“Skate park. 10 mins.” says the text message. It’s a steamy Sunday in Brooklyn, and my friends Travis and Ty want to meet at McCarren Park. I get there just in time to see Travis careen down a steep incline.
“You try.” He rolls the board toward me.
I step onto the board with a Minnetonka’d foot, push off and roll forward. It feels slightly unnatural, but the threat of danger melds exquisitely with the sensation of speed.
The next day, I’m still thinking about that feeling—and notice my abs are just a little sore, as if I’d cranked out a speed round of sit-ups. No wonder: “Skateboarding is about core strength,” confirms Chris Liu, who teaches at Skate Brooklyn in Park Slope. “You’re always engaged—even just standing on the board or cruising.”
Women across the country are taking notice; the number of female skaters has increased tenfold since 2004, estimates Courtney Payne-Taylor, founder of Girls Riders Organization. Model Cara Delevingne and blogger/model Hanneli Mustaparta skateboard to fashion shows; model Erin Wasson installed her own half-pipe ramp in her L.A. backyard. For Céline, Daria Werbowy posed topless with a canary yellow skateboard in lieu of a blouse. At a dinner for Kenzo’s new surf- and skate-inspired Kalifornia bag, top pro skaters boarded across the dining tables.
Payne-Taylor insists you can learn the basics in an hour: “It’s no harder than riding a bike. Take some lessons!”
My first is with Liu. “Yo, Megan!” he says, handing me padding galore for my elbows, wrists and knees, plus a helmet. He goes over the major moves: For the “ollie,” you propel the board into the air, leaping onto, over or off obstacles; in the “kick-flip,” you flip the board with your foot a full 360 degrees, then land back on the board; a “pop shove-it” uses your back foot to whirl the board 180 degrees; and “grinding” is sliding along the trucks of your board, rather than the wheels.
After I try “tick-tacking”—maneuvering the board by shifting my weight left and right—my abs are trembling. Engaging your core means working your hip flexors, abs, groin and the length of your spine, and other muscles you don’t necessarily exert on a run or in a Pilates class.
I lean too far, flip off the board and land on my back. “You’re going to fall,” Liu says, helping me up. “Then you’re going to fall harder.”
Lesson #2: I gasp when I see the bumpy, fissured basketball court they teach on at KCDC skate shop in Williamsburg. “If you learn on a surface that’s rugged and tough like this,” promises my instructor, Brandon Danciu, “then a skate park feels smooth as ice.”
Danciu coaches me to loosen my stance and sway with the board; rigidity and perfect posture slow you down and make you fall. You have to push harder to roll across the rutted ground; my legs are on fire. I work up a sweat, despite the chill in the air. “You really burn calories,” he says, fanning himself. “Plus, you’re so wrapped up trying moves, you don’t even realize.”
I practice speed on a rainy night with KCDC’s Esteban Gomez, who meets me under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway: a dimly lit cement runway kept dry—and dank—by the overpass above. I skate around, thoroughly at ease. Danciu was right: The smooth surface really does feel like ice now. Gomez has me lean slightly to the front of the board, propelling me forward faster.
Gomez’s eyelashes are so long, I keep thinking he’d make a beautiful girl. He frees his hair from its elastic; shiny waves tumble past his shoulders. “I chopped my hair off once and I skated differently—I was like Samson,” he says, referring to the Biblical character whose hair held his power and strength. “It wasn’t the right vibe.”
After mastering basics, I’m ready to try the ollie. Pro Joel Meinholz—yet another head of long hair—has skated 27 years for Vans, Converse and now Hopps. He has me watch first. He catapults himself up, throwing weight to his back foot. He hovers in midair, his board flying with him, somehow still connected to his feet.
I bend my knees and lift off, shocked: I’m soaring in the air for real. By the end of the lesson, I achieve a sort of half ollie. We sit on our boards against the rusted park fence, sweaty and satisfied. “You’ll be ollie-ing over garbage cans in no time,” he says, high-fiving me.
After six weeks as a skater, I look and feel leaner than ever: My stomach is flatter, a line of muscle asserts itself down my thighs as I walk, and my calves seem more defined. I feel good after any workout, but the wave of exhilaration I get from skateboarding is something else. When I’m shredding, speeding forward through time and space as the board rumbles beneath me, it feels like flying.