Skateboarding towards sixty: "The city is a longboarder’s adventure playground"
Longboarding keeps 58-year-old Lena Salmi fit and happy, whatever anyone else might think
By Jaana Laitinen
Spring has arrived in full flood, and Helsinki resident Lena Salmi, 58, has once again got a set of wheels under her feet.
Salmi uses a longboard, a longer variant of a skateboard, to transport herself along the city streets from her home in Katajanokka to the university, to shops, and just to skate in Stadikan mäki, Ankkis, or at sessarit.
Or, rather, she “kicks” herself there, as the longboarders say.
Stadikan mäki refers to the hill on which the Helsinki Swimming Stadium is located, where there are sloping paths that attract longboarders.
Ankkis, in turn, is the pond in the Alppipuisto Park, whereas sessarit (“sessions”) simply refer to longboarders’ get-togethers that can be set up impromptu, for example via the Internet.
“Longboarding is a pop-up sport”, Salmi says.
In the city, a longboard can be used just as well as a bicycle, Salmi says with enthusiasm.
Once she rode her longboard to the Opera, changed her shoes, and left the board in the cloakroom for the evening.
”A longboard gets you whereever you’re going, and quickly”, Salmi says while demonstrating her longboard.
A freeboard, in turn, can be used to “snowboard” on the asphalt.
In addition to the customary rollers, it also has turning wheels underneath it. They enable all sorts of tricks, including turning on the spot.
“If you lean towards the downhill direction, you will end up on your nose, just like on a snowboard”, Salmi demonstrates on one of the sloping pathways near the Swimming Stadium.
A group of boys of secondary school age walk by. All the boys do a double-take when they realise the skateboarder is a woman of their mothers’ age. At least.
“As you could see, the smiles were not malicious, but merely curious”, Salmi laughs after the boys have disappeared. When you skateboard your age is irrelevant, she says. Salmi has made it to the inner circle of the longboarders.
“I am surprised by how well I was received. I am always included in things. It is part of the scene immediately to greet other boarders, as this is something fun to do.”
Salmi knows the city’s skateboarders and the little boys around her neighbourhood.
“One asked if I would become his surrogate skateboard mum.”
By profession, Salmi is a researcher of the Sámi language, spoken by the indigenous minority of Lapland.
She is currently working on her doctoral thesis on the subject of Sámi-language sports journalism.
For a long time Salmi lived in Lapland, and on the side of her research job she studied to become a ski instructor.
“On the weekends I bombed around on the fells”, she describes the days she spent on a snowboard.
Salmi moved back to Helsinki in 2008.
“In the wintertime I was in almost permanent mourning because of the lack of snow. In Helsinki you couldn't snowboard for love or money. I had to come up with a hobby that would suit the urban environment.”
Salmi discovered the joys of longboarding. At 7.30 a.m. one May Day morning she posted an ad on an Internet site frequented by skateboarders, asking if someone could teach her the basics.
“Within half an hour I had received replies. We met up outside the Presidential Palace and started to practice. The boys showed me: “Look, do it like this!'”
Salmi is a former sports journalist herself, has been a swimming coach and ski instructor, and she has always been physically active.
Hence it is easier for her to stay upright and mobile on a skateboard than it is for many of her contemporaries.
“The only thing I am really mindful about are my knees. My muscles I can keep in shape through training.”
“At this age longboarding is the best possible exercise form. It develops and maintains the sense of balance. Poor balance kills older people when they fall.”
The city is an adventure playground for a skateboarder, Lena Salmi claims. She views her home town with fresh eyes: there is a good chicane over there, and this is a good site for tricks. A public space need skateboarders more than the boarders need the city, she argues.
“We give the city a measuring scale and show how a space works. We also develop the street culture. Longboarding is an incredible means of contact between people. Passers-by stop to look at us. All of a sudden the civil servants are not quite in such haste.”
”I allow the onlookers to have try for themselves and the dogs to sniff my board.”
Salmi declares that she is having a lot of fun when she is skateboarding.
Not everybody, it seems, is OK with that.
”A man cycling by once asked me: ‘Why do you bother with that stuff, an adult woman like you?’ I replied that I was a woman, but not an adult.”
”Another time a little boy asked how I was allowed to skateboard, even though I was so old. Where does the joy disappear from a person’s life?”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 24.5.2012