It looks like a cross between a skateboard and a medieval instrument of torture. As a child I never went for skateboarding (nor medieval forms of torture, for that matter), so why at the ripe middle-age of 46 did I decide that Ripstiking would be my sport du jour?
The simple answer: because the kids on our community farm are mad for it. For the past three months our big circular driveway has been chalked with a complicated obstacle course, which the eight or so kids who’ve mastered the device weave through like Olympic slalom skiers.
If you are not familiar with the wonderful world of Ripstiks, here are the basics. A Ripstik has two wheels. Two, not four—this is significant. It has two footpads that swivel. Swivel—this is significant. And a Ripstik has a central transom thingy that holds the whole apparatus together. Those who Ripstik will glide over the pavement looking like they’re doing a cross between the Twist and the Shimmy. They do the Twist because there is something about a hip swivel that keeps the whole thing propelling, even uphill. I’m not sure of the physics of it, but a past career as a 1960’s-backup-singer would serve one well in this sport.
So there I was in early June watching these kids have so much fun and I think to myself: I used to be sporty. I used to do coordinated things with my body. I used to play outside. Now I am busy with practical doings. I have a little food baby where once there was a flat tummy. I have grown thick and somber. I have grown old. What happened to me? Why am I not out there having fun with these gyrating kids?
These were not prudent thoughts. They set me up as an easy target. So when my daughter Bryn asks if I want to give it a try, I hardly hesitate.
And I am terrible. My legs tremble as I hunch over and clutch Bryn like she is a life preserver and I a drowning woman in a stormy sea.
My daughter runs alongside me, a human set of training wheels, and I make it gracelessly down the length of the driveway.
One of my farmmates comes out to watch, eyebrows raised, and remarks, “Remember your age, Leah.”
I really like this woman and I know she is only trying to be helpful. She doesn’t want me to break anything.
Nevertheless I want to shout back, I am remembering my age! That’s why I’m doing this, while I still can! Before the food baby fully gestates and I become confined to the couch on self-induced bed rest! While I still can play outside with my kids!
So, I follow the kids’ lead. I make forays down the driveway, 10 feet a go. Then in late July my children go out of town on a camping trip with friends for four whole days and I decide I will master Ripstiking while they are away. I will stun them with my finesse when they return.
I practice and practice. Just ten or fifteen minutes every couple of hours for three days straight. I get good enough to glide down the driveway and even wiggle my way back uphill a few dozen feet.
My daughters come home and I off-handedly suggest we go Ripstiking. I feign ineptness and anticipate their looks of gob smacked wonder as I shoot off in full command of my steed. Bryn holds out her arm to steady me. I reject it. “I’ll try it on my own, just this once,” I say.
I place my right foot on the front footpad and hop by left foot up toward the back footpad. But my left foot never makes firm contact with the Ripstik. Instead the world turns sideways and the Ripstik shoots backwards and I am tumbling, helmetless and in slow motion, toward the very hard pavement.
Visions of Natasha Richardson and her fateful head injury flash through my mind as I think, This is it, I’m going to die Ripstiking!
My girls scream, “Mom!” and rush toward me.
My right arm takes most of the blow and I lay on the ground dazed and humiliated. I get up slowly and hobble back to the house, my right arm hurting like the dickens, my children guiding me to the safety of the indoors.
Is this a cautionary tale? Remember your age? Play it safe?
If so, it’s hardly inspirational. Or is it?
Here’s the rest of the story:
My arm hurt for two weeks. I sprained my wrist and bruised my ulna. During my convalescence I did not admit to my kids how much I had been practicing. Finally, when the sting of humiliation and injury had worn off I told them of my training sessions and how good I had gotten.
“You practiced … for us!?” they said, incredulous. My efforts were evidently made all the more wonderful because I had failed. I had risked injury to follow their lead, to participate in what they loved, to be with them.
They told me how brave they thought I was. They told me I was the best mom ever. They looked at me with eyes that crinkled with kindness and wonder. And in the glow of their affirmation I felt as if I were gliding along, effortlessly held aloft by their love.
Leah Kostamo is the author of Planted: a Story of Creation, Calling and Community, a book Eugene H. Peterson called “remarkable” and Margaret Atwood called “clear-sighted and humorous.” She likes to read (and write) wise and winsome stories that inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world. She can be found online atleahkostamo.com and @leahkostamo. She ministers with the Christian conservation organization, A Rocha.
Image credit: Steven Depolo