Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Skate 'switch'; touch the transcendental

Recently, I began to experiment skateboarding in the switch stance, that is, with my left foot forward instead of my right. I felt like I was learning to skate from scratch; even basic turns were difficult. However, after only a few sessions I felt dramatic improvement and surprised myself by performing several semi-technical tricks including switch shuv reverts, switch flips, switch 180 ollies off curbs, switch 360 shuvs, and switch 180 to tailstall on ledges.

In the last session, in particular, while skating with Raph at St Kilda Beach, I felt strange sensations in my brain. I was mildly disoriented and confused as I had to near reverse many of my techniques in order to perform them in the opposite stance. Yet, more interestingly, I palpably felt the right side of my brain come alive.

My hunch was that using my non-dominant left side may have opened the right hemisphere of my brain, since the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. Upon arriving at home, I started to research the theme of 'hemespheric lateralization' and the effects of using the non-dominant side of one's body on the brain. Here is a distillation of my findings:                         

Handedness is rooted in the brain: right-handed people have left-hemisphere-dominant brains and vice versa. 95 percent of right-handers have brains that rigidly divide up tasks. The left hemisphere handles language, logic, and speech; the right handles emotion, creativity, and pattern recognition. However, only about 20 percent of left-handers have brains that divide up these tasks so rigidly.

Since 90% of people are right-handed, the vast majority of the population have strongly lateralized brains. Biologically, this makes sense, for it would be inefficient for both sides to, for example, process speech when one side can do so effectively by itself. Additionally, this frees the other hemisphere for other tasks, such as identifying the emotional - 'prosodic' - content of speech.

Brain hemisphere specialist, Michael Corballis, PhD adds, "There's an advantage to cerebral dominance because it localizes function to one hemisphere...otherwise, information has to cross back and forth across the corpus callosum [the nerve bundles bridging the two hemispheres], and that can sometimes cause problems." Indeed,  in 2007, geneticists identified a gene that seems to be present in most left-handers and that has been linked to schizophrenia as well. This further dovetails earlier findings that people with schizophrenia are significantly more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous.

However, research also suggests that a less compartmentalized brain can lead to more creative  thinking. Hence, for years, anecdotal evidence indicated that left-handers are more creative, and studies found that musicians, painters and writers were more likely to be left-handed than control-group participants.

Corballis theorizes that just as information is prone to errors as it shuttles between brain hemispheres, it's also more likely to encounter novel solutions. Right-handers might reject an idea as too illogical (being left brain dominated), whereas non right-handers may be open to the idea nonetheless, and develop it into a viable solution.

Many people claim that by regularly using their non-dominant hand they can actually feel a buzzing in the right brain. Others further report that through their non-dominant hand they connect to their emotions, playfulness, creativity, stamina, intuition, and claim that their creative problem-solving skills are improved, helping them heal discordant relationships.

This makes sense on two counts:

a) The brain keeps us functioning with predictability. It has developed routine patterns for controlling the body and has quite consistent feedback from the body's behaviour in the world. However, when one writes with their weaker hand, the brain gets disoriented and temporarily breaks out of its habitual patterns, opening the gateway to creativity and a fresh perception.

b) Studies have shown that when using one's dominant hand, one hemisphere of the brain is active. But, when the non-dominant hand is used, both hemispheres come alive. Since the non-dominant left hand is (in 95% of right handed people) linked to the non-dominant, creative, right hemisphere of the brain, it makes sense that using it may stimulate creativity and insight...

So skating switch can indeed open the gateway to creativity, insight, and the transcendental... 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Who are you calling goofy?!

It's well known that the vast majority of people are right-handed. I always assumed that about the same amount were right-footed as well. In skateboarding, however, skating with the right foot forward is called a 'goofy' stance, while skating with the left foot forward is called a 'natural' stance. Does this suggest that the left foot is dominant in most people - or at least among skateboarders?   

              Approx. 90% of people are
Statistically, some 90 percent of adults use their right hand for writing and two-thirds favor the right hand for most activities requiring coordination and skill. Most people also have a preferred eye, ear, and foot, though the statistics are significantly less polarized. For example, one study that showed 72% of people to be strongly right-handed and 5.3% to be strongly left-handed also found only 46% to be strongly right-footed and only 3.9% to be strongly left-footed.

Only 46% of people are strongly
Footedness is visible in peoples' first step forward, where about 56% step forward with the right foot, 22% favour the left, and the remaining 22% step forward with either foot. Similarly, in a 100 metre sprint, most runners take off on their left foot, with the right foot making the first stride forwards. However, research also indicates that the left foot and leg are the stronger in about 90% of the population. How is that the case?

Since most people are right-hand/foot dominant, using the right for skillful movements, the left leg and foot serve as supports, bearing the body's weight and maintaining its stability. Hence, in right-handers, the left leg is usually the stronger. Hence, the vast majority of high jumpers and basketball players leap off the left foot to propel themselves into the air.

