To say that “99 Percent Invisible” is a podcast about design and architecture is like saying Star Wars is about “lasers and stuff” – you’d be right but you would also be missing the point. Sure they talk about everything from “Shabbos mode” on our appliances to flag archetypes to Frank Lloyd Wright, but the show’s real beauty lies in the wonderful way it draws attention to all the brilliance hiding in plain sight before our eyes…everything that is 99 percent invisible.
Case in point, their “Pool and the Stream” episode takes on skateboarders, swimming pools, and a Finnish architect named Alvar Aalto, but also the beauty of the world around us and our own beauty as well. Let’s take a short dip into the pool with some skaters and find that there is a metaphor waiting in the deep end.
If you wanted to, you could categorize skateboarding as a demographic or even a sect rather than as a sport or a hobby. For skaters, it is a lifestyle, an attitude, a way of looking at the world. Avery Trufelman, from “99 Percent Invisible,” puts it this way: “…skateboarders appreciate the small details of architecture more than anyone. They recognize the quality of concrete, the grain of wood, the incline of a structure. They recognize the way a landscape flows.”
We see steps, a sidewalk, a ramp, but skaters see a challenge, a medley of actions to be choreographed into a fluid performance – not unlike gymnasts or figure skaters would plan one of their routines.
Skateboarding was just a fad back in the 1960s, and by today’s standards, the boards back then may as well have been made of granite. The wheels were metal and did not ride smoothly at all, and the board itself was minuscule. The skateboard was saved from oblivion and denied the fate of the hula-hoop, slap bracelet, and fidget spinner when some surfer kids from Venice Beach, California, in the early 1970s needed an outlet on days that they couldn’t surf. The story goes that they used old skateboards that belonged to an older sibling and later made their own out of planks of wood and roller skate wheels. They would just ride around on them despite a limited array of terrain and tricks.
When urethane wheels came along, everything changed. These wheels provided a smoother ride, better traction, and better absorption of the bumps in the ground. You no longer needed perfectly smooth blacktop to enjoy riding a skateboard anymore. It was a renascence for skaters and for the streets.
A massive drought in Southern California provided another frontier in skateboarding – the swimming pool. With water at a premium, these large empty pools were left fallow. Skaters found these bean-shaped craters and eagerly tipped their wheels down into them to see what they could do with the smoothed slopes and curves. They discovered that they could go fast, defy gravity, and gracefully navigate pool walls like they were actual waves. Eventually, skaters were shooting out of the pool’s slants and getting lofted higher and higher into the air. They started learning to do tricks and land safely and then go back up again.
Ask yourself: Who do you think you are?
How have you grown since last year?
What are you doing differently? What exactly makes you, you?
This series of events – surfer kids in L.A. looking for something to do on land even remotely like surfing to the production of the urethane wheel to the drought to discovering this nearly endless bastion of strangely and perfectly shaped pools to skate in – bridged the gap from a fad to modern-day skating, and ultimately gave birth to extreme sports. This was a process, a string of improbable events and phases that led it to become what it is today.
Skateboarding is a growth and an evolution and, if you care to think about it this way, is no different from our lives. Our lives are a journey, leading from one point to the next, impacted by outside influences and molded by our ability to understand and reconcile them. Skaters can find exquisite beauty in the mundane and interpret it with flair and style – why can’t we? Each end can become a beautiful bridge into the next beginning.
Jobs, situations, locations, and friends all change. If we dare to be holistic about who we are, we’ll see that we are more than what we happen to do for a living or what we did last week, who we know, where we live, or what we did over vacation.
Pesach flows seamlessly into S’firas HaOmer, which prepares us for kabalas HaTorah. Our story as a nation from 70 righteous members of Yaakov’s family to the bonds of slavery to our physical emancipation to our complete freedom when we received the Torah was a process that was definitive and instructive. Our own personal Pesach is completed and our ascent to Torah should be underway.
Ask yourself: Who do you think you are? How have you grown since last year? What are you doing differently? What exactly makes you, you?
A Finnish architect named Alvar Aalto
“Architecture and its details are in some way all part of biology. Perhaps they are, for instance, like some big salmon or trout. They are not born fully-grown; they are not even born in the sea or water where they normally live. They are born hundreds of miles away from their home grounds, where the rivers narrow to tiny streams. Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully-grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas.”
These are the words of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto; some believe his deign influenced all those bean-shaped pools so beloved by skateboarders. His pool concept is where ideas really crystallized for them. Where and when will our ideas crystallize? Maybe we need to jump into the pool of life to find out rather than being satisfied with just getting our toes wet.
Simcha Loiterman is a resident of Kew Gardens Hills. He is available for speaking engagements and presentations or a cup of coffee and a good talk. He would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels very strongly that you can learn from everyone because we all have stories to tell, lessons to teach, and can kindle a spark of goodness inside. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in “Life.” Visit his blog at thisisloit.wordpress.com to learn more of his ideas and opinions about our beautiful world.