On the way home from church Mom stopped at University Surf and Skate shop for me. I got out of her van in the plaza, and she drove over to the corner McDonald’s drive-thru. 

Floor to ceiling posters filled in the windows of USS. Surfers rode wall-high East Coast waves, wakeboarders twirled leashes connected to boats behind their backs, and skateboarders hucked themselves down stairs—caught in mid grind, right after the clink of their trucks on the rail. I could hear the power chords, distorted bass, and tapping sticks of punk rock blare through the door even before I entered.

The electronic buzzer rang and the counter girl said, “Hi.” I looked at her, noticed her freckly cleavage slung in her tank top, and then I looked at the ground. I breathed in the thin air-conditioning air that smelled like new shoes from the back.

I walked past the Hawai’ian flower-covered bikinis clipped to hangers, rows of surfboards with their shark-like fins beneath their tails, and locked displays with polarized sunglasses and stainless steel watches. At the skate corner, I set my finger on top of a glass cabinet and searched for the screenprint of a rat skull with dead cavities empty of eyes and x-ed femurs. I smudged other sets of fingerprints on the glass as I pointed to a set of four Bones-brand “ditch formula” wheels injected with silicone to make them harder, turn better, ride faster, and be stronger.

At the checkout booth, I handed over cash to the counter girl. I stared down at the stack of free surf and skate mags, posters, and stickers. I picked up a surf mag and the new issue of ForTheKrew. I heard the counter girl open a bag for the wheels and I stuck the mags inside.

A wrapper for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese was crinkled between Mom’s purse and seatbelt. She turned up public radio with Prairie Home Companion on when I got in. I tried to ignore the nose-whistles of Garrison Keillor’s breathing and took out a magazine from my bag. 

I paged through the surf mag and came across a woman’s bronzed bottom filling up half a page. A black thong deeply flossed her cheeks. My hands began to sweat. I bounced my eyes off the woman’s curves. Her slick hair dripped down her back as she turned to stare out at the ocean where a surfer ducked under the curling tunnel of a wave. I searched the shore and spotted a kicked off pair of flip-flops with something on the bottom of their soles. The ad was for a flip-flop company that had put bottle openers on their new line.

I glanced at Mom and grabbed the edge of the page. Mom looked into traffic waiting for an open space. I flipped to the next page. Mom made the turn. When I took my hand from the page, ink from the newsprint-paper dyed my fingertips black.

I stuffed the surf mag back in my bag and pulled out ForTheKrew. The issue focused on an Orlando skate mission with photos of a stairset that I knew was in front of one of the downtown churches because of the whitewashed walls and black painted railings. Another showed a loading dock used as a launch ramp. Without a branded semi-truck’s trailer backed up to the edge, the dock could have been behind any store or warehouse in the metro-area. I didn’t care about those skate spots, because I didn’t like to throw my body down walkways or back store areas. I sought slants and curves along buildings and the scooped out, cemented ditches behind neighborhoods. I flipped the page.

I noticed the lack of light in a photo. It looked dark without any white haze of generator-powered light beaming in the background or the flare of a multi-flash illuminating the shot. I wondered why the mag would even print a picture of a spot that I had to get close to the page to see.

A skater rode off the angle of what looked like a wedge of wall alongside a store’s entrance. The shut tinted automatic doors looked darker without the bluish fluorescent glow I expected from inside an open store. Yellow light crept into the entrance’s corner of the photo. I figured the spot was at a closed store, skateable during the day. A place where I didn’t need anything other than my board.

I shuffled my feet, scraping them against the carpet of the van like steering my board. I imitated the movement of riding up the slant. I would lean back on my tail, lifting my nose to rush up.

The photo’s byline and cut line only noted nicknames of the photographer and skater. I didn’t know either of them and even if I did they probably wouldn’t have told me where to find the spot like how I hadn’t showed my skate pal Adam the ditches tucked behind our neighborhood until I knew him for half-a-year. In the photo, the trick was labeled as a wally, but I already knew that. The photo included a one-word location: Alafaya.

That was a start.

* * *

We drove with the air conditioning pushing max-blast through the vents of Adam’s mom’s boxy blue van. In the co-pilot seat, I rolled down the window and set my arm in the cool, escaping air. Next to me, Adam drove and sang the Spanglish bridge of “Caress Me Down” by Sublime. The CD whirred in the player and the speakers by my ankles pulsed the bassline.

