Rob Strand enjoys a moment of peace.
Two years ago I was lost. I had left my career track with a breakup-induced broken heart and the realization that I was working my life away for a cause that was not my own. I fell into depression. There was so much noise inside my mind. I knew something was wrong. The distractions of weed, alcohol and Tinder “dating” provided some instant gratification, but could not begin to heal the fundamental wound inside me. I found sanctuary in surfing and longboarding. During that period of cloudy confusion, a year of entire days carving down the hills and alleys of El Segundo, California, longboarding kept me going and became a fundamental part of my identity. Later on, after moving back home to Minnesota for some familial care, I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. A huge part of what brought me back to health is the practice of skating.
I first started skateboarding in rural Minnesota with two friends after elementary school let out. It was more for companionship between the three of us, less because I felt driven to do it alone. We would compete with each other. We pushed each other to see who could do an ollie first, then a pop shove-it, and a kick flip. It was about friendship, and finding a sense of belonging. Immersion in the skateboarding culture followed, and soon I had the pages of Thrasher and Transworld Magazines plastered all over my bedroom walls. I was enthralled. I kept regularly skating throughout high school. Skateboarding gave me purpose, friendship and energy.
As a son of an engineer and a school-teacher, college was next. Skating dropped oﬀ completely. Rugby and industrial engineering studies filled the days. I graduated and joined a large corporation as an operations manager in training. Thus continued a path that was set out for me but not my own. A good job, great salary, moving around the country from flour mill to flour mill became my way of life. Managing 24/7 operations was rigorous and exhausting. I realized, nearly four years into my career, that I wasn’t gaining any energy from what I was doing. I was failing to find motivation and enthusiasm for Life, as I had when I was a younger skater.
The realization that I was following a career path that was draining the stoke from me, along with the collapse of a relationship, drove me out of work and into the greatest depression of my 27 years of life. I walked away from that path, and I was lost. Work had brought me to East Los Angeles, far from home in Minnesota. I was fortunate enough to have a cousin and her family in town, and they oﬀered me a place to find refuge and a table topped with good food, surrounded by two little kids and their loving parents. My cousin’s husband informally told me about a surfboard builder in town named Tyler Hatzikian.
I went to Tyler’s shop, introduced myself to his wonderful wife, Katherine, and soon began working retail, part-time for a craftsman I came to admire greatly. It was in that shop where I discovered Carver skateboards. There were a couple of demo boards. “Sure, take one out, have some fun!” When I hopped on that board and skated down the small alley behind the surf shop, I had no idea about the magnitude of the change that was beginning in my life. I became hooked on longboarding. Surfing the streets became my every-day dedication, a practice I was fully committed to. I skated for hours in the morning, and hours in the afternoon. I skated at night, late, when the streets were so quiet I could have sworn I was back in rural Minnesota.
Rob says that skateboarding has led to a deep connection with himself.
I had never set foot on a longboard before that time. Sensations of snowboarding came to me when I was carving down hills of concrete. I could move like the surfers I loved to watch, the turns became my obsession. I grew to Love the point at which my wheels would break loose, a feeling that became so intimately known on each board and surface. It’s like knowing the friction point at which the clutch of a car you’ve driven for years engages each gear. The sensation becomes part of your body, imbedded within the memory of the muscles used to activate the slide. I could wax poetic about a single turn and all the physiological and psychological activity that occurs when I’m skating, but I would hopelessly digress. The point is, I’m obsessed.
Skating was my therapy. All the rage, all the anxiety and even old wounds of lost love could be put into the background just by walking up a hill and carving down it (over and over and over again). Surfing was there for me too, but as any surfer knows, you can’t really surf every single day in most locations. What started as a flat-day-only activity became an everyday practice, and I committed myself to riding faster, turning smoother, and learning how to navigate the lines that my mind would draw on any hill, alley and driveway. This gave me such a positive outlet, and I soon saw my life changing from the inside out. I learned about dedication, about sticking to something and watching your hard work develop into skill. I developed an immense passion for the streets and I could express that passion by riding, pouring sweat and blood into them. Most important of all though, I learned presence of mind. I could focus, find the moment and open it wide, expanding time as I perceived it.
Being a manic-depressive person, I live at the far ends of life’s spectrum. With a mind like mine, it’s diﬃcult to find balance, and I’m often lost in fantastic dreams about the future and dark corners of the past. Skating brings me to the here and now. When I’m riding, I know exactly who I am. Funny thing is, I think there has been a direct translation between physically finding my steady balance on a skateboard, and finding that same capability in life’s varied situations. Every time I got into a sketchy spot on a hill, went too fast, lost control, and then pulled out of it unharmed by focusing my attention and listening to that instinctive survivalist voice in my head, I gained a measure of confidence. I can find that voice in life. The practice of skateboarding increases my ability to listen for it, and notice it when it’s needed. Stressful situations can become less tense, I can breathe and think more critically and independently of external circumstance.
In California I dove deep into longboarding. It was an every day, all day practice. The dry, sunny environment fully supported it. The scars I’ve got from learning to ride are inexorably tied to the growing pains I’ve had while learning to deal with depression, my hypo-manic moods, and life’s situations in general. I know pain, and I know bliss. I’ve found plenty of both on a longboard, and have developed an intimate understanding of how in skating there is so much Life, and in my Life there is always skating.
I would like to tell you that I’ve got it all figured out now. I’ve found a career that gives me energy, paid oﬀ all my debts, enjoy every-day balance and total control of my moods, and live free of depression and any symptoms of mental illness. However, such nonsense is utterly untrue. What I am able to say honestly and whole-heartedly is that my life situation is better. Six months of sobriety have brought me a more focused mind with fewer distractions, and sharper skating. Dietary discretion and wholesome cooking has brought me a cleaner body, healthier gut and happier disposition. No more Tinder “dating”, I’ve found my partner and best friend. She understands me. She knows how important skating is to my well-being, and encourages me to go out on the days I appear to be lacking the energy.
I started skateboarding as a way to connect with my close friends in elementary school. Over time, it became a way for me to connect with myself and find out who I am. It became an integral part of my treatment plan to restore and maintain mental health and general well-being.