As a kid I was never really into sports, but when I was about eight years old, I got really into the Tony Hawk games on GameCube and I was also really into Avril Lavigne—everything about skateboarding called to me.
My first skateboard was a hand-me-down from my cousin Doug. I remember the day my dad brought it home from my uncle’s. I was so excited! I couldn’t believe how cool it was. That board was the punkest thing I’d ever seen!
It was beaten up, fucked up with scratches everywhere. It also had these small, tan, really loud, little wheels. To this day, one of my favorite sounds is skateboard wheels gliding against the cement.
I mostly skated by myself in the street near my house. There were a bunch of boys in my neighborhood that skated too, but they were much better than I was. I was too intimidated to ask to join them, so a neighbor gave me a couple of lessons and I would skate up and down my block on my own.
The first time I went to a skate park near my house, a teenage boy yelled at me to get out of the way, and I got scared. But then I started to get pretty good, and I went back to a different skate park with my mom and my sister when we were in Vermont visiting my aunt.
I tried to drop in down a ramp, and I took a bad fall.
My back hurt a lot. When we went to the doctor, we discovered that I had really bad scoliosis so they put me in a back brace for twenty hours a day. I had to wear it for three years, and I was tortured at school. I was always at doctor’s offices and hospitals, and at age twelve I had to have spinal fusion surgery.
It was a really fucked-up time for me. Even though the scoliosis was unrelated to my fall, and they would have found it eventually, having found it after the skateboard fall made me feel really bad about my body.
I was always kind of chubbier, and I’d finally found something that made me feel really active and good. But I had to give it up while I was wearing the brace, and even after I got better, those bad feelings remained.
All of the doctor’s visits, constantly being in the brace, being bullied, missing months of school for the surgery and recovery, all of it made me lose faith in my body. I was told a lot of the time that I couldn’t do anything, and it made me feel like that was true. In a lot of ways, I kind of gave up on my body.
Years went by where I went on like this. But then I started dating Ari—that was about three years ago. He wasn’t a skating superstar but he loved doing it for fun. As our relationship grew it gave me confidence in my body in other ways that made me feel ready to try skateboarding again.
The first time I got back on a board I was so scared. I was worried that I was going to fall and it was going to hurt so bad, that I was fragile fundamentally. But then I did fall, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
I did hurt my ankle and I had a lot of bruises, but falling and getting back up showed me that I was strong enough to skateboard and I could do it. It was also something that we could do together.
I told Ari I really wanted my own board, and he offered to get me one when I was passing through Toronto on tour. It came from a little shop on Queen Street. It’s a cruising board with bigger wheels, so it’s a little more stable than the kind you’d use for tricks.
For the artwork, I chose a colorful board that says “ashamed” on it. I felt like it was perfect because of how long I was ashamed of my body and its limitations. To have it on the underside of the board I was going to ride felt like an overcoming.
I rode the board back to The Drake Hotel, and in the venue me and my bandmates rode it around the pit. It felt really amazing. After our set, our drummer Jesse rode it into the crowd which he hilariously got in trouble for!
Since then I’ve rode the board a bunch of times and I’m proud to say it’s got some wear and tear on it. A few days ago, Ari and I were in New York and we went to a park to watch other people skate. We were mesmerized. It’s cool to see people doing tricks, but it’s just as cool seeing them being part of a community—just a bunch of kids hanging out in the park, spending time together for an afternoon.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Ellen Kempner fronts the Boston-based indie trio Palehound, whose music has been praised for its distinct style, compassion, and empathy. The band’s third full-length album Black Friday, which has just been released, explores “all the forms that love can take: love between friends, love for people no longer in your life, love in the face of self-hate, love that endures through major life changes or through many tiny catastrophes.” Palehound is currently on tour.