By Jason Budjinski
As I heard the trucks lock in, I knew it was going to be a make. It was a gnarly, 11-stair rail with a sharp kink at the end, but it was doable. I felt that familiar feeling — a mixture of adrenaline and apprehension followed by joy and relief, and lots of high-fives. I’m glad it was caught on film, or else I wouldn’t have been able to witness it. You see, this wasn’t me skating, but one of the many clips I watch on the Internet every day. Because several years ago, my health took a turn for the worse, and my body just can’t handle serious physical activity.
That’s where watching skate videos and reading Thrasher enter the picture. Though I’m not physically able to skate, I’ve opted for the next-best thing — experiencing it through others. I call this vicarious skateboarding. And as someone with two chronic illnesses that have ravaged my entire body, it is one of the only things that motivates me to get out of bed each day. I’ll get to the health stuff later. First, let’s go back to the good ol’ days.
Though I had a couple of skateboards in the 1980s (starting with an el-cheapo Variflex), it wasn’t until 1990 when I got serious and started learning tricks. I skated every day, rain or shine, regardless of injury. When I was 14, my left leg had to be mobilized for several weeks because of Osgood-Schlatter disease (triggered by a skate injury, of course). I still skated every day, even though my leg was in a giant immobilizer. Hell, the hardest part was one Saturday, when I was skating inside a locked elementary school, and I saw a cop opening the gate to come get me. I had to run (read: hobble) to the other side of the school and climb under a hole in the fence, then skate as fast as I could until I found an off street to get back home. That became my default escape route every time the cops showed up.
Living in South Florida, I skated during hurricanes if it wasn’t too dangerous; that was potentially the best time because businesses and schools were closed, and cops had better things to do. In fact, it was during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that I first ollied over this long, sketchy grass gap near my house, one I had tried numerous times before. For times when the weather was too bad, I had a tiny, DIY “skatepark” in my garage. Anyone who owns the January 1993 issue of Thrasher can see me skating it in the Photograffiti section.
In high school, there were only about four or five other skaters, and even they were kind of fair-weather about it. Only my younger brother, Matt, was as dedicated as I was. I used to pride myself on how many shinners I had, and would show them off at school, not understanding why everyone thought I was some weird fanatic.
But I was. It really was like possession: I saw skateboarding everywhere I looked. Everything was skate-able, and I saw imaginary skateboards doing tricks on everything around me. I had one of those large, pink erasers, which served as my default fingerboard. This takeover of my subconscious mind would prove to be valuable later on.
As I got older and realized a skateboarding career wasn’t in my future, I carried on anyway. It was just something I had to do. Hell, once I finally gave up trying to be the best, I found a whole new way to have fun with it. In 1996, when I was 20, I entered a contest held on the streets of downtown Lake Worth. In public. I wanted to do something really punk but really absurd at the same time, so I crafted a skateboard with foot straps on the top, spray-painted “Commies for Christ” (with a cross and sickle) and wore a pair of pink spandex tights a friend had given to me days before. Not only did I manage to have shit thrown at me, but the straps made every fall an ass-busting slam. I don’t think I even placed, but it was the most fun I had on a skateboard in ages.
As the years went on, the demands of my journalism career made skate time hard to find. But I still managed to find time. I even improved a bit.
Then I hit 30.
Turning 30 doesn’t mean shit anymore. Lots of pros are in their 30s, 40s or even older, and they still rip. But not me. On my 30th birthday, I went to a skate park and within 10 minutes, I fell trying a backside 360 on the pyramid, landing prostrate on the corner and breaking a rib. This was the second of about five or six rib fractures between 2006 and 2008, fractures that wouldn’t occur in a normal, healthy person. Still, this was just the opening act for what would come later.
I already knew I was in for a rough ride. In 1999, after a routine blood test showed I had elevated liver enzymes, a series of tests confirmed I had a rare autoimmune disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Unlike hepatitis or alcoholic cirrhosis, which are diseases of the liver, PSC is pretty much untreatable. Not only that, but it’s wildly unpredictable. To make things worse, I was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. At the time, I had no symptoms of either, and I remained that way for years. Then, in summer 2008, I had my first Crohn’s disease flare. I shit my brains out for a week and a half, and was scared to leave my house. I began having stomach pain as well, and foods I once ate with gusto were now instruments of torture. This went on for almost three years.
Then, sometime in 2011, the flares stopped. I still had some pain and felt full all the time, despite how much I ate, but I could leave home without fear of dropping a deuce while on the road. However, just as I was about to declare victory over one disease (Crohn’s), the other one (PSC) came out of the woodwork in full force. My liver enzymes skyrocketed, and in April 2012 I was placed on the liver transplant list. To make things worse, a recent procedure revealed I have pre-cancerous growths in my colon, and the only way to remove them is to remove the diseased colon. The plan is to have both surgeries done during the same hospital stay. Then I’ll have another surgery to resection the colon. In between surgeries I’ll have to use a colostomy bag. Oh yeah — fun stuff.
Meanwhile, despite eating around the clock, I had lost a dangerous amount of weight, and when I saw the transplant doctor in February, he said he couldn’t operate on me in that condition. I’m currently receiving IV nutrition until I’m in better shape.
Forget the physical complications; this shit is mentally disturbing. The Jason Budjinski I knew for more than three decades was gone, and I had to accept that. Besides skateboarding, my favorite thing in the world was being in a band, something I’ve done for just as long, from my days as obnoxious punk rocker Jason Mutation to my more recent persona, Billy Boloby, a hyper-spastic amalgam of Iggy Pop and Pee-wee Herman. But those days are in the past as well, and I’ve learned to move on.
The one thing I haven’t moved on from is skateboarding. Though I’m not out there on the streets or at the local park, I’ve since tapped that part of my subconscious dominated by skateboarding, allowing it free rein of my frontal lobe. When life gives you lemons, watch Thrasher’s King of the Road DVD.
Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is reach over, grab my iPad and watch the latest skate clips online. I spend about an hour and a half doing this, and I don’t get out of bed until I’ve had my fix. Having the good fortune of working at home, when it’s time for me to take a mid-afternoon break, I return to bed and watch more skate videos. And of course, I have my bathroom bible, Thrasher.
Watching skateboarding is more than just entertainment. If that’s all I was looking for, I’ve got Netflix. This is different. I feel it deep down, like I’m living it. It’s visceral. That’s what I mean by vicarious — I’m able to feel like I’m part of the action.
I had more success as a performer than as a skateboarder, but now that I’m on the sidelines, it’s skateboarding that still appeals to me, whereas I’m bored by most new music. Because for all the damage skateboarding has done to my bones over the decades, it’s forever in my bones. I’m part of a different kind of Bones Brigade, one that may not be out there flipping and spinning and sliding and grinding, but is still equally connected and every bit as passionate.
I’m just lucky it’s 2013. Today’s technology affords me this luxury. The immediacy of the Internet can be a pain in the ass for those on the production end (I know; I’ve been there). But the end result is so worth it, and I salute all the skaters, filmers, producers, website operators, etc. who provide me with my daily dose.
So I’ll keep fighting this hostile takeover of my body and hope there’ll be a new liver for me soon enough — then I can put down the iPad and hit the streets. In the meantime, if you’ve got a video, send me a link. I’m always up for seeing new skate clips.