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Skateboarding and Learnlife - what's the connection?

In a learning environment like ours, or others who are transforming the system around the world right now, we can see why skateboarders have found somewhere that aligns with the way they interact and the way they learn.

This isn’t one of those articles. “10 leadership lessons from Ice Skating” or “what golf taught me about being a father”. We know the title to this sounds just as much of a reach, but the connection, we assure you, isn’t at all tenuous. 

Inside Learnlife in Barcelona you’ll always find skateboarders; we even built a special rack to store the boards inside. We didn’t think much about this until recently, when we realised that, proportionately, we really do have a lot of skateboarders, and wondered why that might be. 

If you are a skateboarder too, as the person typing these words most certainly is, then you’ll likely relate to the connection we’re about to make. However, skateboarders tend to be miscast as rebels and vandals, loiterers and vagabonds, and that’s unfair. We don’t see ourselves as vandals at all. 

Ocean Howell, famed for his effortless and flowing style of skateboarding, wrote an interesting paper titled “The Poetics of Security: Skateboarding, Urban Design, and the New Public Space”. Think about that: the poetics of space. 

Poetry is a dialogue between reader and writer; heart and mind. No two interactions in this space are alike, and that is precisely how a skateboarder interacts with their own environment: as a dialogue. 

Where some may see a wall as a barrier, a skateboarder sees limitless potential. Where a handrail presents security for some, it presents the most intense of challenges to a skater. 

We know the city not only by metro stops and street names, but by landmarks known only to us; emotionally attached to lumps of concrete and metal in which we have invested our creative energies. 

The marks of wheels and wax on forgotten corners of our urban spaces are burnished bright sparks in our imagination. Go for a walk with a skateboarder one day, and ask them to point out the things that they see. We promise that the city will seem a very different place.  

If you ever stroll through the Plaça dels Àngels in Barcelona as a way to get from A to B, stop for a second and look around. MACBA, The Contemporary Art Museum at its heart, was designed by architect Richard Meier to “create a dialogue” with its urban surroundings.

On this occasion, it was most certainly achieved, though perhaps not in the precise way he intended. The ledges, stairs and flat ground that buttress the building are a blank canvas for the skateboarders that congregate there day and night. It is one of the most famous skateboard spots in the world, and deeply endemic to the culture. Every day a skateboarder will arrive there, step on their board and decide for themselves what they will create there. 

That’s what a true learning environment does. A dialogue is where meaning is co-created. An environment that requires you to sit at the same table, face the same way, listen to what was decided on by someone else; that is a monologue. Skateboarders don’t tend to do well with monologues. 

In Learnlife, the tables move, the spaces are open, the canvas is blank and only your interaction can make it meaningful. Others are around to inspire, listen, guide and support, but you choose the path. No two days are ever alike, and to see how learners constantly reinterpret and reinvent the use of the space is a joy to behold. 

The content is just as interactive. A Learnlife learner will not arrive to find their day thought out for them. There will be options, pathways, space to maneuver or to step back and rethink. 

To arrive in the morning and think “what will I create here today?” ; something which can only work if the environment is malleable and the structural support is there. As the ledges and stairs of MACBA form a canvas, so do our studios, learning guides, facilities and peers. 

It’s not only interactional dialogue that forms the analogy. We promised you a stronger connection than that. The second link is through the triumvirate of perseverance, motivation and resilience. 

Skateboarding is hard. Really hard. To simply get it off the ground can take a long time, and to master the control beyond that is relentlessly challenging. Those who don’t have the true passion for it tend to leave quietly and quickly. To grow in this art form you must embrace both failure and the pain that accompanies it. 

Is it any wonder, then, that skateboarders tend to intuitively understand what self-directed learning is and how important it is to our growth? We learn from every failure, and every trip to the hospital only breeds determination to push forward stronger. 

Setting goals is esoteric to what skateboarding is, but they have to be our goals. We have learned to stay the course, and that the elation from achieving our goals is only heightened by the fact that we got there on our own. We were inspired by others, supported by friends, but the path was always ours. Learning and personal growth are not separate domains, but precisely the same thing. 

In a learning environment like ours, or others who are transforming the system around the world right now, we can see why skateboarders have found somewhere that aligns with the way they interact and the way they learn. If you have to adopt a “persona” to fit in with your learning or professional environment, then it might be time for change. Well, to be honest, it is time for change. 

We will stop here, for now. This shouldn’t become a monologue. To the skateboarders and other creatives out there, we would love to hear more about other connections you might see. Reach out and let us know your thoughts, and we can share them here. We have so much more to learn from you, and we hope the dialogue continues. 


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