Yuri Cruz, who is also known as the “Gnarly Nurse,” is a skateboarder who works as a cardiac rehab nurse. (Courtesy photos)

By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO

Maryland native Yuri Cruz was used to traveling and unconventional paths, having been homeschooled from middle through high school. “My mom was really interested in protecting me,” she told the AFRO. It wasn’t an overwhelming surprise then, when she decided to start traversing that path via skateboard. While a nursing student at Notre Dame University in Indiana, she stated, she “fell on hard times.” Skateboarding seemed the unlikely antidote to heartache after a breakup. It was someone she knew since she was fourteen and dated for roughly four years. “I wanted to do something that was exhilarating and refreshing and motivated by me instead of from an outside source.”

Not long after, in the midst of a dreary homework assignment while at a friend’s house, Her mind wandered. It pointed her in the direction of skateboarding. “I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m gonna start skateboarding.” Cruz became one of the growing number of Black girls who love to skateboard.

Cruz immediately purchased an old skateboard from Craigslist and went to the nearest park, intending to pay some of the skating regulars there to teach her all about kickflips, heelflips, “acid drops” and everything else there was to know. “They were like, ‘No, you don’t have to pay!’ In my head, I thought, ‘skateboarding is going to be my thing.’ I just really wanted to learn.” She fell in love at first ollie. “I was surprised I didn’t fall and it was so much fun,” Cruz recalled.

Cruz’s friends, with not one skater in the bunch, were used to her being the person who “would go out of the box and try different things.” They merely shrugged bemusedly initially. Some of them eventually caught the bug. “I noticed that some of them started doing things like longboarding or roller skating. Some of my family members got involved with skateboarding,” Cruz said.

Maryland skateboarder, Yuri Cruz. (Courtesy photo)

“Skating has taught me the importance of making time for your passions, for the things you love,” emphasized Cruz. “When I really went after skateboarding, so many doors opened up for me. One of those doors was a nursing specialization that she was completely ignorant of until after she started skating. “Had I not gone in this direction, I would not have found that.”

Cruz, who is also known as the “Gnarly Nurse,” works as a cardiac rehab nurse at a gym. She assists people rehabilitating from things like heart surgery. “I look at skateboarding as a sport that helped me physically and mentally, and what I do at work is the same thing.” As for her nickname she explained, “Gnarly is a slang term used by surfers and skaters and it means extreme, awesome, really hard core.”

The cardiac nurse is also author of three books: First, Quarantine Curves, which details the fitness regimen she uses to stay strong enough to execute on the skateboard. She then wrote the two-part Kickflips and Chill series; Kickflips and Chill: Skate Journal, and Kickflips and Chill: Your Inspirational Guide To Becoming an Excellent Skater. They came about as part of her documenting her own personal journey as a skateboarder, as well as a way to help those curious about the sport. “A lot of people would approach me and ask questions. I love skateboarding so I thought why don’t I just create something that can help people with skating?” She explained that she had been meticulously documenting her skateboarding journey, which helped when she decided to do the book. Kickflips and Chill she said, “Is a way to make it an easy and fun way for people to keep track of their progress.”

As for her top tips for those about to embark on their own gnarly skating journey, she states, “If you want to be good, you’re gonna fall, so learn to protect yourself. Wear a helmet and protective pads. Also, learn basic body awareness to minimize impacts of falling.”

Cruz also encouraged skaters to support local skate businesses. “Go and check out skate shops that might be in your area.” If you can’t find a local shop, Cruz suggested checking out the first Black woman-owned skate company, Proper Gnar.

To learn the skating culture she suggests browsing the internet and checking out videos, including Olympic skateboarding footage, to be further motivated. Cruz is really excited to see that skateboarding has reached the Olympics. “It’s something people back in the day would never have imagined. It is just so inspiring to see what people’s interests and passions can turn into.”

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