Our Bodyboarding & Rollerblading Curriculum
Three years ago I wrote to you telling about my eight year old son’s “marble curriculum”, how he spent all his time playing marbles, searching for marbles in antique stores and in ancient dumps, making marbles out of clay, having me read articles to him about marbles, their history, how they are made, the values of various types and such. He even worked in an antique shop, sorting marbles by type and value. The gist of that letter was that this was a good example of how a passionate interest can be pursued, seemingly to the exclusion of all else, and will still end up with a well-rounded education. Now my son is almost twelve and I thought I’d write an update.
Now Thumper’s passions are bodyboarding and rollerblading, two things my husband and I both enjoy. It’s only partly in jest that I tell friends that Thumper is majoring in bodyboarding and rollerblading and that when people ask where he goes to school, he should answer with the names of his favorite surf and skate spots!
A superficial look at our lives might lead one to conclude that we are just surf & skate bums. A closer look will reveal, however, that again, a passion for one thing ends up providing a well-rounded education. Before I go into detail about this, though, I want to make one thing very clear right at the start. When I wrote the marbles article, I believed that it was the varied curriculum that justified the marble play that inspired it. I no longer feel that way. When I see my son’s face as he speeds toward me, locked in the barrel of a glassy wave, or after he “nails” a new maneuver on the half-pipe, I need no further justification for what we are doing with our lives. When I see the kind of person he is, I have no worries about his future or about his education. The rich variety of learning that results when “all we do is surf and skate” is, to my view now, an unavoidable and enriching by-product of following our passions. There’s a book titled Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, I could write one myself titled Do What You Love and an Education Will Follow!
So here’s a day I happened to pick to describe, as typical a day as any other.
We watched and discussed a bit of the OJ Simpson trial while we ate breakfast. This trial has been a real education in many fields for both of us.
Then we called our surf contacts and the county weather report. They all said there were no waves, but we decided to check our favorite spot so we could confirm the accuracy of their reports. On the way over, I told him about an article I’d read in the paper the day before, which I eventually read to him, about the ancient Hawaiians who used to live in the valley adjacent to this surf spot. Several fatal incidents had occurred between the Hawaiians and a trading ship that had anchored offshore. We talked about the bias of the author of the article because she had described the Hawaiians stealing of a boat and accidentally killing a ship’s mate as a “bungled prank”. There are ancient petroglyphs in that valley, to which we have hiked and now plan to see again.
We arrived at our surf spot to find that the reports were indeed accurate. We were surprised to find the wind blowing quite strongly onshore because it had been blowing slightly onshore on the other side of the island, too. I knew and shared with Thumper the phenomenon of the land heating up, causing the air to rise, creating onshore winds. We talked more about how the weather and the waves are related. We do know of certain aspects of the weather that accompany surf, so without looking at the ocean, we can tell whether or not there is surf somewhere on the island. Now we are working on a (secret) theory to even predict the direction of the surf. Remember, this is not a “Weather Unit” we’re doing. We need to get accurate surf predictions because our favorite spot is a 40 minute drive away.
On the way back home, we noticed some whales so we pulled off at a lookout and watched through our binoculars for a while. Whales come to Maui each winter to bear and raise their young and then head back to Alaska. We’ve learned quite alot about whales and how they affected ancient Hawaii and about the issues that are still being debated. We’ve also learned some interesting trivia — like the fact that an adult whale’s tongue weighs 4,000 pounds!
Resuming the drive, I asked Thumper’s opinion about an incident during his last hockey game. The parents of the boy involved didn’t want anything said about this to the league management or the coach. I was outraged by the incident and I felt the league president should know and that he should make the call as to what to do about it. We had discussed the matter the evening before, covering issues of respect for the family’s wishes versus loyalty to the president, what to say, if anything, and who should say it but hadn’t come to any conclusion. Thumper’s suggestion was that he felt we should tell the president the whole story, including the fact that the parents didn’t want us to tell, but to not share with him our feelings about the matter. This struck me as incredibly wise advice and we did exactly that with a very good outcome for everyone.
After getting home, we did our chores. One of his chores is to take care of the recyclables, taking them out to the garage and putting them in their respective bins and putting them curbside once a month to be picked up. I’m sure I need not elaborate on the knowledge he has acquired connected with this.
We then had lunch. As always, it was wholesome and there’s another body of knowledge he has acquired and applies in his daily life.
We watched the first half of the Michigan basketball game on TV. We’re big Michigan fans and had been able to see the team play in a tournament here last October — during school hours. He got the autographs of the entire team, and met the coaching staff and their wives and also got the autographs of the infamous Indiana coach, Bobbie Knight, and even Magic Johnson, who was watching the games. My dad always wanted to be a coach and sports writer….who knows how knowledge of sports will serve Thumper.
We set up the VCR to tape the second half and Thumper and I headed to the skate park. Last August, we had seen a demonstration by a roller-blading team called “Team 5-0” and had been awed by their skills and stunts. Thumper set himself a goal to be able to do stunts and to eventually be on a team. Since then, we have gone to the skatepark often and he has worked very hard at his sport there and in the street. As a result, he was recently invited to be a member of a street skate team of high schoolers called the Aeros. He also excels at the skate park on the ramps and he and another high schooler are forming a team there.