Between us on the floor our flipped upside down boards knocked against each other with the sound of about-to-boil skate energy: maple tapping, aluminum trucks clinking, and ball bearings turning the urethane wheels. We were out of school for summer and on a mission to find the wallride spot. We were driving north in the middle of the week in the middle of the day.

When Adam had gassed up the van at a 7-Eleven we bought Slurpees that sweat beads of condensation in the cupholders. Adam had picked a blueberry Slurpee and I had picked up cherry flavored. The syrup had begun to separate from the churned ice and settle into a puddle. I stirred up the white and pink hues of my cup into a bloody mush. I took a sip and the freezing water made my brain hammer my skull. I blinked, hard.

We drove Lake Underhill Road to the end of Alafaya Trail where we would start our search. The tollway paralleled our route. The freshly mowed median’s grass clippings scattered along the gutter.

I stared out the window at the sign for the new shopping plaza across the road from the Waterford Lakes subdivision. The once dirt ground looked level and “caution wet” signs warned of the cement foundations drying, ready to be built on.

I remembered in middle school when Mom would drive this way to church. I sat behind her and pulled my polo collar away from the seatbelt pressing into my neck. I watched motocross riders, in what was a dirt lot then, sit on the saddles of their bikes and twist back on their throttles. The engines’ revving sounded like the weed whackers that now groomed the area. The motobikers sped forward to a mound of dirt. A rutted track had been packed into a curve from so much wheels’ wear. The men and machines became rockets arcing away from, and then back down, to earth.

We drove over Colonial Drive, one of the deadliest intersections in the State. Cars changed lanes underneath the traffic lights, but at least signaled. I saw that the corner plaza had switched some of its stores’ names, but still sold the same stuff: manicured nails, dollar items, and off-brand groceries. Even though it looked like the city, I knew the beach was a half-hour’s drive to the right, eastward. Sometimes stray seagulls flew inland and their crap left white plops sizzling on the asphalt of the Alafaya Branch Public Library’s parking lot.

We drove over University Boulevard, which connected roads from University High School to the University of Central Florida. I had walked across the stage at the UCF arena and listened for the last time my Polish last name was mispronounced as a high schooler: “Wee War Ra.” I only shook the administrators hand because I had to receive my diploma. Through palmettos, in front of the university, I spotted a group of guys with sunglasses, polos, and cargo shorts who flung discs in S-curves around live oaks to chain baskets on a Frisbee golf course. They were playing in the same woods the Blair Witch Project was filmed.

We drove to Oviedo, the small town where Mom weekly attended Bible Study Fellowship at the Baptist church. Instead of lofty two-story stucco houses so close together neighbors could look into each other’s rooms through their aligned window, squat bungalows crouched to the ground far away from the two-lane. Instead of sprinkler heads spritzing spongy St. Augustine grass, last fall’s leaves browned out the scrub grass left to deal with the heat. Instead of Labradors muzzled and walked on retractable leashes with their tails soggy from the humidity, chickens pecked at sand fleas stirring in the dirt.

We drove into a forested area called the Black Hammock. My parents went to New Year’s Day parties off of gravel roads where tunnels of kudzu wove a canopy of boughs closed. Pine needles carpeted driveways. Tires changed from a crunch to a hiss and swish. In the back, pigs roasted in pits on beds of embers. Out in those woods, I first tasted alligator. I had popped a breaded and fried nugget in my mouth and chewed the tangy, springy meat.

We drove so far north that we exited the orbit of the Central Florida we knew. The clusters of trees thinned and then gas stations, pharmacies, banks, and fast food stores thickened to clog each corner of every intersection. I kept my eye out on my side and Adam glanced out his window instead of at the mirrors. While everything looked worn from years of rain, wind, and sun, nothing seemed closed.

“There,” Adam said.

He pointed at a peach-colored shopping plaza with a wedged slant jutting out from the building’s wall along its front walkway. Adam took the turn into a McDonald’s on the edge of the plaza. I grabbed my board. Adam threw the keys under his chair.

Adam pushed through the empty parking lot. His wheels rumbled over the heat fractures. Bald dandelion heads wilted in the cracks. Lamppost poles offered the only slivers of shade. Adam popped an ollie up to the walkway. The parking lot’s goopy asphalt had coated his wheels black.

I set my board on the walkway. My sweaty fingers had left a darkened outline on the board’s black griptape. I put my foot on top of my board and rolled the wheels back and forth feeling the gliding smooth potential of the walkway.

