The ponytailed stranger helping me with my groceries couldn't help but gawk. After all, it isn't every day you meet a middle-aged woman traveling solo with a car full of skateboards.
"You really ride those things?" the man asked. His tone was kind but dubious.
"I try my best," I said.
I was a few days into a two-week skateboard odyssey, a freewheeling field trip of skate parks, longboard rides and whatever else the skate gods threw my way. With my teenage son (a non-skater) off to camp, Mom was on a roll.
My plan was to hug the California coast — San Diego to Santa Cruz — partly to escape the summer heat that turns inland skate parks into frying pans, partly to seek skate spots with a more mellow, surfy vibe.
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Days earlier, I groaned as I spotted my welcome letter from AARP — then briefly considered gluing the bright red membership card to my skate helmet. When you're over 50 on a skateboard, you might as well celebrate it.
It is in this spirit that I set out, hoping to recapture the magic of my earliest skateboard trips of 40 years ago — while avoiding the emergency room. At 52, I still feel the rush of fear and excitement when I arrive at a skate spot. Only difference now? I strap on lots of safety gear.
California has about 450 skate parks, according to ConcreteDisciples.com, which tracks and reviews skate parks in the U.S. and elsewhere, and opinions vary widely on what constitutes "best." For me, raised on classic 1970s surf style, I prefer banks, bowls and snake runs, those curving concrete waves that allow one to unleash their inner Gerry Lopez, a style icon of 1970s surfing.
A welcoming vibe also helps, and the bucolic Central Coast is all about that. I sensed this immediately as I glided into San Luis Obispo's beautiful new SLO Skate Park, where gangly teenage skaters, typically a standoffish bunch, greeted me with friendly smiles.
On the Bob Jones Pathway, a gently rolling, 21/2 -mile paved nature trail that leads to downtown Avila Beach, a trio of birdwatchers, spying on night herons, waved as I rolled past. Same for my sunset ride near Morro Rock, where sea otters bobbed and twirled close to shore.
Farther north in Santa Cruz, known for its gritty surf-skate culture, I loved the old-school flavor of Derby skate park, circa 1976, as well as the Ken Wormhoudt Skate Park with its 18-foot-high pipe, sandblasted and painted to resemble a crashing wave. Totally tubular.
Along the way, I met a dozen skateboarding families, some from as far away as Australia, traveling a similar route. We compared notes on skate spots, shared impromptu picnics and marveled at the beauty of our surroundings, "stoked" being the operative word.
By the end of two weeks, I had driven 1,300 miles and skated nearly 20 parks — almost without incident.
A bruised chin and a mild concussion? Well … yes.
All in all, a fair price to pay when Mom's on a roll.
10 California skate parks to try, from Oceanside to Santa Cruz
Where to roll
I visited 20 skate spots along my coastal California route. My 10 favorites, south to north:
Alex Road Skatepark, 3300 Alex Road, Oceanside; (760) 435-5041, www.oceansiderec.com. Open dawn till dusk. Free.
Vans Off the Wall Skatepark, 7471 Center Ave., Huntington Beach; (714) 379-6666, www.vans.com/skateparks-hb.html. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Street course is closed to skateboarders on Wednesdays. Free.
Venice Skatepark, 1600 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach; (310) 399-2775, www.laparks.org. Open 8 a.m. until dark. Free.
Cove Skatepark, 1401 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 452-5403. www.thecove.smgov.net. Open noon to 10 p.m. daily except Mondays and Thursdays, when it's open noon to 4 p.m. Fee varies with age and residency. Call (310) 458-2201, Ext. 2020 for details.
Vert Jungle, Arroyo Grande; (805) 550-2306, www.vertjungle.com. Ramp use is limited to those staying at Vert Jungle and those participating in private lessons or skate camp. See below for rates and information.
Bob Jones Pathway, 6985 Ontario Road, San Luis Obispo; (805) 781-5930, www.lat.ms/1I8UD7u. Park at trailhead about 150 yards south of the Biddle Ranch Tasting Room. 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Free. Trail is 2 1/2 miles, one way. Softer (quieter) wheels recommended so as not to disturb wildlife.
SLO Skate Park, 1050 Oak St., San Luis Obispo; (805) 781-7067, www.sloskatepark.com. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Free.
Cayucos Skatepark, 10 Cayucos Drive, Cayucos; (805) 900-5247, www.cayucoschamber.com. Adjacent to Cayucos Veterans Hall. Open dawn to dusk. Free.
Derby Park, 508 Woodland Way, Santa Cruz; (831) 420-5270, www.cityofsantacruz.com. Skate park open 9 a.m. to sunset. Free.
Ken Wormhoudt Skate Park, 299 San Lorenzo Blvd., Santa Cruz; (831) 420-5270, www.cityofsantacruz.com. 9 a.m. to sunset. Free.
WHERE TO STAY
Vert Jungle, 368 W. El Campo, Arroyo Grande; (805) 550-2306, www.vertjungle.com. Accommodations range from basic tent sites to large, fully equipped studio with two king beds. From $50-$75 per person per night, with minimum occupancy requirements. Rates include one 30-minute skate lesson or a 30-minute video recording of your skate session. Private skate lessons $60 an hour. For skate camp information, email email@example.com.
TO LEARN MORE
Morro Bay Skateboard Museum, 699 Embarcadero, Morro Bay; (805) 610-3565, www.mbskate.com. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Free; donations encouraged.