Thus, either leg can be viewed as stronger. The right leg is quicker and more dexterous, the left, more powerful and stable. In fact, their relationship is complimentary and circular: if the left leg is more stable, it offers the right leg more opportunity to develop finer motor skills. On the other hand, because the right is more dexterous, the left becomes stronger and more stable in order to support the  right - the good old 'chicken or the egg' conundrum.

Based on the above, two differences emerge between hand and foot dominance:

1) Statistically, there are significantly less right-footers than right-handers, and dramatically less strong right-footers than strong right-handers.

2) Whereas the left hand of right-handed people is typically both weaker and less co-ordinated than the right, in the vast majority of right-footed people, the left leg is still the stronger and more stable of the legs, albeit the less co-ordinated.

This helped me make some sense of why there appeared to be equal numbers of  'natural' and 'goofy' stance skateboarders. However, it only confused me all the more as to why right-footed skaters are called 'goofy'. Fortunately, I stumbled on an article which explained that people who surf or skate with their right foot forward are called 'Goofy' after the Disney cartoon character who is depicted as surfing with his right foot forward.

This brought me some relief:
I'd prefer to be called Goofy rather than goofy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Body; Emotion; Intellect

Many philosophers, mystics, and more recently, psychologists, divide the human psyche into three levels: intellect, emotion, body.

These are the basic mediums through which humans experience and interact with their environment.

Keeping warm
a) Body: The body brings one to experience reality through the  five senses - seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching - and through its survival instincts such as safety, hunger, and procreation. The body thus typically perceives reality superficially, as it appears to the sensory organs or caters to bodily requirements.

b) Emotion: This involves more transcendental feelings such as the love felt for  a friend, the awe felt when gazing at the stars at night, the exhilaration of listening to an orchestra, the gratitude felt toward one who generously offers assistance, or the  motivation to triumph in an endeavour. Often such feelings exhibit little practical/biological value and may even prevent a person from satisfying their biological needs.

c) Intellect: Allows one to perceive reality through reasoning and insight. Deep thinking allows one to penetrate the world's exterior by entering into the metaphysical world of equations, logic, and abstraction. 

How do these three psychological components interact with each other? Here are two basic ways:

1. Hitlabshut (Investment):

a. Intellect 'invests' within emotion, arousing and guiding it.
b. Emotion 'invests' in the body, energising it according to the particular emotion felt.

A higher faculty enters a lower one to vitalize and regulate it. 

2. Hitkalelut (Inclusion):

a. Intellect becomes so preoccupied in abstract thinking that it subsumes emotion within it. The emotions go cold.
b. One becomes so emotional that they lose the ability to function effectively in the world. For instance, one who is overwhelmed with love may stand transfixed by the object of love, paralyzed. More commonly, severe anger impedes one's ability to talk coherently or to perform activities requiring delicate actions.
A higher faculty subsumes the energy of a lower faculty.

kurt godel    
Kurt Godel:
Austrian Mathematician/Logician  

Some individuals view reality primarily through the bodily lens, others, predominantly through emotion, and others, the intellect.

We've all heard complaints that someone is too pragmatic
and unsentimental; so emotional as to be deemed irrational; so intellectual that they're detached and insensitive, or short of practical commonsense. 

Bob Dylan:
Poet, songwriter, and musician
     Babe Ruth:
      Baseball Legend
Yet, anyone can train themselves to function better at any of the three levels and thereby become a more balanced person. 

In order to skateboard effectively, one must allow oneself to enter the realm of time, space, and sensory perception. If one remains attached to one of the higher forms of perception such as emotion or intellect, this typically hinders one from skateboarding optimally. 

 However, this only applies to Hitkalelut where the higher faculties impede the functioning of the lower ones. In regards to Hitlabshut, however, where the higher forces of intellect and emotion are recruited by the body in order to refine, regulate and energise one's bodily functioning, one's skateboarding can be greatly enhanced... 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Short Film: Prahran Montage 17th July 2012

Dovid Tsap captures Justice Reid, Ryan, Ash Cochrane, and Jimmy Perry casually shredding Prahran Skatepark.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tail of a lion; head of a fox

'Be a tail of a lion rather than a head of a fox'

In his magnum opus, 'Tania', Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi prescribes a meditation for cultivating  affection and respect for people both 'great and small'. Granted that 'small' people are often mistreated or  neglected, aren't 'great' people usually appreciated anyhow?

Some people enjoy the company of distinguished individuals because they respect their accomplishments or feel themselves important in their company. In contrast, they disregard those they deem mediocre or inferior.

However, some people abhor the company of distinguished people because it makes them feel inferior and inadequate. Typically, they prefer to associate with people they deem inferior to themselves, whose presence makes them feel important and appreciated.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman thus stresses that we should learn to respect and care for everyone.

However, when it comes to progressing in a given skill, such as skateboarding, it is preferable to associate with a group more advanced than oneself.

