It’s not your teenager’s skateboard anymore.
Longboards, colossal skateboards that aren’t much good for tricks but are perfect for cruising the streets, are popping up in skate shops and on sidewalks nationwide.
“I’ve never seen this many kids on longboards. It’s phenomenal,” said Tyler Hawkinson, a 19-year-old T-shirt designer in Minneapolis (in Minnesota, USA) who started longboarding three years ago.
Originally used as platforms to race down long hills at speeds that traditional skateboards couldn’t, the longboards’ popularity really took off when people started using them simply to get around. They’re cheaper than bikes, don’t need to be locked up, and can easily be carried in and out of buildings. And they often can go faster than bikes.
With the change in size and shape of the boards has also come a change in rider; longboards break stereotypes about skateboarders by reaching into new demographics, drawing people from all walks of life.
“When I first started doing it, it was just guys my age,” said Bryan Williams, 23, whose hobby of making longboards for friends grew into a full-fledged business. “Now it’s guys, girls, people over 40, people all over.”
Compared with their trick-centric counterparts, longboards offer a smoother and safer ride and more stability. That makes them more accessible to newcomers, and ideal for anyone looking for an alternative mode of transportation, especially in cities like Minneapolis with plenty of riding paths and lakes.
Decks from 69 to 91cm (27 to 36 in) long are generally best for those commuting on longboards. Even longer decks, which can exceed 1.2m (4 ft), are made for speed, and are best used on long downhills. Hybrid decks land somewhere in between, around 102cm (40 in), and offer the best of both worlds.
Joshua Anderson, 34, who stocks, orders and sells longboards and skateboards at Alternative Bike & Board in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood, guesses that he carries the city’s largest selection of longboards, but he still can’t keep them in stock.
He has seen people as young as three and as old as 70 riding them. On college campuses, he’s seen students and professors alike using them to get to class.
“Picking out a longboard is like picking out a tattoo,” he said. “One thing is going to catch your eye more than the other. Some people want a shorter deck, some people want a longer deck for more walking space. There are trucks (wheel assemblies) that are going to make you turn a lot faster, a sharper cut. Some boards will feel like a surfboard. Some boards will feel just like a cruiser.”
Williams had just finished a day of springtime snowboarding in 2007 when he saw a longboard shoot down a Duluth street for the first time.
“I saw this kid fly by on this monster skateboard and I was like, ‘Whoa, I need to figure out where that came from’,” he said.
He promptly bought one when he got home to Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Then he made a deck for a friend who was also interested in picking up the sport. Word got around quickly, and before a month had passed, he had made 15 boards for friends fascinated by the oversized boards their companions were cruising around on.
Just like that, Northern Pine Longboards was born.
Northern Pine, based in Eden Prairie, has sold decks all over the country. The business went from being something Williams did on the side to something he does almost full-time now. He didn’t even get to go snowboarding this past year; he was too busy filling longboard orders.
Bring back youth
Williams said the boards have a “niche market with a wide customer base.” For example, he recently sold a pair to a 46-year-old man who intended to give them to his wife-to-be as a wedding present.
Anderson said longboards are especially attractive for people who don’t want to give up on their childhood dreams of being a skateboarder. “You look at a longboard, and it brings back youth in people.”
Andy Bell, 35, of Minneapolis, started making decks to help his brother, who makes longboards on the West Coast.
When the sport picked up here, he started selling his boards locally under the name of Mission Bell Longboards. Some of his first customers were aging skateboarders whose trick decks were taking a toll on their bodies.
He agreed that their popularity has expanded to a different group of people looking for a new mode of transportation.
“The thing about longboard culture is that anybody can jump in there and have fun as a way to get around,” he said.
Hawkinson has already recruited several friends to join him, and most picked it up quickly.
“It’s really easy to learn; it’s kind of catchy,” Hawkinson said.
He fully expects to be cruising 10 years from now. Even then, he’ll still be younger than many of the people jumping into the sport today.
Anderson sells more longboards than regular skateboards, even if he can’t quite explain their rise in popularity. To him, there’s a board for everyone, no matter who they are or what kind of experience they’re looking for.
“Old people get on there and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, I grew up in Hawaii,’” he said. “They get on it and they feel like they’re right back in the ocean.” — Star Tribune (Minneapolis)/Tribune News Service/Ben Jones