Longboards give the sport a cross-generational boost

A smooth ride catches on for cruising racing or eco-friendly transport

The loose logic used to be that the number of grey hairs on a skateboarder’s head was directly proportional to the length of the board they were riding. For years the longboarding sect has been labelled as old unhip and out of step with the de facto image of the core skateboarder.

Times are a-changin’ and as evident on Calgary’s streets hills and pathways the days of being labelled as a midlife-crisis-on-wheels are over. Kids from four to 44 are picking up a board and cruising and though parents aren’t a visible component of traditional skateboarding longboards are giving the sport a cross-generational boost — parents who used to be involved with trick skating are now cruising with their kids. In fact it has become the No. 2-ranked skateboard activity in North America according to a study by Label Networks a Venice Beach California company that tracks youth culture trends. Street-style trick skating is first and vert-park skating (half-pipe style tricks) is third.

“It is more utilitarian” says Kathleen Gasperini senior vice-president of Label Networks of longboarding. “You can use it as transportation or have your dog pull you around the neighbourhood.

“Girls — whose participation levels in longboarding are two per cent higher than boys — love it because it is easier than dropping into a vert ramp and a lot more fun.”

At the basic level longboards are exactly that: longer skateboards from 106.5 to even 203 centimetres in length compared with regular boards that are 76 to 96.5 centimetres. The biggest difference is these sidewalk surfboards are designed for comfortable riding not X Games-type tricks on a vert ramp or at the skate park.

Longboards are more stable and smoother riding because the board is more flexible and the wheels are made of softer plastic allowing them to roll over pebbles and rough concrete that could cause a trick boarder to crash.

“About 85 per cent of skateboarders leave the sport by the time they reach 18” says Michael Brooke publisher and editor of Concrete Wave a magazine dedicated to longboarding. “The high attrition rate is due to the true difficulty of doing the tricks. They’re very technical and sometimes dangerous.”

Although the majority of longboarders are cruising around for fun or as a method of transportation (especially in light of current gas prices) there is a faction of riders who see the activity as a legit sport and bomb steep hills — legally or illegally — all in the name of longboarding.

Ross Baradoy has been on a skateboard since he was five and competing in races for about a decade. He says he’s part of a smaller core group that is pushing the culture in Alberta and acting as ambassadors to maintain a positive image for longboarding. Even so he says some law enforcement officials can be unco-operative when it comes to helping with local events.

“We’ve had to resort to outlaw events which are contrary to what many believe in but a way to keep things going” says Baradoy. “Despite this we are constantly putting safety first to ensure [longboarding] remains fun for everyone.”

To prove his point Baradoy refers to the Speedboard and Longboard Association of Calgary (SLAC) which formed in 2005 in response to the death of an amateur rider due to improper safety techniques and equipment. Baradoy says SLAC’s goal is to push people to ride safely and responsibly through education clinics and community involvement and to promote the environmental benefits of longboarding as a renewable form of transportation.

He says the community in Calgary has changed drastically in recent years from a tight-knit group of riders into a true scene. “In the early days there was no community in Calgary” says Baradoy. “If you saw another person riding a longboard on the other side of the street you’d run across and get their number and end up going riding with them.”

One way the community bond is growing stronger is through the group’s Saturday night rides — a chance for beginners intermediates or full-out chargers to cruise around with like-minded skate folks.

“Though some people have jumped on the bandwagon longboarding’s not a fad” he says. “I think everyone should have one in their garage.”

As longboarding gains momentum skateboard retailers are discovering its relatively untapped presence. Sure it’s a boost to their bottom line but perhaps more importantly it’s a way to introduce a deck and wheels to a new customer and to keep the scene healthy.

Ryan Theobald of Landyachtz a longboard company based in Vancouver B.C. says that many university students are picking up longboards as an alternative form of transportation. “It makes a lot of sense for people to get around on” Theobald says. “It’s way more efficient than a regular board as a mode of transportation it’s easy to carry around eco-friendly and you don’t have to lock it up like a bike.”

He says longboarding is still relatively unknown across North America with most retailers only aware of one or two major brands. “It’s been a slow organic growth for longboarding but as people see it happening they’re like ‘Wait a second that looks like a lot of fun.’”

For more information go to www.slacalgary.com or Greenskate.org.