Arts & Culture » Culture

Concrete rules



It’s about open spaces. It’s about flat surfaces. It’s about grades that seem to go on forever. It’s about overcoming obstacles. It’s about freedom. It’s about making do with what you’ve got to work with. It’s about taking yourself to the next level. It’s about learning to fly with just your body to make it happen.

It’s street sports.

I remember playing street football for years. Running around parked cars, using light poles as defenders. Getting out of the way until traffic clears. Sweating, getting gritty, stepping on glass or falling to get one of the worst street burns possible. It’s sports with no referees, with balls that are scuffed and scarred and patched and taped. Where the rules go to who can argue the loudest and longest. Where you play until it’s too dark to see.

Then there was that summer of glorious freedom. I worked the midnight shift at a restaurant. Between 4 a.m. when the bar crowd went home, and 6 a.m. when the early risers started in for breakfast, we could go out on Six Mile Road and play any game we wanted with minimal molestation from cars. Baseball, football, soccer, even basketball (with a soccer ball and a milk crate tied to a light pole) took place under the lights supplied by the city. The kind of lights we’d never play under in big stadiums with big crowds watching and screaming.

You don’t need a crowd; the game is the thing.

The same goes for skating. Or skateboarding. Or bicycling. Anything on wheels.

You push, you roll, you feel the freedom of effortless movement. You feel the wind in your hair, pushing against your face. You lean and turn. Your body is a sail, a rudder. Your body is a coiled muscle ready to spring and leap, taking the wheels with you into a short soaring – airborne with just yourself and your energy to create the lift.

The bottom line is that the street has been the space of choice for those who have nowhere else to go. Traditionally, it has been city folks who needed to find a place to play. Sure, there were playgrounds and sports fields, but there were never enough of them. Nor were they necessarily handy. The street right there on your block holds infinite possibilities.

And traffic? Sure you have to move out of the way once in a while. But traffic is something that better watch out for you when you are deep into the game. When you’re making your move with the ball. Going up for the dunk. There’s no traffic. There’s just the game.

And for skateboarders and in-line skaters, initially, the street was the only place to go. No place else had the wide-open vistas, the smooth terrain, the challenge of obstacles. Now they have places for extreme skateboarding, sure. They can be fun, but those places don’t take you anywhere. OK, you go up, then down, then up again, and down. Which is fine if you’re training for competition, but there’s little variety after a while.

Street sports have their own ways, their own places. Their own variations based on the terrain. They make laws to try to keep you out. But they can’t do it. Not for long. Not where there is a slope just begging for wheels. Just begging for you to bend and crouch to navigate the turns, fly over the obstacles.

In-line skaters must take the streets. In groups or solo, the street is your venue, your yellow brick road to the city. Rolling, whizzing, avoiding traffic. Helmeted, padded, the body most vulnerable, still you must skate like never before.

Street sports exist because there are streets. And we are there to conquer them.

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