Introduction- Longboarding

If you’re going to try this in any capacity: wear a helmet.  Longboarding is a blast and honestly it’s not just for skateboarders (although it is technically a skateboard).  Skateboarding is incredible to watch and speaking as someone who used to love skateboarding but never had the technique to do a kickflip– longboarding is an exhilarating yet calm, technical yet simple and practical yet social hobby that definitely can get you huffing and puffing.  Even if you don’t think you can ride on a skateboard/longboard: you can! This is one of those activities that if you believe you can do it, you’ll do it.  Fake it ’til you make it!

A longboard is a long wooden plank with sandpaper-like grips on the top side to keep good traction with your feet.  The plank is attached to two sets of wheel by a T shaped metal structure called ‘trucks’.  The trucks are the apparatus that allows you to turn.  The looser your trucks are, the tighter your turns.  To STOP on a longboard you can do one of three things:

  1. Jump off into some grass off the road and tuck and roll (not recommended).
  2. Take one foot off the board without turning and place your heel of that foot to the pavement and slowly apply pressure to stop your movement (probably the safest but slowest method).
  3. Slide your board 90 degrees like you would on a snowboard to stop (this requires either an extremely seasoned boarder or special sliding wheels or BOTH).

I started longboarding around 2008 when I was bored (no pun intended) and bought a cheap $40 longboard online.  The wheel ball bearings were not very good and the board did not go fast even if I were on a large hill.  I thought I was so cool riding down these huge hills on this board until I got a good quality board where the bearings were so fast I couldn’t even dream of doing the same hills.

This is the first product I’ve used that sent me to the emergency room.  In the summer of 2011 I was longboarding through a golf course.  This golf course had recently been watered by sprinklers and some water had been sprayed on the pavement.  As I was carving back and forth to control my speed my front wheels slipped on the water which sent me straight to the ground and rolling.  When I stopped I noticed I wasn’t too badly hurt but I wasn’t exactly sure if my collar bone should have been sticking out of my shoulder girdle quite as much as it was.  I had a level 3 (which I guess was a lot) tear in my AC (shoulder girdle) joint.  It healed but I still have my collarbone sticking out of my shoulder a decent amount and I could show you if you don’t believe me.  Nothing broke the skin so that’s a good thing at least.  The point is: please be careful with this product.  There is no mechanism for stopping built in so you have to do it yourself, which isn’t always the easiest.

Tips: Where do I start? So many tips to be a good longboarder.  First thing is first though: safety.

  1. Be aware of where you are when you ride.  If you’re commuting in a city with bike lanes or complete streets, please follow all rules pertaining to riding in that lane or with traffic.  Practice defensive riding: assume all other motorists can’t see you and are out to run you over.  You’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary crashes and everyone will be safer this way.  If you’re allowed to ride on the sidewalk, be aware of the squares in the sidewalk- some of the spaces in between are very deep and your wheels can get caught in them.  If you’re in a less urban area with wide open roads, may sure to scope out the roads in some way beforehand.  Things to look out for: heavy traffic areas, intersections, traffic calming devices such as speed bumps and narrow lanes, pot holes, gravel, sand, wet spots, cracks in the pavement and where to stop if needed. As always, wear a helmet…
  2. Find a nice flat piece of pavement to ride at first.  You have to get a feel of how the board turns.  When you move your weight from the left side of the board to the right, you will turn right and vice versa.  You move where the board tilts.  So before you get going too fast, learn how much the board tilts and how much pressure you need to be able to make that happen.  Again, the looser your trucks are, the less pressure you’ll need to make a tight turn.
  3. Kicking.  Kicking is how you power your board.  For this move, you’re going to have to take one foot off the board and push against the ground.  The best tips I can give you here is when kicking, take your foot that is remaining on the board and turn it 90 degrees so your toes are facing forward.  Just make sure you place your foot along the mid-line of the board, otherwise you’re going to turn left or right.  When your twist your foot facing forward, you can have more control of your kicking foot since both feet are facing the same direction. You’ll also have a longer and more forceful kick this way.  After you’re done kicking, you can return to your stance of facing sideways on the board.

What it is good for: The number one thing this product is good for is building a butt. I swear!  If you want to go downhill, you have to climb up to the top first.  That kicking and pushing motion is a quad and glute burner.  It only works one side at a time so make sure to switch sides whenever you can.  Other than that, great hobby for weight loss, commuting, relaxing (honestly), de-stressing and explosive power (from kicking and pushing).  I used to go for longboard rides with friends too just to catch up.  It’s like a casual walk sometimes.

This is also one of the only products I might actually admit is good for balance.  Unlike other flat rigid surfaces like Balance Boards, there is 360 degrees of movement in which you have to stay stable.  When you want to move forward you have to keep your center of mass over your base of support (your two feet) much like the balance boards.  However, when you want to turn, you have to physically go out of the frontal plane and tell your ankles where to move, this causes your center of mass to be forced outside of your base of support in a direction depending on speed and degree of turn unless your motor units compensate for it.  I would argue this may relate to better balance on stable ground better than most other products, but then again, longboarding itself is very difficult.

Progressions: 

  1. Downhill riding:  This type of riding is a whole other beast than just flat riding. This is due to two elements: Carving and speed wobbles.  Speed wobbles occur when you’re traveling too fast on your longboard.  Whether it be from your shaky ankles, the bumps in the road or for some other reason, the board will quickly wobbles back and forth.  The magnitude of these wobbles will increase if you cannot control it and eventually they will get so big the board will slip out from under you.  To prevent this, slowly progress from smaller hills (I’m talking ‘handicap ramp’ small) to larger hills and learn to carve.  Carving is literally making a straight line path into a ‘S’ shaped path.  Snowboarders will attest to how much this slows you down.  It also give you a little more control of your board so you’re less likely to initiate those speed wobbles. Try swerving from the left of the path where you’re skating to the right and back over and over to get used to carving.
  2. Switch stances: If you feel most comfortable facing right (which most people do), try and face left or vice versa.  This is definitely really tricky but it can give you a sense of appreciation of how difficult riding a longboard is.  A quick tip on how to make this easier is that instead of riding with the opposite stance, pretend you’re riding backwards.  You’ll have a better feel of your ride this way.  Obviously it won’t be as great as riding forward with your most comfortable stance but it’s better than the opposite stance.
  3. 180 degree turn.  While riding, try to hop and land back on the board in the opposite stance.  You’ll find yourself doing a half turn.  Definitely get used to Progression #2 first before attempting this trick.

Longboarding is a blast and a super easy way to commute.  Depending on the size of the board, you can usually take it anywhere like on the bus or into work and still have to cut down on your commuting time if you have to walk a large distance.  The key point I want you guys to take away is that I believe longboarding is something everyone can do.  If you disagree with me then do me a favor: stop it.  Trust me on this one and give it a good week or so to get used to.  You won’t be Tony Hawk or Nyjah Huston on your first try but practice for at least a half hour a few days a week and see what happens.  If Malcolm Gladwell states it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something, you can at least give it 3 or 4 to be a beginner.

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