Bryce Lawes enters the apartment without knocking, and with a casual, “Hey, what’s up, guys,” he grabs a beer from the fridge and makes himself comfortable on the cramped sofa. It’s not his apartment, but it is his fridge, and no one thinks twice about his entry to the room. He is wearing torn khaki pants and a worn out flannel, paired with skate shoes so well-loved that there’s holes through the soles. As always, his scuffed-up skateboard never leaves his side.
On a typical day Bryce can be found here, kicking it with the kids who actually live in this apartment. As a junior communications student, Bryce has plenty of time to kill between his occasional classes. Half his free time is spent here, on these couches, and the rest of it is spent rolling around campus on the hunt for a nice patch of asphalt or an inviting staircase.
A 21-year old New Jersey native, Bryce first experimented with skateboarding over a decade ago. As a ten-year old kid a skateboard was a declaration of identity, the mark of the people who chose to stray from the beaten path. After watching his older brother and peers take part in an activity that no one else seemed to know or care about, Bryce wanted in. He liked it because it was different, something that not every kid at school could do. Something that set his crew apart. He began skateboarding more regularly in the early days of middle school, spending more and more time at the skatepark as he uncovered his talent for it. Soon, it was the most important part of his life.
The suburbs of Newark, NJ, where Bryce grew up, don’t have very much going on, especially for a lower middle-class kid whose parents were usually working or otherwise not around. Bryce’s family didn’t have extra money to keep up with all the trends and fads of his middle school years and, worse, he didn’t really care about them. This naturally excluded him from many of the cliques that his peers belonged to, and so early on Bryce was branded “different.” School was never comfortable; his peers thought him something of an outcast and his teachers always seemed disappointed in his halfhearted schoolwork.
So instead, Bryce dedicated his time and energy to the skate parks around town, where he could learn and practice new skills that interested him much more. At the skatepark, everyone was on the same page. There was no socio-economic hierarchy here, no nagging authority figures and no judgement. The other kids at the skatepark were scruffy, too – they didn’t wear designer sneakers and their jeans were just as ripped. They listened to noisy punk music that hissed anthems of independence and they smoked cigarettes under the “no smoking” signs. These were the kids who didn’t care what other people thought they should be doing. And they were exactly what Bryce needed.
At the skate park, people recognized Bryce as a real person. There, he wasn’t just the quiet kid in the corner anymore – he was one of them. For the first time, people noticed his talents: other skaters congratulated him when he got it right and encouraged him to keep practicing his skills. His grades didn’t matter here, and neither did the other things that kids at school judged him for. At the skate park, people actually took the time to get to know him with all superficialities aside. The sense of community was undeniable and empowering, and it was something that would change then-teenage Bryce’s life forever.
For the first time, Bryce had found somewhere he really fit in. The skate park quickly became his haven, the place where he felt safest, happiest, and most comfortable. It felt more like home to him than any other place ever had. Skateboarding was fun, genuinely enjoyable, and it was something Bryce truly had talent for. The people who went there were just like him: teenage outcasts who were each dealing with their own respective sets of problems. As they spent more and more hours skating together they shared stories of struggle, pain, loss, and strength, and they bonded over issues that were real and important, in some way, to each of them.
In this way the skate rats adopted Bryce in his teenage years, at a time when he needed something solid in his life more than anything. They became his friends and his mentors, a support system that extended well beyond exchanging new skateboard tricks. The skate park was Bryce’s safe space, where he went to find clarity and escape the troubles of real life by blowing off steam with people who understood and cared what he was going through.
Over the years Bryce’s skateboard became his lifeline, never leaving his side as a reminder that he can always escape when he needs to. These days, it remains his preferred mode of transportation and a frequent pastime; even when there are no skate parks nearby he doesn’t discriminate between skateable surfaces. His love for the activity is immortalized in a cartoon-y tattoo of a skateboarding skeleton on his shoulder, reinforcing the sentiment that skateboarding is something Bryce never intends to grow out of.