The obvious advantage is that one has regular opportunities to observe better skateboarders and to ask them for tips. However, another, subtler, yet vital, benefit exists.
 People are creatures of contrast and comparison. When one sees a shirt on sale for $10 less than usual, one feels he has stumbled on a bargain. In truth, it's possible that the shirt is heavily overpriced, albeit slightly less when on sale.

The power of relativity/contrast is easily observed when one alternatingly surrounds a single circle with larger and smaller circles. Surrounded by larger circles, it appears small; surrounded by smaller circles, it appears large. 

In skateboarding, if one regularly skates with skaters who are better than him, then, when he considers attempting new tricks, since others in the group perform thm easily and casually, one approaches them with a casual attitude as well and is more likely to have the confidence to try them and succeed. However, when one regularly skates with a group of skaters who are less proficient, the same new tricks - which no one else in the group can perform - may seem formidable and intimidating.
One is thus likely to progress much faster when regularly skating with more proficient skaters.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 'Elements' of skateboarding

Fire, air, water, and earth are the building blocks of our world. They are also the building blocks of skateboarding.


Fire is hot, rises, and can be explosive. In skateboarding, fire is visible in the explosive power in the legs that launches a skater into the air. Fire relates largely to technical flatland tricks which require repeated explosive bursts of energy to jump off the earth and to flip the board in the desired manner.          


 Air is lightweight, subtle, and in a state of suspension. Air relates to the ability to glide and hover. It is conspicuous in Ollying stairs or gaps where one remains suspended in the air for some time. When jumping stairs, even small sets, their is a distinctive feeling that one is hovering. 


    Water flows downward as in rivers and streams. Water is also a lubricant. It finds expression in slides and grinds on ledges and hand rails where there is a distinct focus on reducing surface friction. (Skaters frequently apply wax to their boards or to rails/ledges in order to decrease friction levels.) It is particularly visible in slides down obstacles that are on an incline.


Earth is heavy, solid, stable, and relatively still. Earth is obvious in tricks that require acts of incredible stability, especially where the skateboard remains near the ground and travels little. Tricks with an old school freestyle flavour such as wheelies (manuals), footplants, and street plants are distinctively earthy.

However, every trick, irrespective of its predominant element, contains all the elements. Hence, in  ollying stairs, jumping parallels fire, gliding concerns air, descent relates to water, and landing pertains to earth.

Furthermore, each element presents a skater with a specific challenge. Fire, which typically initiates a trick, requires concerted effort and the ability to launch oneself in the right direction with the correct amount of force. In the air there is a sense of light-weightedness and decompression where the skater and board gravitate away from each other. In the water - like descent one experiences immense speed and a lack of control. This can be highly disorienting and fear inducing. Impact with the solid earth when landing can be severely painful and injurious.

In order to engage each element effectively, one should endeavour to tap into the opposite and counterbalancing element. Thus, when jumping (fire), one should project one's desired course of descent (water) to ensure one jumps with the required amount of force. In the air, one connects to the element of earth to maintain solidity and integrity. Upon descending (water), where there's least control - I.e. one must go with the flow - one draws on fire to keep oneself focused and in as much control as possible. Finally, on impact with the earth, one draws on air in order to land softly and gracefully.                      

In this manner, one traverses all the elements in every skateboarding trick and comes into intimate contact with the Creator's magnificent handy-works... 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Yuta's lemonade

        'If life gives you lemons, make lemonade'

Switch kick flip
 Yuta is one of the best skaterboarders I've seen at Australian skateparks. He skates stylishly, performs highly technichal tricks, and has a diverse range of abilities.

Recently I observed him skating Prahran Skatepark, uncharacteristically failing to land much of his repertoire of tricks - even the easier manouvres. The cause: a chipped ankle bone in his left foot.
It was saddening to watch a prince abruptly - though temporarily -become a pauper.
But Utah was not perturbed. Instead, he skated in the opposite stance to what is natural to him. (That is, instead of having his left foot on the tail of the board and his right foot forward, he had his right foot on the tail and left foot forward.) A stance called Switch.
Switch 5-0
This is comparable to a right-hander writing with his left hand. Except Utah was using his left hand better than the majority use their right.
Switch 360 Kickflip
Utah's way of dealing with his predicament reminded me of Dr DeBono's illustration for 'lateral thinking'. He explains how from the shape of a bicycle wheel one can predict the nature of the ride. If the front wheel is circular, the ride will be smooth. If it is oval, it will be very bumpy; if square... 
Switch lipslide
However, even one with a square front wheel can break our expectations and bypass the front wheel entirely by riding only on the back wheel as if on a unicycle.

Switch Bluntslide

Often, we have expectations from life which are not met. We expect a large income but manage only a modest one, we expect our children will be obedient but struggle with their rebelliousness. Some individuals despair in the face of such dissapointments, others, however, think laterally and find alternate ways of optimising the situation...