Skateboarding in middle age can help people feel empowered and reduce the chance of mental health issues such as depression, according to a study.
Dr Paul O’Connor, 46, who published the research and is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Exeter, said he wanted to look at what ageing in a subculture would be like.
“Older people talked about the profound experiences they were having and I ended up looking at skateboarding and religion,” said O’Connor, who is a skateboarder himself. “Religion didn’t really resonate with them but when it came to experiencing a sense of meaning, community, and ritual, they found that in skateboarding.
“For a lot of middle-aged people, once you have responsibilities, like a mortgage and kids, it’s nice to have an identity away from that kind of stuff. The best time to skate is as an older person as you are plugged into online and skatepark communities from day one.”
Five people speak about skateboarding in middle age and what it means for them.
‘We’re called silver surfers’
Scott and Georgie McVeigh, 43 and 42, from Caterham in Surrey, took up skateboarding together during the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, “to see if we could”.
Scott, a telecoms project manager, first skated in his early teens. “They were the early Tony Hawk days, when the first big, pro model boards with good graphics and bright colours were being released,” he says. “We had a small group of skating friends, but we lost interest. It was also deemed more childish at the time, and we wanted to be more grown up.”
He and Georgie returned to the sport after seeing adult lessons advertised in their local skatepark, Skaterham. “We turned up on a Wednesday evening and there were five to 10 older skaters – also called silver surfers – and it was a great experience. People needed an outlet and some support and found it in these groups during lockdown. The exercise routine got us outside every day.”
Skateparks can be intimidating, says Scott, especially for an adult beginner. “You stick out like a sore thumb, so we call ourselves ‘the dawn patrol’ and go out at seven or eight in the morning when the park is empty. You need space to be able to practise at your own pace – and you don’t want to fall over in front of kids and their parents.”
In the summer of 2021, Scott started coaching other skaters. “Going from zero to skateboarding almost every day, I saw the opportunity. I had good feedback from kids and parents who I’d helped, so I started a Skateboard GB qualification. You get a buzz from helping others and seeing their progression.”
‘Skateboarding was always a happy place, and it still is’
Six years ago, Neil Garrett, then aged 40, took up skateboarding for the first time since he was 18. “When my eldest daughter turned seven, she asked for a skateboard and I was overjoyed,” he says. “When it arrived, I took her to our local skatepark to try it out. It was easier to teach her a few basics by showing her what to do, rather than telling her, and I found out that I still had the muscle memory. It wasn’t long before I began to think, ‘maybe I should get myself a skateboard’.”
Garrett’s return to skating was at times triumphant. “I once strung four tricks together on a half-pipe and was told by a youngster next to me that I was ‘really good’. But the lowlights were the inevitable slams which seemed to hurt so much more in my 40s than at 14. Some huge bruises came up, and on more than one occasion I put my back out quite seriously.
“I concluded that tricks and street skating were now probably beyond me and it would be safer if I stuck to a longboard. But for a brief moment, I recaptured the feeling of achievement and the sense of freedom when I was young. Skateboarding was always a happy place, and it still is. Even if it’s strictly four wheels on the ground at all times these days.”
To potential latecomers to skateboarding, Garrett advises: “Pad up. The concrete is unforgiving, especially if you’re older.”
‘It helps me switch off from the demands of everyday life’
In London, Lisa Berenson started skateboarding when she turned 40, just before the pandemic started. “I had one when I was younger but it was a boys’ sport then and I didn’t fit in,” she said.
Berenson, a 42-year-old copywriter, said she was inspired by seeing older women learning on Instagram and decided to give it a go again. “I was just pushing about at first but I started to take lessons and try more tricks.
“It took me a long time to get over the self-conscious feeling of being a mum in her forties at the skatepark. I was sure everyone was laughing at me. But the more I got to know other skaters I realised that my age and skill level didn’t really matter.”
She said she finds skating a great way to “switch off from the demands of everyday life”. “I have two kids with special needs and I’m the primary earner in our family and Covid has been tough on us all,” she said. “But when I’m skating, I’m so focused on learning a new trick and not falling that I don’t have room in my brain to worry about anything else.”
“Other skaters are really supportive and motivate you to keep trying. It’s just so much fun.”
‘Skateboarding makes you want to smile’
“I skate for the sense of freedom,” said 58-year-old Jon Holden from Bath who started when he was younger “back in the days of the Z-boys [a group of American skateboarders from the mid-70s called the Zephyr competition team] ”.
Holden, who is self-employed doing modelling work and making wooden surfboards, said he takes more “cruises” now rather than skating in bowls and pools. “When you get older, you get heavier and falling gets harder on the body,” he said.
“Like surfing, the speed and flow is addictive and it helps me keep in touch with my core spirit. Skating for me is celebrating freedom, the feeling, the flow and the philosophy. It just makes you want to smile and definitely helps with balance.”
For anyone thinking of taking up skateboarding, Holden suggested “taking your time”. “Definitely wear a helmet and pads to start out and be patient. If possible, find somewhere clear with plenty of smooth surface, and most of all, celebrate the feeling of freedom that it brings.”