, and the fact that you yourself can’t roll 5 feet without falling on your ass doesn’t mean you can’t raise a little Tony Hawkling.
That’s according Chris Cole, a 3-time X Games champion and 2-time Thrasher Magazine Skater Of The Year who’s been pro for so long, he managed to have 2 kids in the process. He’s taught dozens of kids the basics, which is really all you need to do, because once they’re comfortable cruising, you’ll never catch them anyway.
Age Is Just A Number
When it comes to skating, start early and exercise common sense. “You’re fine to put a kid on a board at 3, if they show interest.” Cole says, “It’s just monitoring what they’re doing on the board, because they don’t have the muscles at that age that they need to crash. If [the kid] has guts, that’s cool, but he doesn’t have neck muscles.”
How To Size The Gear And Pad Up
There’s no such thing as a balance bike for skateboards that eases kids into it — and, no, those scooters don’t count, because they don’t approximate a sideways riding stance. Cole recommends “mini” versions of standard boards, which are made by most of the major manufacturers. These boards tend to run about 7-inches wide by 28-inches long.
Ideally, when your kid stands on the board, they’re standing “bolt-to-bolt,” meaning each foot is on top of the bolts that hold the trucks and wheels to the deck. For little kids, this will be wider than shoulder width, but if they look like they’re doing a full-on split, look for something shorter.
“If [the kid] has guts, that’s cool, but he doesn’t have neck muscles.”
From there, utilize the basic safety equipment: a helmet, and pads for elbows, knees, and wrists. Not only will this keep them concussion and road rash-free after falls, it will put them in the right frame of mind. “They’ll feel a bit braver and less self aware; it will help them not be scared to try,” Cole says.
Check Your Head (And Feet)
“The first thing to teach is balance and where it comes from,” Cole says. “Your head is your balance. If your head moves, your body moves, and your weight moves. So teach them to put their feet on the bolts, and keep their head between their feet.” Also, make sure their knees don’t lock up — they should a little flexed, without breaking at the waist.
You can work on this on the pavement, provided your reflexes are fast enough to keep them from falling backward. If parenthood has dulled those reflexes, start on the grass.
As for the direction of their stance — regular or goofy, depending on which foot is in front — it rarely correlates to their dominant hand, so don’t assume. Once they learn to handle the board a little, have them switch feet and see what happens. “You’ll know instantly,” he says, because they’ll either suddenly get way better or way worse. “You have a natural way that you run and jump when you play basketball. It’s the same with skateboarding.”
How To Push
Pushing might seem rudimentary, but tell that to your groin when you miss getting the pushing foot back on board and split your pants and ego at the same time. The most important thing is to push with the back foot while the front foot is pointed forward with the tip of the toes touching the bolts. The second most important thing is getting that back foot back on the board
“Just make yourself weightless for a second,” Cole advises. “Don’t jump, just a little hop. That allows you to get your other foot back on the board, over the bolt.” It also helps with the 90-degree rotation that the front foot needs to make to go from pushing to cruising.
The First “Trick”
“After you learn how to push, you learn how to tic-tac,” says Cole, referring to the classic move that propels the board forward without pushing. It involves weighting the board’s tail enough to lift the front wheels off the ground and pivot a few degrees left, put the front wheels down, and repeat to the right. You can try to figure out the physics of why this works, or you can just give your kid a high five when they start rolling around without ever taking their back foot off the board.
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A Note On Prodigies
The more aptitude your kid displays, the more careful you need to be. “You really have to monitor what they do, because their guts are through the roof,” says Cole. “Each step is more fun than they were having yesterday — ‘I learned how to slide my grind rail! Now I’m to try it down a 10-stair handrail!’ Slow down; there are a lot of steps they’re missing in between.”
He points out that the big risk here is trying something before your kid has learned how to “bail,” or abort a trick that’s about to go wrong without catastrophically crashing. And that means that they have to fail and fall a lot. On the plus side, it means you can congratulate them when they do fall, because, in a sense, they’re making progress.
You Are Not Alone
Cole grew up watching old VHS tapes of skate movies on slow motion, carefully analyzing things like where the skaters feet were when they did certain tricks. Your kid probably doesn’t have access to VHS tapes, but the internet is the next best thing. There are literally thousands of hours of How To videos on YouTube, which will pick up where you leave off — even if you’re knowledge is depleted the minute they roll away from you for the first time.
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