Letter to My Future Self

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Alexis Sablone, Pro Skateboarder - The Players' Tribune

Dear 80-year-old Alexis,

I don’t know what the fad is in your time, but right now, in 2017, big skateboards are in. People kind of tease me because of my tiny deck. What they don’t know is that my first skateboard was monstrous. You remember that board, right? The Stereo, 8½ inches wide, with 60-mm Nicotine wheels and Venture Featherlight trucks.

You begged mom for that board for over a year. She was worried about you getting injured, like any mom would be, but you convinced her eventually. On your 10th birthday, you finally got it.

Your house’s one-car garage became your sanctuary. Remember how you’d skate back and forth in there every night after dinner? When you weren’t in school, you were either skating or drawing, your other obsession. Your hometown in Connecticut didn’t have a big skating community, and YouTube didn’t exist, so learning how to skate wasn’t easy.

You thought you were ollieing over a broomstick, but then you realized that all you were doing was actually just lifting up the front and then the back end of the board. After studying a grainy skating VHS tape — pausing and rewinding and marking the spots on your board where the pros in the video had their feet planted — you finally actually jumped your board over the broomstick.

You didn’t stop to celebrate. Once you solved the ollie, you were immediately on to the next thing: flipping the board. You loved the sequential and logical nature of learning tricks. Solving the first problem gave you the keys to solving the next one.

Do you remember the night, a few weeks later, when you were skating down by the public beach? It was late and you were by yourself, just how you liked to skate. You ollied, flicked the board with your feet so that it flipped all the way around, and landed perfectly. After weeks and weeks of practice and failure, you had finally done it: your first kickflip. Can you still hear yourself screaming at the top of your lungs in joy?

You knew that you could only improve so much skating by yourself. You wanted to be around other skaters and learn from the best. So like every other skater kid, you wanted to go to Camp Woodward, the gymnastics and skating camp in Pennsylvania.

Your mom signed you up to go, along with your friend Lauren — even though she only roller-skated.

Four weeks before camp, you got a message from Woodward on your answering machine.

“We just wanted to let you know that there will be 600 boys and five girls at the session.”

The next week, there was another message. “Hi. We just wanted you to know there are now only four girls going to this session.”

Soon, you and Lauren were the only two girls going. Then Lauren dropped out. You were suddenly the only one.

january-22nda

But so what? You were going to Woodward!

Remember that drive with your mom drove through rural Pennsylvania, through the woods and Amish country? You even passed a few horse-drawn carriages. And just when you were starting to wonder whether you’d ever reach it, you saw the huge yellow sign.

Walking through the campgrounds, you thought you were in skateboard heaven. This was like … 20 times the size of any skatepark you’d ever seen. It was the first time in your life that you’d seen more than five skateboarders in one place. It was heaven.

You didn’t care that you were the only girl. The only times you thought about it were when you had to go back to the cabin you shared with the ambulance driver (the only other woman in the camp) or when boys would see you and say, “Oh, my God! You’re the girl!” That summer, you made some of your first skate friends, like Jereme, Eli and Zered.

You also met Kenny Hughes: your favorite skater and a visiting pro at Woodward that summer.

Do you remember how every time he drove by on the camp golf cart, you’d shout things like, “How high can you ollie?” over and over? You couldn’t have been any more annoying.

At the end of the camp week, he stopped right in front of you, got out of the cart wearing Timberlands, grabbed some kid’s skateboard and ollied. Just for you. You could have sworn he went over your head. All you could think was, Wow.

Later that day, he came to your cabin.

“Hey, kid,” he said, and tossed something at you. “Keep skating.”

It was a pair of camo cargo pants.

Remember how big they were? Your entire body could fit in one of the legs. The cargo pockets came down to your ankles. You knew that you’d have to cut them in half to be able to wear them.

They were still the best gift ever.

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And you did keep skating. It became your outlet, your community. A year later, when you were 12, you picked up your first sponsor (Element! Your favorite company at the time because it also had Kenny Hughes!), got a smaller board (which was just so much better) and made more friends, like P.J. Ladd.