Adam rode parallel the wedged wall. The slant stood as tall as his shoulders. He careened up the side. He glided along, but then slowed and his wheels slid sounding a nails-on-chalkboard screech of urethane-on-cement. When he stepped off at the bottom, the blackened wheels had whited back to bone.

I pushed off. I flicked my back foot again and again on the ground. I rushed along in a one-legged balance on my board and one-legged contact with the cement. I pushed until I felt too fast to put my foot down. The faster I went the more control I felt.

I rolled up the wedge at an angle, not attempting to swipe my board’s nose at the top like a surfer’s cutback, but to ride the slant imaging a wave curling over and shooting me out. The speed-created wind furled my shirt into a sail. My damp sweat started to wick from my swamped armpits. I swallowed a gulp of cool air and then exhaled as I dropped off the wall back to the flat ground.

Farther away Adam rolled up, kickturned, and then rolled down the wedge. I rode over to him. It was the exact angle from the ForTheKrew photo: the tinted glass entrance glaring our reflections, the awning created a bit of shade, and the wedge to corner transition challenging an attempt.

Before I could push, Adam said, “Cop.”

I glanced in the direction we had come. A white patrol car turned into the same street. Adam huddled in the blindside of the store’s entrance. I stood out in the open, stuck. I didn’t want to move and draw attention to us.

The patrol car pulled up to the drive-thru menu. I waited—still—and waved my hand down low to Adam. He stayed in place. The cop took the corner of the McDonald’s to the takeout window and we jetted back to the van, carrying our boards.

I sweated from the near-miss with the cop. I sweated from the heat. I wiped my sweaty arm to my sweaty forehead and I sweated with the sweat.

“Damn,” Adam said.

Inside the van, he held onto the steering wheel and then cranked the a/c’s fan to full blast, which spewed furnace-air in our faces. With all the windows rolled down the scorching inside air mixed with the burning outside air.

My cherry Slurpee had turned into soup. The plastic cup blistered my fingers at the touch. I didn’t try a sip.

“Water,” I said.

“Water,” Adam said and nodded.

He put the van in gear. As soon as we moved, hot wind poured into the boiling car. A diluted relief.

I wanted to push Adam away from the water fountain, but my limbs felt too hollow. I had shuffled my skate shoes through the Publix parking lot. With each step my socks squished.

Adam finished heaving in water. His eyes looked wet, filled from toes to head. I put both hands on the fountain steadying myself and also keeping some distance so I wouldn’t drink until my kidneys cramped. I lapped the water letting my dry tongue be moistened. I licked a film covering on my teeth and wiped away the crust from my lips. As I drank I noticed sparkling flecks on my arms’ skin. I realized they were salt left away from evaporation. I stepped away from the fountain.

Adam dunked his head under the flow. He slicked his mop-ish hair back. I couldn’t tell where the water leaked onto his sweaty shirt.


I didn’t know anybody living north of Waterford, my high school, the university, Oviedo, the Black Hammock, and out of the woods where we were off of Alafaya.

“Chris?” the voice said again.

I turned around to see Mrs. Leach my high school computer design and simulation teacher. She still dyed her hair red and wore it in a loose ponytail. The smudges of tiredness under her eyes seemed to have ebbed, though. She smiled with her thin lips pulling into her freckly high cheeks. Even in the weather, she wore jeans as if she didn’t want to show off her legs.

I didn’t often consider teachers to have lives outside of work thinking they just appeared and disappeared. In middle school I thought that teachers lived in filing closets. Other than leaving the high school, I didn’t know what had happened with Ms. Leach.

“Ms. Leach, what’re you doing?”

“Shopping,” she said and lifted up plastic bags. “And you? You finished?”

“I got into UCF.”

“Congrats,” she said. “I’m working at Lockheed now.”

I nodded. I didn’t want to mention skating. My high school teachers had all assumed I was just another nerdy tech student in the magnet program.

“You guys look soaked.”

“We were just skating and it's crazy hot,” Adam said.

I didn’t introduce them to each other.

“You know,” Ms. Leach said. “There’s skaters that are always going in and out of that complex.” She lifted her chin to the neighboring apartment buildings.

“We’ll check it out,” Adam said.

“Nice seeing you,” I said.

“Good luck,” Ms. Leach said.

