The Skater - Waikato 100
The skateboarder learned his craft at night.
He was an angry kid and found being in the dark and pushing through Hamilton streets helped keep the anger under wraps. Rolling set him free.
He even liked it when he fell off and it hurt. It pounded the anger out of him.
Night after night, he scratched through the streets alone and eventually he got good and wasn’t ashamed to skate with friends during the day at the bowl and he started to realise it helped him find a peace he couldn’t locate otherwise.
Down at the Melville Bowl these days, most skaters have heard of Pedro Day.
The kid who made it out of his hole, who cashed in, the kid who can land straight nollies over ramps, land frontslide flips and tuckknee airs and benihanas.
Twenty-nine, he’s not a kid anymore, but he still looks like one: 5 ft 7, slight build. Daily uniform a cap, a slouchy tee, black jeans, skate shoes. He has so much clothing from his sponsors, there are T-shirts in his room still waiting to be taken out of bags. He goes through a pair of shoes a week. Same with skateboards. One a week for 14 years.
You could go past him skating on the street and think: he should be at school, such is his ease of movement and speed on the board, his speech littered with skate slang that dies out when boys turn into men and find work and act proper. He’s still eager for a laugh and is bordering on trouble. He’s dodging it all the time – trouble. It’s the reason he left.
He tried for a time to be a man who worked a 9-5. Got a job as a fitter and turner and was sent to Sydney, where they worked him too hard and he quit to see how he’d go with skating.
He’s gone pretty good.
A few trips to Indonesia, a couple of months in America, a trip to China and about to head to Japan with the Adidas Australia skate team.
A couple of rolled ankles, cracked heads, grazes everywhere, a ripped open hand that got 33 stitches, an ear stitched back up after being ripped in half from hitting the corner of a kerb. Nothing too serious, no broken bones.
Enough money to pay the bills, and enough going on to keep him in Australia and out of the trouble that comes calling every time he arrives back to the Hamilton suburbs that taught him his tricks.
He sees himself living in Australia forever, but has Hamilton indelibly stamped on him. On his chest, next to two laughing masks, the word Htown in a formal script. Htown written across his back.
"It’s my background, it’s where I’m from. It’s everything I’ve been through to where I am now."
And other tats. "I’m proud of every one."
There’s his last name on one arm. His Hamilton street name on the other – DNP – Dat Niggah Pedro. "I tell everyone it means Dinsdale’s Notorious Player."
A large hand inked in black crawling up his side pulling the Westside sign.
"I’m still Westside till I die … or whatever."
Today he skates at the Melville Bowl. Back for a couple of weeks to see family and win two comps – one in Wellington and one in Auckland – he’s been fixing his old Ford XR8 in the garage and spending time with his mum.
It’s the middle of the week and the middle of the day and he’s out skating his old patch. People move off, lean on their boards and bikes and watch. The kick and heel flips, the 180s and 360s, the tricks on ledges and rails, he skates over tags that make no sense but to the people who scribble them. Skrom. Asik. Thrashed, thrasher, choke, swag, Brad.
The bowl belongs to him. An onlooker shakes his head.
"It’s like what he does is perfect."
A 10 year old who is supposed to be at school perches on his bike and watches with a permanent smile.
When Day’s shirt comes off, the boy moves closer to inspect the tattoos. He sees the Westside one and claps approval, "Skux!"
He tells Day he wants to be a pro BMXer when he grows up.
Day asks his age and follows, "Daaaamn, when I was your age I wanted to be a gee [gangster]."
The boy edges forward on his bike. "That was my hope when I was younger."
The young Day, the angry one headed for trouble, was working on his ticket out of the streets of Hamilton as he headed off for his night skates and got better and better, until he was good enough to get out.
To most kids these days, he says, skateboarding is about notoriety and competitions.
"They don’t understand that skateboarding is just nothing. It’s just a skateboard. But it’s freedom … it’s jump on your board and go somewhere."
It was skateboarding that saved him.
It was a childhood of gangs, and visiting family members in jail that made him understand freedom more. Made him seek it on his board.
"I think gangs are silly. I think all that stuff’s silly, like, you know, having people you gotta listen to and having no sort of freedom with yourself. Not being able to do what you want, having to obey what they say. I just can’t do it.
"I guess I have a freedom now. I see my life as being totally 180 from what it is if I didn’t pursue skateboarding."
He doesn’t want his story to be a lesson to the 10 year old who’s not at school today. There’s no interest in being a role model.
"I don’t like that. I’d rather people see me and think it’s all right to have fun and enjoy yourself."
That simple. And that’s what he does back in Oz. Hangs with BMXers and skateboarders, young and old. They call themselves The Dangerous Posse Crew. A good day means getting photographed skating over ledges and bars, over rails and steps, and then a chicken curry.
He dabbles a bit, these days, with the idea of growing up – the girlfriend in Australia is talking kids – but he can’t keep it too serious. "It kinda ruins everything."
"The youngest person I hang out with is 14. Young kids are sick, they’re dope, they’re cool to hang out with. But there’s time to hang out with them during the day and at night it’s just hanging with all the homies."
He talks about trips overseas with skatebaording teams and the daily allowance he and his mates save up to spend on "gambles".
Casinos, poker, dice – the most he’s made in a day is $2500 – but loss is far more exciting. "Knowing you’ve lost, it’s like, Oh no! And then the thrill of having to win it back all day."
Mainly, the skateboarders dare each other to do tricks: If you land that, you get 20 bucks. If you don’t, you gotta pay up. Chances are high you’ll lose a lot of money or get hurt.
He’s too old for it now. But he plans to keep rolling until he breaks. Keep doing tricks. Thinking nothing so he doesn’t scare himself out of it.
Maybe next year he’ll peel back from competitions and get a real job. He told the girlfriend he would. Be a grownup. It’s pretty awesome, he says, thinking about it.
"I dunno … there are so many other people out there who are better than me. It’s time for them to have a chance."
Don’t remember him as the skateboarder who made it pro for a while. He’d rather not be remembered at all. Thinks it’s lame. People are only going to get better at skateboarding and leave him for dead. In Australia, he’d just like to be thought of as a good guy. Someone who’s made his mum proud. And he has.
In Hamilton – he can’t seem to shake off the dark, angry kid. The night skater.
He can’t imagine himself as a man past 30. His dreams are standing still. When he comes back and visits family in jail and things are as they were, the anger starts to settle in and it’s all he can do to escape back to Brisbane for another couple of years.
It will always be a struggle. Between the laughing masks and the angry hand that pulls Westside from his side.
“I like to see myself as a positive person, but deep down, I’m just not … I’ve got a problem with everything … I hate the world, I guess.”
Today, as he skates the Melville Bowl, he stops and points to a spot that used to be covered with his tag back in the beginning. It lasted three, four years, but now lives under a multitude of scribbles that all inevitably threaten enemies and shout out to lovers.
Pedro Day points to the spot where he screamed out to the world of the Melville Bowl in youthful defiance. And he laughs. Not for the first time. In fact he laughs so much, it’s not possible to picture the angry night skater, the aggressive teenager, the haunted man.
Today as he’s bathed in sun and skates so beautifully, it’s like what he does is perfect, he looks like a man who’s just doing what he’s made to do. He looks like freedom itself.