It wasn’t all rosy, though. I’ll bet you still cringe at the memory of Element flying you out to California for a competition when you were 13. You were so nervous that your legs were practically shaking on the board. That’s probably why you botched your first trick and sprained your ankle. God, that was traumatic. Right then and there, you swore you’d never do another competition.

You hated the pressure, the structure, the expectations. That wasn’t skating.

Skating was pushing off the walls in your garage and cruising around your neighborhood late at night. It was P.J. picking you up every weekend and driving you to Boston so you could skate on the windowsills of some random building in the financial district.

It was your social outlet at a time when you weren’t really sure of where else you fit in.

Everyone else in high school was drinking and hooking up, hanging out in cliques and being just … weird. You never drank, never smoked and were still trying to figure out what it meant to be gay. But none of that mattered when you were skating.

That’s what you kept doing, but by the time you were a senior, you also knew it wasn’t the only thing you wanted to do. Even though you didn’t like all of high school, you loved art and design classes. You realized that college was where you could focus more on the things you loved to learn and do away with the stuff you didn’t.

january-20th-1a

Skating had always been the counterbalance to school and other projects. But you knew that, if it was all you did all day, skating wouldn’t just be an outlet … it would be a job.

You weren’t ready for that, not yet. You wanted to skate on your own terms, back in your garage. You didn’t want the pressure of getting money and free gear and having the sponsors expecting something in return.

So you left them. Just like that. You moved to New York City to attend Columbia University, and left all your sponsors behind.

You studied architecture at Columbia. You worked your ass off, barely slept, and loved every single second of it. Of course you still skated, but you were just doing it for you, without the weight of expectations. A fresh start.

After graduation, your newest obsession was finishing an animation project. You had a restaurant job during the day, and at night you worked on your animation. That was fine for a couple of months … until the restaurant caught on fire. Suddenly, you were out of a job and on unemployment.

This was 2008. The recession. Places weren’t exactly hiring like crazy. You had to collect unemployment for a while until you figured out your next step.

That summer, Manny Mania came to New York so you went to see Eli and a few other old skate friends. Your friends, Andrew, suggested you skate in the Maloof Money Cup the next month. The grand prize was $25,000.

You hated competitions. But, damn, you really needed that money.

You made a few calls, got in as a last minute alternate, flew to L.A., and were allowed to compete.

It went about as well as your last competition.

You hit your head twice and your wheels fell off in the middle of your run. But, hey, even though you didn’t get that 25 grand, you still got the Destroyer award and a giant Sawzall, so it wasn’t a complete waste!

january-26th

The only way you were able to skate in Maloof was if you agreed to skate in the Dew Tour stop in Boston the month afterward. At least that competition went much better. You got third. While you were there, you got to know Vanessa Torres and Amy Caron, who were also on the tour. They convinced you to go to the 2008 X Games in L.A.

When you got to X Games practice, you saw that there was one girl skating with a really bad ankle. Even though she couldn’t skate, last place in the X Games was still at least $1,000, so there was no way she was dropping out. But since you were there as an alternate, the only way you were going to skate was if she dropped out.

You offered her a trade. In exchange for letting you take her place, you’d pay her the equivalent of a last-place finish.

Good thing you finished second and won $20,000.

Yeah, competitions still sucked, but not everyone gets the chance to win 20 grand in a single day. You realized you were at a crossroads. You could do something you really didn’t like for money, like a random desk job, and skate on the side. Or you could skate professionally and just deal with the parts of it you weren’t crazy about, like competitions.

You chose the latter, and have three X Games gold medals to show for it (although, maybe it will be more by the time you read this). You were able to pay your rent, live comfortably, even put yourself through graduate school at MIT for a master’s degree in architecture.

I hope you remember that all these experiences made you better and were worthwhile. I hope you got over your perfectionism. I hope, when you open this letter 50 years from now, there are skate videos and animations and drawings and books with your name on them. A little trail of you for others to see.

I hope you never stopped creating.

Sincerely,
Alexis Sablone
January 2017


 

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