In seeking skating excellence, he has acquired another entire body of knowledge. He is an expert on the size of the many varieties of wheels (measured in millimeters), their hardness and the surfaces for which they are designed. He knows skate styles so well that when we drive by skaters, often with just a glance, he can tell what skates each was wearing. Hockey equipment and safety equipment are likewise subjects he knows in great detail through personal experience and through studying local stores and mail-order catalogs. We are known personally at all of these for our many, many questions, not to mention the money he’s spent (which he’s earned). He is routinely being asked about his gear and where to get it. Another field that gets covered here is math: quarter- and half-pipes, vertical ramps, air spins of 180° , 360°, 540°, and 720° and more are all math concepts that he knows through personal experience. Then, too, one must make constant judgments of momentum, based on speed, his weight and height when jumping obstacles such as stairs, where the consequence of being wrong is not simply a lower grade on a test, but a very real risk of bodily injury. We also figured in the factors of momentum when deciding whether he should get knee pads with one inch padding or the heavier 1 1/2 inch pads.
Further, he knows who are all the top skaters in the US, where they live and what kind of gear they use. He also knows similar information about the top bodyboarders in the world. We met most of them at the Rusty Pro Preliminaries a couple of months ago, again, during school hours. He knows much about many famous surf spots and has bodyboarded some of them himself.
Incidentally, a couple of months ago, Thumper entered a bodyboarding contest in the novice division, all ages. He made the finals, where he competed with boys 14 years old and a 22 year old man, all of whom were a great deal bigger than he. In 6-8 foot surf, he had the highest points per wave, but took a very close 3rd because he had one less wave than the top two. He has considered a career as a professional bodyboarder, though he has decided to drop contests for now as they take the fun out of the sport for him.
Now the point of this is not to brag about his skating and bodyboarding, but to highlight that when a child is free to choose what he does with his life and time, he can find those things which inspire him to work hard, to overcome frustrations and plateaus and to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. I know that he has the ability to set a goal and to do whatever is necessary to achieve it. Whatever subjects he decides he wants or needs to learn in the future, I have absolutely no doubts that he’ll succeed at those, too.
So…back to the skatepark. We spent an hour there skating and socializing and then my husband showed up, as planned. We headed over to the tennis courts of Maui High School to play hockey, as we have often done. This time, however, the security guard told us someone had broken his arm there and was now suing and so they weren’t letting anyone skate there anymore. We got back in the car and headed back to the skate park, discussing on the way the problems of civil suits and personal responsibility and how the Republicans promised reform of this area now that they were in power. Naturally, other events have prompted discussions of national and international politics, too.
When we got to the skate park, it had started raining so we came home. Thumper set to work changing the wheels on his skates and taking off his grind plates as he had hockey the next day.
After dinner, he helped clear the table and then he read to me, something he enjoys doing very much. When we went to bed, I read to him.
There it is — just a typical day of checking the surf and going skating, with a little history, geography, math, science, ethics, law, reading, and political science and current events happening along the way, none of it planned.
I’ve concluded that learning facts takes care of itself when we can choose our pursuits. Our interests have resulted in our exploring our unique place in the universe: we’ve hiked deep in our jungle valleys, swum under glistening waterfalls; we’ve been at the top of our mountains and down into volcanic craters; we’ve skated parks and sidewalks, schools and historical spots; we’ve spent whole days bodyboarding, one day seeing a pod of whales swimming closer to us than we were to the shore. We’ve observed the tides, the phases of the moon, the winds, the clouds, and the moods of the sea. We’ve been on hundreds of field trips and have indulged in art exhibits, theater, movies and computer games. We’ve made an abundance of gifts and have done many science projects. We’ve done volunteer work and have visited the elderly. We’ve read what interested us and spent our time on activities that matter to us, accompanied by the people we care about the most. We’ve done work that we saw the need for and we’ve helped each other in countless ways both big and small. I feel that in pursuing our unique interests, we are acquiring knowledge that goes way beyond facts, wisdom that cannot be quantified.
Every individual in this huge diverse world of ours has his own niche, the place where he fits, belongs, where he feels inspired and cherished. When he is free to discover and explore his, as we have been ours, his roots will go deep and his life cannot help but flourish.
Update as of 2013 He’s now 30 and has had a successful career as a professional rollerblader. He finished his rookie year the #1 ranked American, #4 in the world. He was ranked in the top ten each year of his 10 year career. He’s been on TV, newspapers and in magazines numerous times and traveled all over the US, to England, Germany, China, Moscow, Rome and Paris. He’s been in X-Games and Gravity Games. He had many sponsors, including Champion Nutrition, MFC Optics, and Razors Skates. http://www.thumpernagasako.com/ He went to high school for 3 semesters, getting one B and the rest A’s and got a 3.8 GPA in the college classes he’s taken.
He has retired from skate competition and now puts his efforts into the thriving business he founded: HI-Focused, a event cinematography business. http://www.eventvideo.hifocused.com/