A downhill bail out at Montreat

By Larry Stanford

April 11, 2014

I like watching the teens skate boarding at the skate park at the Civic Center. They do tricks I would never have tried when I was young. A group of them came before the Thomaston City Council last week to ask that the helmet requirement at the skate park be removed, because of the cost of helmets. They were referred to the Recreation Department.

While I can sympathize with them, I think the helmet requirement needs to stay, and I think should also be enforced by law enforcement in the community. Bicyclists are supposed to wear helmets when they ride in the street; I think it should also be required of skate board riders if they are in the street.

I checked on Google for any statistics about skate boarding deaths, and a site established by Skate Boarders for Public Skate Parks stated that in 2012, there were 30 skate boarding deaths in the U. S. All occurred on roadways, with 24 of the skate boarders dying after being hit by motor vehicles. Of the 30 deaths, only two occurred when the skate boarders were wearing helmets.

Like I said earlier, I’m not unsympathetic toward the skate boarders. I was once young and ‘bullet-proof.’ I loved skate boarding back then. Growing up in Decatur, when the skate board craze first hit, my friends and I all had boards. We didn’t wear helmets or pads, and we didn’t have skate parks. Most of the time, we rode them on sidewalks or down neighborhood streets.

One summer I took my skate board with me to camp. My church youth group went to Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina each summer for a week of camp. The conference center and camp are basically built at the base of a mountain. Churches would buy or build their own houses on the mountain for them to use whenever an event was going on. There was one main road going pretty much straight up the mountain. The main road was at a 45 degree angle, with some steeper parts nearer the bottom.

I rode my board around the camp all week, but not down the main road. Our house was about a half-mile up the road, and on the next to last day of camp, I decided to try to ride the road. I figured it was wide enough for me to ride from side to side to keep from building up too much speed. That worked starting out, but about halfway down, I hit a steeper portion at the same time as a car was coming up the hill, and I had to go straight down. That built my speed up a lot more than I had planned, and it was all I could do to stay on the board. Near the bottom of the hill I was flying and another car was starting up the hill. The road was rougher at the bottom and my plan was to stop before I got there, but again, I wasn’t planning on the speed I was going. I knew I would have to bail out. On the left, the car was starting up the hill and on the right was a sidewalk with some grass beyond it. I bailed to the right. Luckily I made it up onto the sidewalk before I fell forward into the grass and rolled, relatively unhurt. My board wasn’t so lucky. When I bailed to the right, it veered to the left into the lower side of the car, causing a small dent and breaking the board in half. I thought I was going to be in real big trouble, but the driver was more concerned about me than the dent in his car, so I escaped without too much punishment, but that pretty much ended my skate boarding days for a while.

I could have easily been seriously hurt or killed, but I was lucky and got by with just some scrapes and bruises. I still loved skate boarding, and in college I even filmed making my own board for a class project. But I never pushed myself or my board again to do something as stupid as I had done at Montreat. Today, with all the tricks that skate boarders can do and try to do, you don’t need a steep hill and cars coming at you to have a really bad day. Helmets and pads aren’t a save-all, but they are another level of protection you need to invest in and need to remain a requirement.

Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.