Back in the first summer of this pandemic I returned to: skateboarding. Maybe it sounds like an odd activity for an old guy like me, but the truth is, it’s the best thing I’ve done in years. It’s become my happy place in a time of intense stress, fear and uncertainty.
And since I started down this road last year, I’ve been pulled in even deeper. I’ve made the transition to a genuine longboard and have heard the siren call of freeride and downhill riding. One discipline is all about barreling down big hills and taking corners as fast as possible. The other emphasizes style and skill, plus a healthy dose of downhill velocity.
I’m not saying I’m any good at any of it. As a newbie, I’m as green as it gets — but that’s the point. I’ve just stepped into a world I had no idea existed. I’m practically giddy anticipating all of the new things I’ve yet to learn, and I’m having lots of fun practicing along the way. It also gets me off the couch for a nice bit of exercise and a little vitamin D. Here’s what I’ve learned so far on this journey — perhaps you’ll be tempted to dive in, too.
Longboards are different
As an old-time street skater from the late ’80s and early ’90s, longboards were a mystery to me. I grew up riding classic fishtail decks with tons of concave. Slowly they transitioned to dual-kicktail shapes and, finally, smaller popsicle street boards. By the mid- 90s, when popsicle decks became prevalent, I had stopped skating altogether.
When I came back to it in 2020, I felt like Rip Van Winkle. Those little popsicle trick boards were still around in force, but an entirely new skateboard category (longboards) had gained popularity. With their crazy-long wheelbases, huge wheels and reverse kingpin trucks, they looked totally alien to me.
Many lacked kicktails, too, and even had trucks that were mounted over their grip tape (foot side) and dropped through the board. Other longboards came with flush mounts for traditional top-mounted trucks, along with fiberglass and bamboo constructions. As I took it all in, I could only pinch myself. Clearly, the world had changed quite a bit since the last time I was a part of it.
These design differences are no accident either. Reverse kingpin trucks, each flipped around 180 degrees compared with traditional skateboard trucks, help keep boards stable at high speed. Drop-through-mounted trucks give riders a low center of gravity, simulating the drifty feel of a snowboard. Fiberglass and bamboo materials lend decks stiffness, which cuts down on vibration when you’re cruising at top speed.
What I ride
I switch between two longboards for my daily ride. One is the Landyachtz Switchblade 40 Night. It’s a big, complete setup that’s perfect for riders new to freeriding. The Switchblade is ridiculously stable, and its drop-through design is easy to kick into slides.
The second is a longboard setup I built myself. The deck is the Rayne Skyline from 2020. Its fiberglass exterior makes it extremely resistant to water, so it’s my go-to when the roads are wet. For the trucks, I used 165mm Arsenals angled at 44 degrees. On top of that, it sports a kicktail for that classic feel. I finished it off with 70mm Muirskate Marker wheels and Zealous built-In bearings.
The need for some speed
I don’t have the urge to pop big ollies anymore, but I still crave some adventure. I quench that thirst by zooming down my neighborhood hills as fast as I can. That said, real downhill skating requires access to mountain roads with serious elevation, total lack of fear, and an insatiable appetite for adrenaline. I’m not there (at least not yet?) — my top speed tends to be closer to 18 to 20 mph.
Right now, I’m satisfied with the more mellow alternative, freeriding. Freeriding calls for skating downhill while performing various wheel slides which keep your speed in check. Once perfected, they also have the added benefit of making you feel and look cool.
At least, that’s the idea. Again, I’m going at my own pace — but I’m making progress. Most of the time, I can produce a Coleman slide on demand. I’m not too bad at glove-down toeside slides, either. On more than one occasion, I’ve even managed to bust out a heelside predrift around a tight corner. A few months ago that would have been unimaginable.
The downside is all the equipment I’ve destroyed during the process. Thus far, I’ve already chewed through two pairs of slide gloves, and my soft knee pads weren’t protective enough, either. The first set of hardshell knee pads I bought barely lasted a month.
The worst, though, are the multiple pairs of pants I’ve ripped up. It totals to two pairs of jeans plus one pair of work pants I thought were indestructible. I’m honestly considering splurging on motorcycle jeans, but that’s crazy, right?
Go on and get out there
Even with all the wardrobe mayhem, I’m having a blast. And when you add in the health benefits on the side, both physical and mental, I’m hooked. I feel it in my gut that I’ll be cruising some form of longboard into my ripe old age, pandemic or not. It’s just too fun to stop now. Maybe one day you’ll join me on the hill.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.