Jefferson Almanac
8:35 am
Wed February 1, 2012

Beginner's Class

Years ago on our son’s twelfth birthday, he wanted to invite some friends to the Skateboard Park in Ashland. He had never been there before, and technically, he didn’t know how to “board” yet. His father, recalling his own experience of being an over-enthusiastic boy, suggested that maybe the whole family should check it out first to see if it was something he really wanted to do. ..in front of strangers. As often happens with exuberant youth, Henry seemed relieved to have his dream party reined in a bit. We drove to Ashland and found the park. It’s a typical skateboard park, lots of unforgiving concrete, crowded with kids flying around on little boards doing incredible feats of daring. Some spectators are in awe at the skill of the boarders. I, however, am in awe thinking about how a skateboard park could possibly afford liability insurance.

As our son surveyed the frenetic scene, skate board firmly tucked under his arm, he quietly came to the conclusion that these kids and this park were way over his head. There were “snake runs,” “pyramids,” and “punk walls,” where toddlers to geezers were flying around on boards. Henry had, at that point, only one “trick”...something to do with going off a curb on the board. His shoulders slumped as he watched a three-year-old in tiny sagging jeans flawlessly board slide a metal bar. At age twelve, he was considering retirement from his skate boarding career.

My husband and I — being teachers — feel that a little education can resolve doubt and conquer fear. So, we suggested that perhaps Henry could take a class here. A beginner’s class. Dad went to the announcer’s booth where a couple of cool skateboarding “professionals” with microphones and music blaring were “running things.” I don’t know about you, but I always feel safer in the hands of highly trained professionals, no matter the profession. Jim found out that a “Beginner’s Class” was due to start shortly and signed up Henry. After a bit, one of the cool boarder professionals with a microphone, called the “Beginner’s Class” and directed the participants to the starting deck. The starting deck was on the opposite side of the observation benches, so rather than skate across the sea of concrete and risk being exposed as a true beginner, Henry walked all the way around the perimeter, a distance akin in size to that of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Once there, he got in line with a bunch of kids who had been skating and “tricking” all morning. Uh oh, if these kids were beginners, what was Henry? The announcer gave the rules for “the class.” He said something like, “...twice around the course, two falls and you’re out. First up, Josh, ‘the Phatboy’ Smith.” Josh hit the deck, flew out on his board, raced down the dips, ground the edges, zoomed over the “plateau,” “caught air” on the moguls and, in short (because my boarding adjectives have run out) completed the “beginners” run without “biffing” at all. After enthusiastic applause, the second name was called. “Justin” careened out and did a similar run with some added gravity-defying tricks.

After Justin’s show, it dawned on us that perhaps we might have misunderstood the meaning of the term “Beginner’s CLASS.” As teachers we think of “class” mostly as in “instruction.” Clearly this was not instruction; this was “class” as in “competition.” And there was our terrified boy, across a sea of concrete, board still UNDER his arm, waiting to be called over the loudspeaker to his certain doom.

Henry’s quick-thinking dad sprinted to the booth and hastily had Henry’s name scratched from the “Beginner’s Class.” Only problem, Henry was clear across the sea of concrete and couldn’t know he had received a pardon. As the class wore on, he would occasionally look over toward us and I would gesture the international sign language gesture for, “come here, NOW!” but his eyes were seeing nothing but his own humiliation, broken bones and, if God is merciful, quick death. So he waited out the entire “Beginner’s Class” on the deck with Josh, Justin, Jason, Jeremy, Jordan and Jacob, trying to plan out what he was going to do when his own name was called.

After an eternity, when the class ended and his name miraculously wasn’t called, he sauntered all the way back around the concrete deck, board still UNDER his arm, trying to look unruffled and cool. Once back in the bosom of his loving family, however, his studied nonchalance soon collapsed. He admitted, “That was the most stomach-churning half-hour of my entire life.”

Later, over a frothy root beer float, the scene was deconstructed and we all had a laugh over the word “class.” “The thing about English,” Henry sagely declared, “sometimes it is a foreign language.”