Flying @ 50: No way to escape the daily grind
A warm breeze blows gently on a sultry night in September.
In Noble Park, floodlights illuminate the graffiti-free skatepark that is still busy at 7pm on a Wednesday.
Rock music emanates from a portable speaker and booms across the concrete jungle, providing the perfect soundtrack.
A skater pauses on the precipice just a moment before dropping into the bowl.
John Pearson is among several skaters present, pushing their limits and skating long after their youth.
“Most people don’t get it,” says John. He beams. “I’m 50 and I ride a wooden toy.”
John Pearson’s challenge on instagram.
John recently completed a personal goal – a homage to Birdman, skateboarding icon Tony Hawk, by completing his own 50@50.
That’s 50 vert(ical) skateboarding tricks, one a week for 50 weeks.
Balancing fully armoured, atop a dizzying 3.5 metres drop. The first metre is straight down, leading into a steeply-banked concrete bowl.
His philosophy seems simple. “If you fall, you get up and keep going.” Although, John clarifies, “any fall means you might kind of stay there for a bit”.
His run is 12 laps around the bowl, often grinding along the top, sometimes sailing well above it. One thing is clear: John doesn’t act his age.
Few sports divide opinions like skateboarding does.
A Balancing Act: skater John Pearson in action at 50, at Noble Park skatepark. Picture: Justin Hanger
Its associations with rebellious youth, punk music, drugs, and destruction of property have tarnished skateboarding’s reputation for decades.
But John grew up in the 1970s and witnessed the transition from fringe pastime to global phenomenon.
In 1985 John watched Marty McFly famously commandeer a skateboard in Back to the Future, and it became his destiny.
When John was young, neighbourhood kids with no love of skateboards set upon John and his friends. They escaped, narrowly, by getting a nearby cab and impressing upon the cabbie to need to leave, post haste, he says.
He lived in Romford, England, with his adoptive parents. “I didn’t necessarily have anything but I had everything … including the best parents,” he says.
“They taught me to respect everybody,” John says.
They supported his skating, accompanying him to the nearby Rom skate park, and photographing his early efforts. “The Rom”, built in 1978, is the first skatepark in Europe to be given preservation status, one of only two worldwide.
John Person with champion Japanese skater Moto Shibata. Picture: Instagram.
Now living on Victoria’s Bass Coast, he has his own park: a 1/2 pipe, which he built during lockdown.
Despite that, each Wednesday, weather permitting, he drives 90 minutes to Noble Park to meet friends.
One is Rob Francis, president of MOSS Foundation – a charity that turns skateboards and art into life changing water schemes in Eswatini, Africa.
“We all love John, he’s great. When we grow up we want to be just like him,” Rob jokes.
A chippie by trade, John has worked as a chef, on cruise ships, and drove trucks for a while. But it left him no time to skate. These days, He’s found working at Bunnings provides balance.
Apart from the thrills, the skate park brings camaraderie. Even at the 2020 Olympics, you could see competitors were genuinely happy to see opponents land tricks.
When asked about it at the Olympics, Tony Hawk said: “You see that every day, that’s not new to us.”
John says his skating friends “get it, knowing just how hard it is”.
He says entering comps and posting tricks helps keep him young.
“If I do my absolute best, I don’t care if I win.”