The two campervans are a permanent fixture to the Treetops carpark. They’re bigger than campervans, actually – they’re homes on wheels. I’ve seen the curtains move, so I know they’re inhabited. I wonder what the deal is, who the people are, if the council minds. It does seem like a little tucked-away part of Wellington that no one is too bothered about. I pull up next to the homes on wheels; grab my board from the boot and head up the hill.
These pre-lunch Treetops sessions are one of my favourite parts of life here. They fit in perfectly between the morning (daycare drop off, dishes, washing, physio) and afternoon (emails, frenzied writing, skype meetings, daycare pick-up) shifts that form my new New Zealand existence. As well as a bit of exercise for me and Tess, they’re a chance to get comfortable on my board again – something I haven’t felt for a couple of years now.
I say that Tess gets exercise, but she really spends most of the time waiting for me to finish and come home. I’ll scan the horizon for her, and finally spot her sitting by the car, trembling. Either that, or she prowls the perimeter of the spot, darting savagely at the other skaters. I really wish she’d settle down a bit. This move has been harder on her than any of us. But imagine being a dog, and flying to another country. Imagine that when you get to your new home, you’re living in the middle of a forest, in a flat beneath a house that is home to a big old dog and two cats. You wouldn’t know which way was up. Poor Tess, no wonder she’s being so annoying.
As a friend put it when I posted a picture on Instagram, Treetops looks ‘like the skate gods emptied their small change on the table’. It’s an old carpark, or a basketball court, or something, up on top of a hill surrounded by forest (hence the name) that’s gradually evolved into one of the best spots I’ve ever skated.
There are ledges of every size and description, a fun box with a rail, a fantastic little parking block, some weird big black ramps, and my favourite obstacle: a soggy little quarter pipe with a banana painted on it. I call him ‘Bananaman’.
Most of the locals just use Bananaman as a place to leave their keys and phone, but I love him. He’s the perfect size, somewhere between tiny and small. And he’s crappy and eccentric, so even simple tricks feel like an achievement. Today there’s a kid sitting on Bananaman, studiously constructing a bong from a plastic bottle. I ask him if he’d mind moving and he happily obliges, relocating to the grass where he sits and smokes while I roll around warming up.
Treetops has recently been resurfaced, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign and support from the council. It’s now has a smooth, clean, eggshell-like surface, and I enjoy cruising around in big circles, wiggling back and forth as if I’m figure skating or something. I’ve learned to keep an eye out for the shaded areas the sun hasn’t touched yet, because they’re often still wet and deadly with dew. After a few circuits, I do a no comply on the wedge bank, then a wallie off a funny little block, and since that feels good, I loop around and head across the asphalt section, straight for Bananaman.
My first axle stall always shocks me a bit, as the sign at the bottom bumps my wheels and the soggy plywood slows me down dramatically. Luckily, I feel my axle reach the coping, and I hover for a split second before rolling back down as if nothing just happened. I loop around again, and this time I go frontside, standing up on a pivot. Grinding isn’t really an option, because Bananaman’s only six foot wide, but that just adds to the challenge. Once both of those are taken care of, it’s time to move on to the less essential basics: frontside rock, backside pivot, backside disaster, and so on.
Some days, I won’t get that far. I’ll lose faith in myself as I roll up the transition and exhale noisily, embarrassed, stepping off my board and trying not to twist my ankle. The ramp feels unfriendly and dangerous on those days, the coping too sunken, my trucks too loose. My knee will hurt and I’ll tell myself that I am too old and broken to be doing this for fun, because this isn’t fun at all. On those days, I drive home in a funk with a dark cloud around me, and I start questioning our decision to move here, this strange town with terrible weather, hardly any people and a quarter pipe with an old sign at the bottom of it.
But today, it’s fantastic. I get cocky and ask Craig to take a photo of a pivot to fakie, and I get it no problem. I even do a blunt. I share a few jokes with the other kids skating; I swerve and miss all the puddles.
After letting Craig have a go of my board (he has a couple of cracked ribs and shouldn’t technically be skating at all, but this doesn’t really count) I pick up my stuff and head back to the car. I call Tess and she runs up to meet me halfway down the hill, relieved, celebratory. On my drive home, I feel hungry and refreshed. I have an idea to write this story, so I write it. That version comes out a bit crappy, so I wait a few days and write it again.