The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself


Rodney Mullen is the godfather of freestyle skating. He won his first world championship at 14 and over the over the following decade,  won 35 out of 36 freestyle contests, thus establishing the most successful competitive run in the history of the sport.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Father volatile, dominating, forever wanted him to stop skating to focus on "real person, adult things"
    1. Had a big confrontation and Rodney finally learned that the calmer he got when his dad got mad, the more flustered he got. This further strengthened him and weakened his father
  2. Became obsessed right away with skating, practicing every spare minute he had. His parents always gave him many chores, though - "heavy doses of freedom anchored by responsibility"
    1. This is why I have a hard time calling skating a sport - it lacks a defining structure, and it's constantly changing and evolving. It's so fulfilling, and it pushed me so hard to be creative that it felt more like an art to me. I'll read biographies that describe how different artists and composers would stay up through the night working, a feverish energy burning inside pushing them forward - and that was exactly how skating affected me from the start
    2. Being "centered" helps with every aspect of a trick
      1. Not only center of gravity, but centered in life
  3. Always very smart and loved deconstructing things to their very core
    1. I can recall vividly my mom showing me my first electromagnet. I was five at the time, and the experience blew my mind. Suddenly, so many things around me could be broken down and understood (or at least understood in my mind). by teaching me this one concept, my mother had transformed the world into a puzzle waiting to be solved. Switch on a light, and I'd try to figure out how the electricity ran through the wires, how the positive and negative charges worked together to light a bulb. One discovery led to another. I realized that every single thin around me could be broken down into a series of comprehensible steps, and I wanted to learn them all.
    2. Always loved physics and math but was so shy he had trouble meeting people's eyes..."I often listen to physics lectures in my car while I drive and always have at least one book on quantum theory in my car in case I get stuck somewhere"
    3. Spent hours at night hiding under his cover with his miniboard to study, think, dream about tricks. "I'd flip my board a certain way and try to duplicate the movements over and over, memorizing a pattern for later, when I could try it on my real board.
    4. "At times like that, I try to shut down every distraction around me and zero in on whatever I'm focusing on. You could have yelled in my ear and I wouldn't have heard you. Oddly, I wasn't most impressed by the tricks the pros were doing, but by how comfortable they were on their boards. You could tell they were in a different league just watching them cruising around doing nothing. They had skating so wired that they didn't appear to relate to their boards as separate objects. There was a unity of board and skater.
    5. I began keeping a skating notebook. I jotted down ideas for tricks and noted observations I'd made on how my board flipped, how different foot placements affected tricks, or how long it took me to fix problems and derive variations off new ideas. Then I'd rate the entire session, giving myself a grade as though it was a school report card
    6. Would time every one of his workouts - stopping his watch whenever he got a drink, went to the bathroom. 
    7. I appreciated his compliments, but I never thought of myself as being in a competition against him or really anyone else, stupid as that sounds. The sense of loss I felt was because I had failed to do what I set out to do. There was only one person to blame
  4. Tony Hawk
    1. He was an extremely smart guy, and you could see that skating was an extension of his intelligence just by watching the way he learned a trick...Even before I knew he had a 144 IQ (I read this in his book, he never told me) I could tell he was different from the average talented skater...He'd think of tricks while he was going to sleep and make a list of ones that he had to figure out how to land.
  5. Other
    1. Had some serious control issues (stemming from his dad) which led to some eating disorders and extreme behavior. He tried to see how little he could eat and sleep yet keep up his insane practice regimen. He eventually passed out after getting down to as little as 3 hours of sleep per night
    2. His dad forbade him from skating a couple times and it eventually led to depression. But, as soon as he was allowed to skate again, his appetite returned and he could sleep through the night
    3. His wife, Traci - Traci never cracked on me for any of my eccentricities. I think she was actually amused by most of them. She never pressured me to include her in my skate world, and it often seemed like she was happy doing her own thing and letting me do mine and then meeting in the middle
    4. Eventually sold the company he co-founded with Steve Rocco, World Industries, and became a millionaire. His only splurge was books

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing to read about Rodney's obsession and dedication to skating, especially when learning about how secluded he was from others and the situation with his dad. His ability and inclination to deconstruct problems down to their essence stood out, as did his obsession - coming to dream and think about skating in his every spare moment

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