On sunny days sometimes I stop & I sit & watch the BMXs & skateboards hurtling around. There are always at least 15 or 20 boys there, any time of the day, practising their moves. On the sunniest days I guess 50 or 60, & it's seldom I've seen the same face twice.
It's a weird little world I'm not really a part of, & I wonder sometimes where they all practice, because in all the years I've wandered by I've never seen a bad fall, a cut, a broken wrist. I guess it must happen, just not here.
The age of the park's inhabitants can vary anywhere between the under-10s to I guess the late 30s, from little kids to tattooed men with salt & pepper in their beards. But the one thing they all have in common is they are all male. Unlike, say, the children's playground that sits beside it, which is always half & half, there are never any girls in the skatepark.
True, mothers & girlfriends sometimes stand around or sit off to the side on the benches & watch their boys soaring through the air like birds in flight, but in 15 years or so of walking past & taking note, I can only remember one time seeing two little pre-teen black girls riding a scooter, very slowly & methodically making their way over a mound. Then one would stop & hand it over & the other would climb aboard, & cautiously ride it back over the same hump. No-one was teasing them or laughing, or rolling their eyes. They were treated just the same as everyone else.
I've seen photographs of skater-girls, so I know they exist, but in my life, in this country, I can honestly say I've only seen maybe three? Four? The disparity is so great it seems to me an estimate of anywhere up to even a thousand-to-one might not be far off the mark.
Why should this be? Every girl I know rides a bike, so it can't be through lack of knowledge or opportunity. They all ride bikes, they just don't ride them through the air. They don't do stunts on them. They don't ride around on them with no hands, the way I do. Similarly, I've probably in my life seen more girls in rollerskates & rollerblades than boys, but again: they don't use them to do anything dangerous or extraordinary: they're not the ones doing somersaults & jumping through the air on them, or competing to be the best at all costs.
It's begun striking me lately what a great microcosm of male/female differences & preferences all this is. Just as the perceived 'pay gap' between the sexes can be best understood by looking at the differing goals & priorities men & women at large have & the choices they therefore make - rather than believing in some mythical 'glass ceiling', & a universal conspiracy to keep women 'in their place' - many other pronounced differences between the sexes likes & dislikes can best be understood not through 'patriarchy theory' but by focusing on the choices the majority of us make due to innate, biological imperatives.
It's been established that one of the ways in which male & female brains differ is in spatial awareness & abstract thinking. The latter is responsible for all the great mathematical theorems, the great symphonies & architecture of the world, whereas the former explains the greater male attraction to football, cricket, guns, golf, martial arts, parkour... - the fascination in passing objects (or oneself) through the air with skill & precision.
On top of this, males higher testosterone makes men naturally more heroic, competitive & prepared to take risks. Men's perception of, & relationship to, their own bodies is much more one of utility & acceptance of self-sacrifice: all over the world males evolved to be stronger so as to better take care of the women & the children. Men had to evolve a disregard for their own safety or else we simply wouldn't be here now: our great great+ grandfathers would have simply abandoned the incapacitated pregnant women & tiny tots when the tigers turned up & saved their own skin. But they didn't, or at least the ones we are descended from didn't. And there still is no culture today where the women are sent off to war while the menfolk stay home & play with the kids, where the women go out to hunt while the men tend the fire. So, males are both societally & biologically conditioned to care less about their own immediate safety & well-being than a woman, or a dream, a cause, a higher ideal.
This is, incidentally, why there will never be a female 'Jackass' on TV, showing videos of girls hurling themselves off buildings into bushes & kicking each other in the genitals. Women's innate drive for self-preservation makes such behaviour incomprehensible to them. Women move away from possible harm because instinctively they know that to risk damage to their bodies means to damage the ground from which the next generation will be grown.
But boys, everywhere in the world, love doing shit like that, it goes across all time zones, all societies. And 'The Patriarchy' didn't make us this way, only Mother Nature.
So the skatepark is a little, solitary island of maleness, where the boys there are left alone to feel the power & capabilities of their own bodies, doing something crazy & dangerous & sometimes sublime. Where they are left alone to just be boys. And there are so few places like that left, they go there in their thousands, & keep on going back, even once their hair turns grey.