You’ve probably seen them. You’ve probably thought to yourself, ‘what is a grown man doing riding a skateboard down the street?’
Welcome back the longboard, the terrestrial cousin to the surfboard, a toy that grew up and got a mortgage.
“It’s guys that used to skateboard as a kid, and they want to get back to their youth, but they’re not going to be going around on a small skateboard doing tricks,” says Rob Stepaniak, the manager at the new Erik’s bike shop in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood — which features a prominent display of the skateboards. The boards typically have decks three feet long or longer, cutouts above the wheels to allow for deeper turns and comparatively big wheels.
“A longboard lets them get around, go places and still have a lot of fun… A lot of guys are using it, riding it from their house, to the bus stop or the train, and wanting to do it a little faster and cooler than walking.”
In other words, longboards have turned the skateboard into, of all things, transportation.
“The other thing we see is young fathers, guys with kids who are on little bikes. They don’t want to ride their bike around, it’s hard to jump off the bike and grab the kid. A longboard really helps them be a lot more mobile,” Stepaniak says.
It’s hard to pinpoint the rehabilitation of the longboard precisely. Stepaniak says it’s been a couple of years, but says he doesn’t really have any data. Longboards are also a small, small fraction of Erik’s business, he says.
Justus Zimmerly is editor in chief at Skateslate.com, a Berkeley, Calif., based online AND print magazine that covers longboarding, founded in 2009. Skateslate focuses on the higher adrenaline aspects of the sport, like riding longboards with full-face helmets and body suits down Pike’s Peak.
But Zimmerly says he’s seeing more of the skateboard’s practical side as well. “I’m definitely seeing an increase in people using them for just transportation,” Zimmerly says. “A lot of these guys grew up with skateboards, and they just can’t put up with the physical rigor of doing tricks, but they still want to get their kicks on a skateboard.”
There’s even a name for them: “whitebeard” skaters, like Zimmerly’s friend, Jamie Merrifield, below, riding a longboard.
Skateboard transportation has some other advantages, as well, Zimmerly says: “Unlike riding a bike, you can just pick up a longboard and take it with you when you get where you’re going. You don’t have to lock it up or worry about someone stealing it.”
And compared to luxe bicycles that can run into five figures, the longboard is cheap.
“The beauty of longboarding is that the equipment is so simple is that there’s not necessarily a lot of room for it to get needlessly complicated and expensive,” Zimmerly says. “You do have premium products, but there’s nothing outrageous… that’s just a status symbol. For most people it’s a tool. It reflects their personalities, but I think the simplicity is one of the things that draws people to longboarding.”