Sunday, 11 March 2012

In Praise of Hoodies and Skateboard Parks – Dianne Hofmeyr

(I missed my slot yesterday but I had a small emergency – luckily not a skateboard accident!)

A few weeks ago my granddaughter put on her first pair of rollerblades and decided the only place to try them out would be at the skateboard park in Clapham common. My son tried all manner of tricks to suggest a more gentle start. Apart from her welfare he wasn’t so sure he was ready to take on a bunch of sixteen to eighteen year olds and upwards, whizzing around a skateboard park. But like a good father not wanting to dampen any initiative and enthusiasm he concurred and I went along rather reluctantly to witness the event. My granddaughter already has a steel pin in her right arm from elbow to wrist after an event on a trampoline.

It was a bleak day. The dull grey of the skateboard park looked more menacing than normal. The hoodies were all out there huddled in their greys or in black puffer jackets with headgear pulled low.

‘You have to wear elbow guards and a helmet.’

‘They don’t wear them!’

He won on the helmet but not on guards.

‘We’ll stay on the outer edge and keep on the path.’

‘I want to be in the middle.’

So with me clinging to the fence, they ventured into the middle. I waited for the abuse. The swearing. There was nothing but extreme politeness. Skateboarding and rollerblading is done in silence. There is no mocking. Just sheer determination and a code. It’s a code that was a mystery to me. They line up. Watch each other. Take turns. Timing seems crucial. They’re acutely aware of peripheral space around their bodies.

Not once did anyone raise their voices to tell this small girl (the only girl there) in the pink helmet to get out of their way. They whizzed around her on bikes and skateboards and rollerblades doing feats that were quite remarkable. And when I tried to see the faces tucked into the hoods or under the beanies, I saw no hardened gangster glaze but something far far more vulnerable.

I watched boys practice the same move over and over again. Not five times in a row but fifty times – with skill and determination. They were putting in their 10 000 hours of practice that Malcom Gladwell suggests in his book ‘Outliers’ is the only way to set you apart from the rest. In a country with a better climate they’d be boys on surfboards out in the sunshine taking wave after wave after wave – perfecting their balance, perfecting their style, perfecting perfection. In a sport like soccer or tennis or golf they’d be lauded for their practice.

But the average person walking past the skateboard park that grey day in Clapham might have seen these grey-hooded boys as drop-outs. They might not have picked up the little pink helmet weaving between them. And they wouldn’t have witnessed the politeness, nor seen the guts and determination I saw in those boys. Was I frightened of them? Yes. Should I have been? No. And the fact that my granddaughter showed absolutely no fear in being amongst them is proof enough for me.


Anne Cassidy said...

I so understand what you're saying Dianne. I don't see teens through rose tinted glasses ( I taught them and I had a son who had a difficult time) but I don't see teens as the media do or the comedians who mock them or the reality shows who use them up and spit them out. I suppose as writers it is our job to get past that stereotype and show the boy who waits for a couple of minutes to let a tiny girl in pink have her go first.

Rosalie Warren said...

A telling piece, Dianne. Teens can be scary when they get together, but so can people of any age. It's heartening to think of them looking out for the little girl.

Penny Dolan said...

Lovely & hopeful story about how teens really are - or can be - rather than how the media often shows them (or incites them to be?)
Agree with your "Gladwell" point!

ps. Hope that your emergency worked out all right.

Stroppy Author said...

'I waited for the abuse. The swearing.'
Sadly, most people do. Peopele are *horrid* to teens. My Small Bint talked to some elderly ladies on the bus the other day about their flower arranging. Then the bus broke down and they all had to get off and wait for a replament bus. It poured with rain. Small Bint asked if she could stand under one of their umbrellas. They all refused.

Why? What is it that makes so many adults treat teens as less than human? I'ts hardly surprising if some of them respond badly as a result!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

yes isn't it remarkable how instinctively we expect the worst because this is how they are portrayed by the media. I think as writers we have to unpick that stereotype. What I left out is that one of the older boys, probably on seeing our hesitation, came up and said don't be scared. These boys will look out for her... they won't knock her down... totally reinforcing what I saw there. I can't believe your story though Anne ... how thoroughly lacking in humanity. Do you think we're all going to be so ungenerous and crabby as we get older?
(I had a video clip of the action but I believe I should have uploaded it to U-tube first before I tried to insert it into the post.)

catdownunder said...

There is a skateboard "park" as you go into the main railway station in Adelaide. Yes, always boys there. Yes, they take turns. The police wander by occasionally but on one occasion, as we were waiting to move into the station proper, I saw a policeman go in. The kids stopped. He said something to one of the lads and the kid handed the board over. You could see the tension even from the distance. Then the board was put down and the policeman stepped on, executed a near perfect round of the ramp they were using and handed the board back. The boys gave him a cheer we could hear from the train. He went on his way and the boys went back to what they were doing - but I have always wondered what they made of it.

Paeony Lewis said...

Good blog, Dianne. The teens I know mutter about old people who are rude and don't say 'thank you' if they hold open a door, and even shut doors in their faces.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Great story catdownunder!

Joan Lennon said...

I love both your stories, Dianne and Catdownunder! Puts a smile on the day, for sure.

Joan Lennon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JO said...

Too often we forget that boys with their hoods and their swagger - are just boys! They have grandmothers and little sisters - and most have learned to love, even though they may not admit it.

But here - we can see them at their best. Their parents must be proud of them.