The Road

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
--Jack Kerouac.

Words by Erik Joule. Photos: Matthew Miller

The road has played a key role in American history, from the great western migration to the beatnik revolution, the road evokes freedom and possibilities.

However, the pace at which we live has accelerated greatly, the information available to us can often be overwhelming. It can feel at times as if our core values such as tolerance, empathy, community and brotherhood, values so essential to the American way of life, are lost in the noise.

On the road, that digital noise is silenced, replaced with something tangible and palpable. Reconnecting to our core values, allows for the emergence of our sense of freedom, whilst disconnecting from the avalanche of everyday worry and bureaucratic barriers.

Although, the concept of the open road is still alive, we have seen, as of late, a much more transactional relationship with it. However, there has never been a time in our history when we have needed the road more than we do now.

The rise of cycling and the continued expanding popularity of downhill longboarding is a testimony to the need and desire for younger and older Americans to recapture the feeling of freedom. As video games and web based activities consume our youth, we ought to celebrate the growth of each of these outdoor sports.

On a recent balmy December Santa Barbara day, we embarked in an audacious experiment to have riders and skaters share a famous local descent using the road recreationally. It made perfect sense: members of two seemingly distinct communities sharing a love for recreation and the outdoors on the same public road they both cherish. The afternoon kicked off with skaters and riders dancing down the hill in an instantaneously choreographed rhythm, spontaneously creating new lines atop wheels, fingertips sliding across pavement behind spinning spokes.

The stoke and spirits were high whilst the guys effortlessly glided down the hill in the waning light on our little stretch of California coastline.

And, then our adventure came to a halt when the CHP came to chase down the skateboarders. Although, bombing down hills on bikes is legal, the same activity on a skateboard is not on this particular road. I understand that controlling a skateboard down hill is more difficult than controlling a bike. Although, I wonder, as two fatalities occurred in SF last year, one involving a cyclist barreling down a city hill and hitting an elderly man and the other involving a cyclist speeding down the Berkeley hills. These were tragic and terrible accidents but did not result in legal restrictions for any cyclist in the Bay area.

Although, risk is always a concern, I reckon it is mostly for litigious threats rather than the well being of the skateboarding community. I find the different treatment of each of these communities very peculiar. Might it be because cyclists are mostly white and affluent? Could it be because skateboarders are culturally more urban and hence more diverse economically and ethnically? Stifling those with the least access to public discourse already, perhaps, only wedges them away from the idea that they can create change, that they can improve their lives.

As Brandon, Tosh, Tyler and David effortlessly surfed the road in front of them, I could not help but be reminded that the road equalizes us all. There are no differences for our desire for freedom through speed or adventure. We all deserve to experience the road not for the transactional reason of taking us to a destination but rather because sometimes, when on the road, we dream of our unrealized potential, we connect deeply with ourselves and come close to experiencing freedom. Today we all deserve a shot at that.