- Luke Awtry
- Clint Carrick
In the summer of 2018, Clint Carrick set out on a solo cross-country journey to regain his bearings — on a skateboard and in his life. Years after putting aside his wheeled childhood love and obsession, and facing what he called his "quarter-life identity crisis," the then-27-year-old spent a month zigzagging the United States in a '97 Saab and skateboarding in small-town skateparks.
In all, Carrick logged more than 2,000 miles and visited nearly two dozen skateparks on a circuitous route through such places as Keene, N.H.; Berryville, Ark.; Roswell, N.M.; and Las Vegas. Along the way he met dozens of fellow skaters and flexed his atrophied muscle memories of sidewalk surfing.
Carrick mostly steered clear of the sleek and modern skateparks that now lend respectability to a sport older generations considered a form of juvenile delinquency perpetrated by stoners, misfits and dropouts. Instead, he sought out skateparks akin to those of his youth: the rough, unseen (by nonskaters) and often-neglected haunts where kids go to escape adult supervision, hang out, and push themselves and each other to new heights.
From his journals and interviews, Carrick penned his first book, Small Town Skateparks. Neither travel guide nor skateboard history lesson, Small Town Skateparks is instead a nostalgic and self-reflective ode to places he found simultaneously strange and familiar, where skaters discover a sense of belonging, identity and equanimity in motion.
"No matter where you are, if you're a skateboarder the skatepark is home," Carrick writes. "You know the rules and you know how to act, and you know the people despite never having met them."
Carrick, a writer, ski academy tutor and housepainter living in Winooski, met up with Seven Days recently at the Andy A_Dog Williams Skatepark, the $1 million world-class concrete skateboarding playground that opened on Burlington's waterfront in November 2015. But construction noise emanating from the former Moran Plant next door drove the interview to a more tranquil spot: the old and largely abandoned skating rink a few minutes' walk to the north. The gritty old rink's dilapidated and graffiti-covered ramps and obstacles and its cracked pavement sprouting dandelions seemed apropos for discussing the skateparks Carrick visited.
Now 30, Carrick is tall and more solidly built than most of the lanky teens and twentysomething skaters who were grinding rails and popping ollies in the new skatepark nearby. Still, he looked the part: Carrick sported skate shoes and a red flannel shirt that was similar, if not identical, to the one featured on the book's cover. Naturally, he had his board with him.
Carrick grew up in Stowe, a fact discernible in the book only to those who recognize the name of the skate shop, Cherry-Bone, where he and his childhood friends hung out and watched skateboarding videos on VHS tapes before skating into town for pizza or a dip in the river.
Carrick wasn't being cagey about his upbringing. As he explained, he feared Stowe's reputation as a playground for wealthy out-of-staters might color readers' perceptions of what some year-round locals like him experienced growing up there as skaters and de facto outsiders.
"I wanted to make it a generic small town in Vermont," he said, "and Stowe is not generic."
The idea for the project, Carrick explained, was kindled by an episode of the weekly NPR radio program and podcast "This American Life," in which a reporter traveled around interviewing people about their childhood memories of summer camp. Carrick thought that someone should do something similar regarding skateparks, as the one he skated in his youth no longer exists — except in his memory.
"I felt every single skatepark contained its own universe with its own tome of history left unwritten," he writes in the book. "Many of these histories were folk tales and foundational myths for the people who engaged in their transmission, and they would inevitably disappear if they went unrecorded."
When planning his trip, Carrick said, he wasn't very deliberate about choosing destinations other than states he'd never been to before and skateparks off the beaten path. Sometimes he chose towns that were close to a state or national park; other times, nearby attractions piqued his curiosity.
While visiting Stockbridge, Mass., Carrick spotted a sign for the Norman Rockwell Museum and took a short detour. Its exhibits provided ample fodder for reflecting on life in the towns he explored — and prompted him to speculate about how Rockwell, who died in 1978, might have illustrated the archetypal "skatepark rats," as Carrick affectionately dubs his fellow skaters.
Likewise, in Hannibal, Mo., Mark Twain's hometown, Carrick draws parallels between 21st-century skateboarders and Twain's 19th-century characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
"Of course the skatepark would be a refuge and a home for Huck (whose father was an abusive drunk), the place where he actually belonged, for he certainly belonged nowhere else," Carrick wrote. "Because for how many American children does the skatepark signify something similar? For how many children that I had known did the skatepark represent a refuge from troubled and broken situations at home?"
Small Town Skateparks also provided Carrick with an opportunity to reflect on class, race and social acceptance. Notwithstanding one Tinder date he had with a woman from a small upstate New York college, who derisively told him to "Have fun visiting white space across America," Carrick actually found that many skateparks were multiracial.
In fact, Carrick's favorite skatepark was the one he visited in El Segundo Barrio, the historic Latino neighborhood of El Paso, Texas, where many new Mexican immigrants settled. There, Carrick was the only white skater.
While in El Paso, Carrick met a guy named Ivan who had moved from Mexico to Colorado when he was in elementary school. Because he didn't speak English at first, he had trouble making friends — until he discovered skateboarding. Later, when his family relocated to El Paso and he had to make new friends, it was skateboarding that again broke the ice. As he said while holding his board, Carrick recalled, "'This piece of wood has given me everything! It has made me who I am.'"
"I think [skateboarding] is equalizing in a lot of different ways, and not just in terms of race," Carrick said. "Skateparks are a place where people can show up and find common ground."
A prevailing theme in the book is Carrick's repeated encounters with men in a similar stage of life as he: those who had skated as kids but who, for various reasons, had put aside their boards as life intervened. For some, it was a job in new city or a more "adult" pursuit. For others, it was alcohol or drugs that consumed their time and attention.
But Carrick emphasized that he didn't write the book with a specific agenda, such as, "I want to make sure that people respect skateboarding now!" he said. Such a declaration hardly seems necessary in a year when, for the first time, skateboarding will make its official debut as a sport in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
And Carrick hopes that both skaters and nonskaters read his book. Though much of it describes his efforts to master new tricks or relearn old ones, he doesn't lean too heavily on skateboard lingo. Despite periodic references to kickflips, eight-stairs and fakie 270 axle stalls, Carrick didn't include a glossary of terms, nor does one feel necessary. The book offers plenty for nonskaters, from identifying with the joy of landing a specific maneuver to appreciating Carrick's literary nods to Twain, Marcel Proust and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Small Town Skateparks is neither an apology for arrested development nor a futile effort to reclaim one's lost youth. It's an homage to the terrain that skateparks occupy in Carrick's physical and emotional landscape. In reflections on his first French kiss from an Italian girl in the woods behind his childhood skatepark or the "Zen-like rapture" of an endorphin high that envelops him after a hard day of riding, Carrick refutes the New Testament admonishment to cast aside "childish things."
Instead, he seems to embrace the words of C.S. Lewis, who once wrote, "When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
Or, as Carrick wrote, "In moments when I forget myself, when I am lost, I have skateboarding."