After the cicadas were done hissing, I went to go skate. On a Tuesday afternoon in the summer of 2013, the weather was humid as heck, and on average, I had to take a shower twice a day. After that day, I was on the road to a third.
I took my board and headed over to one spot that was shaded from the sun. I practiced skateboarding there because it was a big open space where I wouldn’t hurt anyone. No sweat no harm I thought.
As usual, I was embarrassed to skate outside because I wasn’t very good. Every time I fell off my board, I was open to view by hundreds of high-rise windows. There’s nothing more frightening than stranger scrutinizing what you like to do, no matter how good or bad you are. This one time, I tried to skate down a hill, weaving in and out of it. To get a proper image, imagine the way a surfer carves a 20 foot wave. Except, I wiped out onto the grass like a little kid trying to copy. A couple of college kids nearby laughed at me for even trying.
When I was outside, my skateboarded grated the cement underneath, making a sound that asked for attention. Noise was an intrusion in this quiet suburb. In the area of Seoul that I lived in, the suburbs were 5 high-rises standing in row.
I headed towards the central high-rise where there was a large plaza. It was usually empty when the sun blazed in the afternoon. It also had a water fountain with water shows during the hotter months of the year. Gingko trees with their strong aroma added some shade that stretched over the plaza.
On my way to the central plaza, an older woman and man, two grandparents I assumed, took an afternoon stroll. I skated near them. They turned around. The grimace on their faces told all that I needed to know. They spoke in their native tongue, walking the opposite direction as me. I zipped past them, leaving a trace of annoyance. Restaurant workers that ran the stores below smoked their cigarettes. I zoomed through their smoke, coughing in the process. They stared at me as I sped around the corner. I carried the smell of their smoke on my clothes.
When I turned the corner, I heard a bunch of pops and cracks nearby, and my heart immediately sunk. There were other kids at the usually empty plaza that I lingered around. From what I remember, there were about 7 kids, each one of them riding a skateboard of their own.
I tried to divert the situation by going to a different shaded area. I skated with ease so that my wheels wouldn’t make too much noise. That is until one of them spoke up.
“What’s up man!?” a lanky kid said to me. “Hey guys, we got another one!”
“I’m not very good,” I said.
“That’s okay. None of us are that good anyway,” he said.
The fountain in the plaza was turned off today even though it was hot. Since it was dried out, the teenagers attempted to jump off the 4 set of stairs. They practiced their form and hang-time.
One of them, a brown kid with some fuzz on his face, kick-flipped down the stairs although he didn’t catch the board under his feet. He flicked his fingers like he expected a genie to appear. Another kid, a little black kid who looked 12, varial heel-flipped down and almost landed the trick. It was apparent that he was the Wolfgang Amadeus of the bunch. He was quiet but focused.
“Do you do stairs?” the lanky kid asked.
“Never have tried them,” I responded.
Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was that the stakes were higher, maybe it was because the kids were getting better as I got older, but I decided to jump off the stairs. I didn’t warm up but was worth well the shot.
I proceeded to walk up the stairs to measure the distance. Without taking a deep breath or telling myself I’ll have a smooth landing, I pushed the board in front of me and hopped on. As I neared the edge of the fountain ledge, the stairs beneath stretched out. I squatted and gained momentum. I hopped up as high as I could.
Oh shit I thought.
My board escaped from me. It flew from my feet mid-air. I did a dive roll, knowing that this was the first bail of the day.
The kids laughed and jeered in support.
“You’re close man!” one of them said.
For some reason, I felt compelled to do it one more time. However, I came close but nipped the last stair. Instead of a dive roll, I fell straight on my ass.
Sooner or later, the fuzz came around to kick us off the property. We decided move to a new location that was at a different property. I followed them as they skated along the brick ground. My wheels nicked a pothole and I managed to stay on. After cruising for a few streets, we arrived at the spot – a three-stair set.
Then, as if a light switch lit the room up, light rain started to pour. The weather did not stop them from skating. They immediately practiced jumping off the three-set. They went through trial and error; some of them slipping, some of them losing the board under their feet. They too did not land the stair set on their first try. That’s when I realized that they were just like me, except younger. They fell with grace and picked themselves up for their second or third attempts.
Feeling spirited by their synergy, I attempted this stair set.
“Dude, you got this!”
The group cheered. The cicadas shrieked and silenced everyone. I heard only the cicadas hissing away. Sweat beads dropped on the concrete like rain. I pushed off once again, this time taking a deep breath and focusing on landing. I squatted and gained momentum, and I hopped up as high as I could.
I didn’t see what was in front of me, but I was able to tell that my feet were still on the board. The gray concrete beneath me kept moving. I lifted my eyes and I saw them snapping their fingers, howling at me like a bunch of wolves. I heard my wheels smoothly roll over the gravel.
I quickly turned my board around. I skated towards the stairs and climbed up to try again.