Slomo, who is famous in San Diego’s Pacific Beach (PB) for his signature slow motion in-line skating technique that makes him look like a yogi practicing the standing bow pose, has finally had his biography revealed to the mainstream public. The retired physician often gives passersby a friendly wave or a high-five as he cruises along the boardwalk. Many San Diego residents, whether long-time or recent, recognize the PB icon who skates by the beach everyday all day long. Many also speculate who exactly Slomo is. Why does he skate everyday and how did he come to be? A few cursory glances may make one think that Slomo is a homeless bum or a Vietnam vet. However, appearances can be very deceiving.
Filmmaker Joshua Izenberg, who made a documentary about Slomo in 2013, met Slomo, whose real name is John Kitchin, a former neurologist. when he accompanied his father on a business trip to San Diego. His father was a medical school classmate of Slomo’s, and did not recognize the skater immediately with his skating attire on and music blaring from the speakers that were attached to him. The story of Slomo fascinated Izenberg, who thought it “[went] against the mainstream narrative: Grow up, pick a career, stick it out, retire.”
The 70-year-old Slomo, who grew up on a diary farm in North Carolina, used to work long hours as a neurologist in various hospitals. Although he made a ton of money, owned a 12-cylinder BMW and a Ferrari, and had an exotic mini-zoo on his mansion grounds, the material gains still made him feel empty. Slomo kept recalling the words of an old man who he had met in a hospital cafeteria line many years ago. When the then-young neurologist asked the 93-year-old man, “How does a strapping young man like me get to be an old cudgel like you?” the old man looked at him and branded these words in the doctor’s brain: “Do what you want to.”
In 1998, Slomo abandoned his practice and rich lifestyle and moved to a studio apartment in Pacific Beach in San Diego, revealing in the film that he only had the barest essentials for life. “Why don’t I just cash it in and start a whole new life?” he said in the film. He then bought a pair of rollerblades and started to skate every night almost religiously. When he started to skate, people on the beach would yell at him, “Slomo! Slomo!” Hence, the nickname got stuck ever since and Kitchin evolved into Slomo almost overnight, a skater who balances and glides on one leg with his arms spread out like wings.
In order to film Slomo while he was skating, Izenberg and his cameraman had to get creative in capturing the unique angle in the film. As Slomo skated, the cameraman roller-bladed and filmed behind him while Izenberg recorded the sound while riding on a skateboard. People would give Slomo high-fives and yell out his name. “The people that love Slomo are cheering for one person that got away and got to real freedom where he skates all day,” Slomo says in the film. Together with the film’s producer, Amanda Micheli, Izenberg wanted to make a film that portrayed older characters because most films that people see nowadays are mostly about younger people. Last year at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival, the film won a best documentary prize, which makes it eligible to be nominated for an Oscar in the documentary shorts category.
The film may give many San Diego residents a new understanding and appreciation of what Slomo revealed about his life and decisions. Perhaps those who watch Izenberg’s film may get a better sense of what they want out of their own lives. Should they continue to live within their comfort zone and expect something different? Or should they take a little chance and do something that is more meaningful for them? Whatever the choices may be, these words may echo for life: “Do what you want to.”
By Nick Ng