Guerrero: In a year of plague and insurgency, a longboard saved me

When an unexpected gift hit my door in Spring 2020, I knew nothing about longboard dancing.

The California-made Loaded Tan Tien was a long bamboo skateboard, with kaleidoscopic tiger stripes on its base and bright orange wheels. It sounded silly. Little did I know that this would soon allay my anxiety about the pandemic and the right-wing’s assault on democracy, let alone become a main source of joy.

Whether you’re a goofy dad and proud cholo like Nathan Apodaca, who went viral longboard dance on Fleetwood Mac en route to work in Idaho, or a graceful model like South Korean Kyo Hyojoo who roams the streets of the city, the dance of the longboard offers a refuge against a world which is unraveling. As Apodaca, or “Doggface” told me, “It’s very therapeutic. “

A friend sent me the longboard because COVID-19 beach closures in my hometown of San Diego prevented me from bodyboarding, which I chose after Trump was elected to stay sane. The skimming of the ocean surface had restored my center of gravity to a time when I felt detached from the direction of my country, and I missed it.

My friend told me that the longboard could help until the beaches reopen. He sent me a promotional video for the Tan Tien in which a rider sculpts the asphalt while doing a jaw-dropping footwork: crossed steps, 180, Peter Pans (crossed feet in the center of the bridge for twisty carves ) and more.

I drove to an empty parking lot on the bay and started to train. I had little interest in longboarding anywhere other than the end of the world: along the coast, in the immediate vicinity of the water.

There is something about growing up on the frontier that cultivates an allegiance to the in-between, the neither here nor there, liminal spaces. Longboarding is unleashed liminality. It’s the ocean at its crescendo, just before crashing to shore. As I sculpted along, I became her smooth flow and increased strength.

It wasn’t until later that I found out my dad was skating when he arrived from Mexico as a teenager. Sometimes I like to imagine that the magic of his board could safely bypass all the traumas in his life and the people he has injured. He had tumbled in front of my mother, a risk-averse doctor anchored in reality and the rules; past the addictions of his quarantine; past the paranoia of his fifties and sixties – all receding into the infinite jubilation of a skater. But then I wouldn’t exist.

I live in the oppositional pull of my parents, of otherness and belonging, of trust and distrust of authority. In a year of plague and insurgency, longboarding freed me from polarization.

But it wasn’t until the boardwalks reopened that I discovered the extent of the beauty of longboarding. As I sailed from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach absorbed in house music, I felt a joy so full that I couldn’t help but dance, even though I hadn’t mastered any longboard dance steps. I swayed, leaning into serpentine sculptures. I bounced with the bass on my board. I reached out and threw my head back towards the clouds.

Longboard dancing brings hope and connection, however fleeting.

(David Pradel)

Yes, I looked ridiculous. And the passers-by laughed, not with contempt, but with joy and amusement. A middle-aged white woman nodded with me. Another Latina skater punched me. A man with silver hair pointed at my NASA hoodie and yelled, “I get it! You are out of this world.

In the beginning, longboarding was a lonely spiritual activity for me. The dance has unlocked its social magic. It sparked a human connection, however fleeting, and with it, hope.

I became obsessed. I traveled from Venice Beach to Santa Monica. The hope and the connection were there. I hovered from Redondo Beach to Hermosa Beach. The hope and the connection were there. I bought a small pastel colored skateboard with light up wheels for my six year old niece and got her hooked. The hope and the connection were there.

In Spanish, the word for hope is “esperanza, “which reflects the word to wait:”to hope. “When I longboard dance and interact with strangers, the feeling of waiting – or preparing for the world to fall apart – explodes into hope.

A smile, simply acknowledging the strangers in our lives, improves our mood. Studies show the benefits for mental health. Although I was in my twenties in Mexico, where people often greet each other warmly, I had relearned to keep my head down here; COVID-19 has made the urge to flee strangers worse. But dancing longboarding gave me a safe way to interact – and made me want to.

Finally, I had the courage to try out specific dance steps for longboarding. The 180s and switch-step 180s came easily. The crossed steps were more difficult and I tripped. When I heard about Peter Pans, I bloodied my chin. But even the scratches were a throwback to childhood, regeneration and healing and trying again.

Apodaca, the goofy dad who has gone so viral that he’s planning his own longboard model, told me he also loves the shared happiness he creates: vibrate and make me.

Amen to that. Celebrating the life of strangers while we revel in the ride can save us yet again.


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