Skateboarding has a certain reputation. Both violent and undeniably cool, the sport has attracted daredevil teens since its inception. A whole generation of kids grew up playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video games and watching awe-inspiring reruns of the X-Games on ESPN.
Since coronavirus swept across the state, Lansing area skaters have found solace in pushing themselves to the limit on their boards. Because skating is easy to do on your own or in small groups, skaters can easily socially distance and practice proper hygiene protocols.
Madeline Smith, 23, has been skating for about a year now. She said that it makes her feel brave. And that it’s the only type of exercise that she can bring herself to do. During the COVID-19 outbreak, it has brought her a sense of peace that nothing else can.
“I skateboarded earlier today because I was super stressed about finding a house to move into. I have to leave my house in two weeks when my lease ends. My landlords have been really pushing,” Smith said. As she drove around looking for places to live, Smith took skateboarding breaks the same way a beleaguered worker takes a cigarette break.
Lansing doesn’t have many spots built for skaters, so Smith has had to find her own makeshift spaces. “My back parking lot recently got new pavement. It’s nice to have a space to skate where we won’t be judged. I also enjoy Ranney Park, but I use my back lot the most,” explained Smith. Ranney Park is a 20,000-foot skate park located directly west of Super Frandor on Michigan Avenue.
Smith explained that she hesitates to go to Ranney sometimes because the park is dominated by skating crews composed entirely of cis men. For Smith, the dream is to skate with a crew of AFAB skaters. AFAB stands for assigned female at birth.
“I have one AFAB, BFF skateboarding companion. We push each other to skate as much as possible. I have support from cis men as well, and I value those relationships too. But my main partner in crime is another AFAB person,” said Smith.
Kai Kepski, 25, who uses they/them pronouns, is the AFAB skating companion that Smith referred to. They’ve been skating on and off since they started college. Before moving to Lansing, Kepski learned street skating on the sidewalks of Los Angeles. Finding Smith helped them feel like they belonged to a legitimate skating crew.
“It’s hard as an AFAB person to find other AFAB people to skate with, and dudes are really intimidating,” Kepski explained. “I skateboard more seriously than I ever have in my life because I have Maddy encouraging me now.”
Kepski agreed that the atmosphere at Ranney is patriarchal to a fault. But they seemed to like the park more than Smith, if only because it’s all that Lansing has to offer.
According to Kepski and Smith, they only have each other. They have both searched fruitlessly for more AFAB skating partners. When I asked Kepski if there was a wider Lansing skating community that they felt connected to, all they said was, “No!”
“I still go to Ranney, but like, everyone is always staring at you. Some people are nice, and they try to help you out. Some people try to help you out in a condescending way,” said Kepski. “It’s like, I’m wearing headphones! Don’t talk to me!”
Kepski said that they prefer street skating, which involves more tricks than transition style. Because of this, they said they spend most of their time skating on sidewalks and in parking lots. Since the pandemic started, Kepski has noticed that strangers seem angrier and angrier.
“People come up to me and try to talk to me and I’m like, Yo, I’m not wearing a mask. People get angry at me for saying that,” said Kepski. They were yelled at for five minutes last week by someone who got mad at them for asking for space.
While they were skating in a parking lot, someone even approached Kepski to rant about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “They say, I don’t know why you believe the governor. I just tell them that I don’t wanna live my life like they do,” Kepski said.
Still, Kepski emphasized that lockdown would have been much more difficult if they didn’t have access to a skateboard. They have been skating long distances around town and even taking their board to work once or twice a week. Even though the sidewalks around Lansing are bumpy and treacherous, Kepski claimed to know the location of every single crack that could possibly murder them.
Skating has also helped Kepski in the same way that meditation might help someone. When they’re on their board, the world seems to melt away.
“When you’re skating, it’s the only thing you’re thinking about,” said Kepski. “You’re so focused that you forget about everything else.”