Walter Mencken 3:39 p.m., June 18
Nathan Van Wormer; Dispelling Misconceptions in OB
Wondering about something a friend of mine said to me, about not judging a book by its cover and being open to what seems different, I set about town to look for a surprise, any surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but I would know when I found it.
My meandering led me to the Robb Field State Park in Ocean Beach where I was hoping to capture some nice action shots of skateboarders catching some air. I was there for awhile watching the many people enjoy the venue when I noticed one guy who seemed to be pretty good at it. I watched as he did some pretty impressive jumps and skids along the edge of the park.
He looked like the stereotypical skateboarder; long hair trapped in a pony-tail, tattoos, loose and casual clothing and a laid-back attitude. I decided to ask him if I could take some shots and he said, “Sure man!” He was easy to talk to and open to my ideas of what I wanted to capture and before long I was interviewing this young man and what I found out was the surprise I had been looking for.
Nathan, 25, is originally from a small town in Virginia where as a kid he competed in skateboarding competitions.
Nathan is one of many OB residents who grew up learning how to skateboard back in his hometown of Abingdon, Va. - population 10,000.
Nathan visited San Diego with a friend who had come to compete in the sport and he so liked San Diego’s laid back attitude that he moved here when he was just 17. His Mother followed two-years ago and also settled in Ocean Beach.
Nathan says that while there was a skateboard park back in VA. it wasn’t really that good. “Usually I was just street skateboarding around town with bunch of my friends looking for stuff to skate. In the eyes of a business owner, skateboarders have a negative connotation because some of them do loiter in their parking lots, destroy property, drink and do drugs.”
However, Nathan wants people to know that despite all the demonizing from people who don’t understand the sport, people who ride skateboards are not criminals nor they hold little respect for private property. They’re just trying to learn the sport and get good at it. If there are no parks or the parks are not that well built, there are few options.
“Back in Abington-says Nathan-the town people tend to look at us as scum and criminals because we ride skateboards and that’s not true. Things are much different here.”
Nathan is not your stereotypical skateboarder. Nathan plays the guitar and holds an Associate’s Degree in Anthropology.
“My mom taught me how to play. I've written a couple songs and I sing. Just something to do when I'm bored, it’s fun to play around with the guitar", Nathan, says, “I have been playing the guitar for about 5 years and I like to learn new stuff on the guitar. I don't play in public or perform. It’s just a source of entertainment for me, like reading a book. They are times whenever you learn something on the guitar that feels good. The guitar is a hard instrument to play well”, says Nathan as he takes time from his skating to strum his guitar while answering my questions.
As for his choice of studies, why Anthropology I ask Nathan and he replies that he is fascinated by the fact that although all humans are a collection of cells, we all have a consciousness found only in humans. He’d like to know where that individuality comes from.
Nathan’s philosophy in life is to be nice to people and not to judge others based on first appearances or behavior. “No one knows where that person is in life at that particular moment and we all have bad days. I believe in Karma.”
Despite his philosophy and field of study Nathan wants me to know that he is not an all or nothing liberal either. He states that he has a conservative side too. For example Nathan believes that proposition 19 calling for the legalization of Marijuana should be defeated. Nathan doesn’t think that legalizing the substance is good for everyone.
Although Nathan doesn’t compete anymore he still holds the skills that earned him his share of prizes in the sport; a sure consequence of his frequent visits to Robb Field State Park which Nathan visits at least three times a week.
While memories of past injuries are always on his mind, Nathan is always trying to jump his skills to the next level; reason why he spends most mornings at the park improving his skills.
“I have been injured multiple times. My biggest injury was shattering my Fibula bone in my leg. I slipped out while skating a rail and I landed wrong. I heard a pop and saw my foot dangling awkwardly. I have a plate and some screws in that bone now holding it together. Another time I was skating a ditch and fell, face first, in some stagnant water, probably human waste. An abscess formed behind my eardrum, leaving me bedridden and in pain for two weeks until it popped. I’ve hit my head multiple times and I have permanent injuries in a lot of my joints. However, my injuries are not the reason I don’t compete anymore.”
The subject of injuries prompted me to ask Nathan what he thinks about safety equipment. Nathan offers his opinion, “Wearing safety gear wasn't required when I competed as a kid in VA, so I didn't. But I think that safety equipment that has been developed is advanced now and works really well. I personally find it restrictive to wear safety gear. It wasn't regulated when I was younger, I was skating in the streets and there wasn't anybody to enforce it. You were already breaking the law by skating on somebody's property so not wearing a helmet didn't seem important.
There are tons of risks in skateboarding, they are serious and dangerous. You can die from it for sure. Within the skateboarding community, the ability to slam hard and get back up after crashing shows a lot of human perseverance.”
Right now Nathan is happy working at Hodad’s with his girlfriend Elyse Forrest and enjoying the laid back feeling of his adopted community.
Nathan hopes to return to his studies some day and earn a Master’s Degree in his chosen field. Perhaps someday he will find the answer to his question. Even if he doesn’t he will continue to meditate about it while he seems to defy the law of gravity and fly through the air at Robb Field State Park.