Adam skated ahead to an empty guardhouse with its arm-gate down. I shuffled my feet next to each other on my board’s nose in hang-ten position, but bent my knees and plunked my butt on the tail. I rolled under the bar.

The parking lots around the apartment complex dipped toward sewer grates. I ollied over one and heard my pop ricochet between buildings. Yellow painted curbs warned against parking on corners with hydrants. I didn’t dare grind along the edge, the noise would sound like a spoon chomped by a garbage disposal. Stair sets led into open-aired hallways that would amplify our landings’ echoes like canyons. A resident would probably call the cops within minutes of a couple trick attempts.

We skated to the back of the buildings.

“There,” Adam said.

I set my foot down to stop at a foot-width dirt trail stamped on the crabgrass leading into a thicket. Adam had started walking the trail and I followed him into the bushes. The tunnel of shade’s coolness settled on my skin. Finger-length lizards slithered on the leaves. Orange stubs of cigarette filters smushed into the bark. Potato chip bags littered the exposed roots. We passed through a clipped opening in a chain-link fence where the sun made a stuck plastic bottle of Mountain Dew glow neon green.

On the other side of the thicket the land opened into a wide stretch sloping into a basin. Out on the edges of the land, by fences, screens rose above pools. The rumble of traffic had lessened to a hum. I could hear the brown undergrowth crunch under my shoes. A bird’s screech turned out to be a bald eagle’s call from the top of a scraggly pine.

“Look at this,” Adam called.

He stood by a plaid couch stuck in a hole, wedged by a cement edge.

I raised my eyebrows when I stood next to Adam at the top of a story-sized V-shaped cement ditch. The depression in the sunken land allowed for all the water from the road, the neighborhoods, the apartment complex, and the grocery store to drain. A lake-size amount of murky water pooled on one side of the ditch. A dried waterline showed where the flow smoothed the sharp bottom of the V into a smooth U transition.

The slanted sides of the ditch were etched with parallel lines of skate wheels. I traced the arcs with my eyes and visioned the rides. Sun-faded graffiti tags looked like washed out chalk. Tufts of weed sprouts struggled in the dried out channel bottom.

I set my board’s tail on the lip of the ditch and then stomped down on my board’s nose leaning into the descent. The whir of acceleration rolled in my ears. I bent my knees at the bottom’s U-bend dip. I straightened my legs and sent myself to the top.

I reached down and splayed one hand on the cement ditch while my feet guided my board to slash its trucks over the lip, grinding as I pivoted around my hand. Plugs of scrub grass spewed up like the spray from a cutback at a wave’s crest. I pulled my board back to me with my legs. I stood back up and then rode down the other side of the ditch at an angle. At the top, I popped an ollie and grabbed the side of the board with my trailing hand in a frontside air. I drifted back into the slant. I let go and then landed with my knees tucked to keep my speed. My jaw vibrated when I rode over grits of cement. On the other side, I launched out of the lip, kicked my board into my hand, and stood on the dirt-packed ground.

Adam whooped and then rode up and down the ditch in a pendulum motion feeling the speed of the sharp shape. He shuffled his feet into position with his front foot on the edge of his board. As his momentum ebbed up the slant, his feet popped and he flicked his board causing it to spin. The board fully rotated width-wise and he seemed to float above it until the griptape reappeared and he stomped a kickflip.

I banged my board’s trucks on the edge of the ditch. The metal hit the cement. Nobody could hear us.

We never skated the shuttered store’s wall again, but we skated the V-pipe, as we came to call the ditch, all summer. We’d drive north whenever we had enough change for gas to get us there.

We skated other sweltering days when the van’s seats made our thighs sizzle and our legs melted into jelly and we flung our boards haphazardly on the cement. We skated at sunset on a tossed out fridge that we rolled next to the rotting couch; learning how to frontside rock ’n’ roll—our boards’ front wheels lapped over the lip and touched down briefly in a stall and then we lifted up and rotated blindly, turning around our backs, to ride in again. We skated when a full moon illuminated the night and cranes rustled in their roosts, cawing in their dreams, while we rolled in white quiet light.

Chris Wiewiora grew up in Orlando, Florida where he skateboarded drainage ditches. He currently lives in Ames where he is a MFA candidate in Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and Environment Program. He previously contributed an essay titled “The Gift of Nothing” in the Vol. 4, Issue #2 of Stymie, which was a “Notable” in Best American Sports Writing 2012. He is a regular contributor to The Good Men Project. Read more at www.chriswiewiora.com.