Middle-aged skateboarders defy family skeptics, and falls
Scott Hostert has heard it all: You’re too old. You’re nuts. You don’t want to live the rest of your life being fed through a tube, do you?
Hostert scoffs, then smiles. Too old to ride a skateboard? Just watch me. With that, the 51-year-old Brea tax consultant steps on his board and plunges down a wall of concrete, piloting his personal time machine through a series of moves some skaters half his age won’t try.
Two hours later, Hostert is sweat-soaked and oh-so stoked.
“Nothing compares to how young skating makes me feel,” says Hostert, who rediscovered skateboarding after a 35-year break.
That sentiment is shared by a growing number of silver-haired skaters throughout Southern California and beyond. Some are lifelong skateboarders who never gave up the sport; others are digging out their boards after decades. They skate for fun, fitness and a feeling of freedom. They skate because skateboarding is cooler than Zumba. They skate because they opened the mail and found an AARP card staring back at them.
Midlife crisis, anyone?
“A midlife awakening,” Hostert insists.
The fact that they are three to four times older than the average skateboarder? No matter. They’re proud to be the elder skatesmen (and women). Father Time can take a hike.
At least until the next bone-crunching slam.
Fact: Concrete feels harder at midlife. "[As a kid,] I used to fall and bounce right back up,” said Warren Sellers, 52, of Irvine. “Now ... there’s a thud. I count appendages.”
Although wearing safety gear and learning to fall safely can go a long way in preventing injury, most skaters expect bumps. Some share their pain via social media, posting photos of their injuries in vibrant shades of black, blue and bloody.
But gallows humor only goes so far. When Steve Alba, a steely, 50-year-old icon of the “skate or die” crowd, shattered his collarbone while skating a pool last year, he publicly admitted crying from the pain. Alba vowed to be back on a board as soon as his doctor cleared him.
Skateboarding can be an excellent strength and conditioning workout, one reason Mary Mills, 50, had a small ramp built in her View Park backyard. Primarily a surfer, Mills uses skateboarding to improve leg strength. Skateboarding also builds core strength, especially at advanced levels as skaters contort and push themselves higher on vertical walls and attempt more challenging tricks.
If there’s one thing older shredders agree on, it’s that skateboarding hooks you like little else. How else to explain 56-year-old Gale Hart’s return to skating only 10 weeks after breaking her pelvis? Or Steve Wright getting back on board at age 52, two months after a stroke? Or David Hackett’s return shortly after a successful battle with colon cancer at 51?
Whether skating pools, ramps or supersized storm drains, skaters find a way to get their fix. Some call it an antidepressant on wheels. “No matter where I’m at emotionally, if I get on a skateboard, it changes my whole being,” says Hart, a Sacramento artist.
Getting back on a skateboard after decades away is one thing. Starting at midlife can be beyond daunting. Just ask Sandra D’Ambrosia, 53, and June Ranschau Hughes, 50, who were drawn to the sport several years ago after falling in love with lifelong skateboarders. Lesson one: Breathe.
“When you’re that inexperienced and unbalanced, everything is a fear,” said Ranschau Hughes, an executive assistant. “All I knew was, if I fell, it would hurt.”
D’Ambrosia, an Upland grandmother of 15, knows that all too well. One dramatic slam last year resulted in a knee injury that kept her off her board for three months. She’s back skating several days a week.
“I don’t know what got me back on that board,” D’Ambrosia said. “My kids thought I was crazy.”
And her grandchildren?
“Oh, they love it.”
Former Times staff writer Odanaka is an author and founder of the nonprofit Skateboard Moms/Sisters of Shred, which empowers women through skateboarding.