In September last year I pulled out my brother’s old long board, which he no longer needs in Johannesburg, and added to my exercise routine instead of just walking 6km a day . I was post-op so I couldn’t go back to my regular training schedule as it’s only suitable for professional athletes, which of course I was pre-op.
Long boarding is easy, but not so easy. As a 37 year old man who probably shouldn’t risk falling and cracking a rib or displacing a knee or, God forbid, hurting his head. The smart choice, I guess, would have been to stay off the tarmac while trying to balance on a piece of wood covered in sandpaper on two wheels. But like I said, obviously I’m a pro-athlete, so I had to give it a try. We try everything, at least once. And by the time December 2021 rolled around, after trying more than once, I was finally able to stay balanced on the board and skate – not very fast – in a straight line without looking like a complete idiot.
There is nothing wrong with walking. In fact, until then, the part of my brain that controls the use of language prefers to do things on its own. So I’ve always liked to take a long walk, but it’s not something I did for exercise, but after a few months of walking, you start to feel a little crazy, and that’s why I tried something different.
Longboarding is also a bit of a solo sport. Of course it is – you can’t fit two people on one board. So I really got into it. But it’s different from walking in that there are still eyes on you in some way. When you walk no one is watching you but when I skate I feel stares at me and I am filled with anguish because me being me I might do something embarrassing like fall scrape a knee the cry like a toddler in front of everyone.
One day while researching a long board – yes, I’m that person, when I commit to learning a new thing, I commit and above all I want to know how to do it right – I came across a group called Promenade Mondays watching Reels and Instagram tutorials and other fun stuff for long boardings. Their bio read: Every Monday from 6pm we skate/roll/roll along the scenic Sea Point Boardwalk like one big happy family. So…completely unlike me, the following Monday I went.
I kept my distance, hiding and rolling in circles in the background. Far enough to remain somewhat anonymous but close enough to listen to the pep talk before leaving and I immediately felt a warm and comforting feeling. Everyone was so nice. No one was intrusive. No one asked questions. There were many polite smiles. And I could completely immerse myself in a community without worrying about whether I could trust anyone or be consumed by the stress of having to make small talk. In fact, I liked the cuteness of it all so much, that last week, when I was in desperate need of finding a replacement for Prom Mondays (the last session of the summer was, and searching a winter sport as the tennis courts in Cap Ville this time of year are always wet, I was inspired by the skating community and went in search of another.
Who was this person? Who is this person?
A few weeks ago I sat down at the Pavilion to watch masked dancers enjoying another regular event called Sun Kissed Salsa. I love to dance and I never manage to do it because, introvert that I am, my taste for solitude and distrust of people have increased so much that I almost always avoid parties at all costs. I am on this great journey to say no to things and only participate in the things that bring me joy. It’s going wonderfully.
Anyway, watching, I realized that this public activity had something in common with the skate community and that was: no one was there to chat, be pushy, learn from each other on others (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but again, for introverts it can be hell or talk about race, politics, the war in Ukraine, the best cars or of the real estate market. They were just the pure ecstasy of escapism.
Strangers were dancing with other strangers, the only conversation going was the language of the dance and the music that passed between them as they moved to salsa, bachata or kizomba. Some were pros, some newbies – like me on the longboard – and some were there to watch the unsullied fun.
I was hot inside. Sitting there quietly under the sculpture of the snail on the whale’s tail, a book my son is obsessed with, I smoked my cigarette and had a smile plastered on my face for almost two hours. No one bothered me. I was not afraid. I had no anxiety. I was outside, with people, and I was happy about it.
When looking for my winter sport, I looked for a community of dancers where I could learn, attend socials and dance happily and feel the same feelings I felt under the arch of those concrete whales, except this time I’d be dancing, with only the music talking to me, and instead of hiding in the corner like a bad-tempered bass player who guarantees no one will approach me at a party, I’d be walking to the beat of my own heart.
Best company I’ve had since my joy trip. So, I found a dance school/class in Greenpoint, Que Pasa, and spoke to instructor John, on WhatsApp, of course because the thought of making a call and using my voice is enough to make the earth want to swallow me, and this week I signed up for a month-long course and had my first lesson.
I didn’t want the evening to end. I had unlocked an inner part of me that made me realize how much fun it is to be outside while being inside myself. I even made jokes with the group.
There is no fear in joy, and I know that as soon as I become uncomfortable or return to my equally happy position as a disgruntled pelican who has no idea how to engage with folks, or don’t need it, I can honestly say, I’ll choose this as my joy knowing now, that all the advice columns are rubbish. You don’t have to practice being extroverted if you’re introverted. You don’t have to pressure yourself to find time to be social or practice having conversations. You just need to direct yourself from within and let your quiet soul do the rest.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, peace disrupter and author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter.