While some 70 year olds are researching which retirement home has the best Bingo community, Professor Tom Winters is cruising around his college campus. Although he’s been skateboarding to class since 1993, it was only until 2011 when a student took a cell phone pic and uploaded to the internet. The image quickly went viral and spawned a hilarious set of memes that made him an internet icon overnight. Since then, there hasn’t really been any coverage besides, “YO, check this dude out!!!!” so we took it upon ourselves to find out more about the enigmatic professor.
When did you get your first skateboard?
When I starting teaching here in 1970, faculty didn’t get free parking. I quickly decided I was not going to pay to park where I worked. Anytime I had to drive, I’d throw a bike in the trunk, park wherever I could and bike to the campus from the parking lot. Finally I think it was around the turn of the century I realized it would make a whole of a lot more sense to throw a skateboard in the trunk. It didn’t take long having grown up on ice skates, on natural ice in Michigan to get the hang of it. By golly, soon I started wishing I had parked farther away because I was having so much fun skateboarding to campus.
At that point, I special ordered an Arbor Pocket Rocket board which fits in my office in a fairly standard steel case desk drawer. That’s my parking place.
How long did it take to get comfortable riding?
My daughter who just turned 40, lives about a mile away from my house and by the time I skated there on the old skateboard, I had it down pretty well. I would skate some of it on the sidewalk, but when traffic was clear and the asphalt was nice I’d hit the street for some downhill. I was just watching for cops!
Do you consider yourself a rebel or a badass?
I am the only person that’s me that I know. I think that I’m pretty normal. It’s just that I gather others don’t see me that way.
Did students start acting differently towards you after they saw you skating around?
Actually, there’s a riddle that got back to me. Question: How do you tell a first term freshman? Answer: Well, you look at his face when the old guy goes by on a skateboard.
So you can spot freshman or transfers pretty easily huh?
Oh yeah. Once I was in an elevator carrying the board around, and a student asked me, “DO YOU RIDE THAT??” and I just said back, “You’re a freshman, aren’t you?”
Do you follow skateboarding at all or any pro skaters or anything?
Oh, I used to buy skateboarding videos. One of my favorites was Ban This by Powell Peralta.
That’s a classic.
Actually, when I was in college, there was a coed (back then we called the girl students “coeds”) in a summer mythology class who showed up with a skateboard. And chicks on skateboards are rare birds. We ended up becoming pretty good friends, and when she got married many years later, I gave her Ban This as a wedding present! [laughs]
Have you seen any newer videos since Ban This?
I’m kind of out of touch with the videos. I’ve learned my limits, at my age, I don’t do tricks anymore – boarding itself is a bit of a trick. For several years I’d throw the board out in front of me, run alongside and jump on it and go. Fling it and ride. I did that too fast once and smashed a knee on concrete so OK, I don’t do that anymore.
Was that your worst injury?
No actually. I was doing a wheelie down a hill and lost it, fell over like a card and my right elbow smashed into my rib cage and I broke my rib. So I don’t do wheelies anymore! That was about 6 years ago.
The preceding school year, I wiped out twice on the campus and thinking back I realized each time I had been skating in the rain! So ok, that’s simple, I don’t skateboard in the rain anymore. It’s been kind of upside down. Instead of learning new things to do, it’s learning things not to do anymore!
Skateboarding is pretty popular- you must see students ride by all the time.
Yeah they use these longboards now with bigger wheels than I use. Those boards won’t fit in a desk drawer! But I’m sure the length and the bigger wheels cushions the bumps a little better…
Have you ever heard of the term “mongo?”
[Laughs] That’s how I do it!!!
So you know you are aware you push mongo?
Yeah! Oh yeah.. the shortness of the board makes it possible because while the front foot is pushing, the back foot toward the rear can still control the direction where the skateboard is going. I doubt that would work very well on a longer board. Yeah, you gotta do it the way you can do it. And I skate mongo, hahaha.
Yeah, you must have heard that sometimes skaters make fun of people who ride mongo.
It doesn’t really make a difference, at least on a board that fits in my drawer. Although you can’t help that notice that the guys in the videos aren’t skating mongo! [laughs]
Do you gather flak from other co-workers or teachers?
I’ve been ragged about being “famous.” One time, I was coming down a slight slope, and I was thinking, oh crap here comes the dean of arts and sciences, what’s he gonna say? But as I sped along, he saw me, stopped and saluted me.
Thanks again professor.
Funs fun, take good care of yourself and stay active. It’s good for you.
How much longer do you think you’ll be skateboarding?
Well, I don’t see any end to it. To change some words from Charlton Heston, “I’ll give you my skateboard when you take it from my cold, dead hands!” [laughs]