Do you struggle with racing pressure? Do you make stupid mistakes? Do you fail to perform to the potential you know you can reach?
I definitely did. But, this year I found a way to free myself from my self-limiting psychology. I stepped out of my self-constructed mind prison. Since then I’ve had more enjoyable races and even performed better!
I left races feeling disappointed. There was always something that I could have done better. I would curse myself for spending so much money on such a negative experience, and I very nearly quit skateboarding altogether.
My epiphany happened on a regular weekday afternoon in Granada, Spain. I was in a really bad place psychologically and I wanted to quit skateboarding. There I was, preparing all of my longboarding equipment to photograph and sell online for a fraction of the price I paid. I stood at the precipice of the extinction of a part of myself that had existed for the last eight years. In that moment my longboarding life reflected back at me. The places I had been, the people I had met and the emotions that I had felt.
I decided to have a final ride. I wanted to honour the younger version of myself, the me that lived to skate and would have been happy to die bombing a hill. I grabbed my longboard, left my helmet and gloves on the floor and paid €1.20 to ride the bus up to the top of the hill behind my house.
I pushed in. Carved a bit and looked around. It occurred to me that I had never taken a moment to acknowledge my environment when I skated. I was always so focussed on improving my skills and going as fast as I could. I knew my local spots by the features of the corner apexes, nothing else. I felt the hot air on my exposed knees, hands and head. The unfamiliar sensations made me feel like I was a kid again. I was carving at about 25mph but I had the greatest rush of my longboarding life. In this moment, I was free. All expectations I had on myself to perform well ceased to exist. All pressure I felt to maintain a reputation as a fast rider melted away. I had a skateboarding ego death. My old self died that day.
I realised that winning and losing have always been two sides of the same coin. I have won races before, but felt that I had lost. I have crashed out in the first rounds of races and failed to acknowledge the positive lessons I could have learned. I came to fully understand the meaning of some quotes that I’d bookmarked from my favourite sci-fi novels:
“There is a fullness and calmness there which can come only from knowing pain.”
In this instance pain can be physical and psychological. The more you skate, the more you compete, the more pain you will feel. Therefore, the more you race, the more you will make yourself feel uncomfortable and you will eventually become acclimatised to the racing environment. It’s simple really, the more experience you have, the better you will perform. It’s tempting to rush experience, but we need time to process the lessons we learn. Don’t think that one season racing will change you forever.
“To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.”
You can drill your technique all day long on your home spots, but all of that is irrelevant when there are three other riders competing for your line. You need to break the limiting belief that training to skate the perfect line every time will make you win a race. This is only a part of the story. You have to think just as deeply about strategy, patience, timing and most importantly, luck. You can’t control everything, so just enjoy the flow.
“Greatness is a transitory experience.”
Entropy tears us down. Even if you have been a world champion you will eventually be forgotten by the masses. Who remembers Werner Bucherl, Stuart Bradburn or Thomas Edstrand? See my point? The sooner you reach the top, the sooner you are forgotten. There’s nowhere to climb to from the top, so it’s hard to be fulfilled with 2nd, 5th, 10th place after that, especially when you are wired to succeed and grow. These people will always give up on the challenge that they’ve completed and explore a new venture. Because of this, I stopped racing towards my own destruction. Besides, it’s not like world champions become millionaires in this sport, do they?
I have found that it helps to live in the moment. I appreciate everything that exists as a sum value at the time. I know now that happiness doesn’t exist in the future. If you think it does, you will stand at the start line and feel the full weight of your own pressure to succeed, and it will crush you.
Because of this, I no longer attribute my self worth to my qualification time or overall seeding. I am now enriched by my total internal experience of everything. The new sights I see on the way to the event, the adrenaline of the race, the atmosphere on the hay bales as a spectator, the people I meet, the food I eat, the sleep I don’t get, the challenges of unpredictable weather, all of it. All of it is awesome and it frees me from the pressure of the numbers and rankings that we are assigned after the race. My old self was fixated on results, always analysing the gap between how well I performed and how well I knew I could perform. But, as I said, my old self is dead.
Since I died I have raced twice. Both times I have managed to reach the podium. Both times I decided to focus on having a good race, enjoying the feel of riding close to people, feeling the moment, focusing only on that childish feeling of bombing a hill like I did that afternoon in Granada. I am grateful for every opportunity to kick off down the hill. I feel that I have already won just by being there. My start-line nerves have disappeared. My mind is clearer than ever before. Time moves more slowly when I’m racing. I can play with the pack, experiment with new moves and cross the line without a care for my overall finishing position. My reward comes from the process now, not the end result. I look back on my races now and I remember the close calls, appreciate the skill of the other riders and when I am lying in my bed at home after a long weekend of skateboarding, I take a moment to appreciate that I made it down the hill in one piece.
Words by Joe Baldwin
Photos by Will Edgecombe