California kids first blended surfing and skateboarding as far back as the ‘50s. But if you’ve seen the movie Lords of Dogtown, you know longboarding boomed for them in the ‘70s. It took its time coming east, but it’s now here with a passion.
It’s probably no surprise that longboards are longer than skateboards, but their main difference is the ride. Riding a longboard is like water surfing on solid surfaces. You don’t have to jump off, as you do on a skateboard. You can slide down. And there’s real speed, which Karma Longboards owner Chet Rogers emphasizes. “It’s speed vs. turns,” he says, when he compares longboards, which are capable of traveling 50 miles per hour, to skateboards.
You can "boardwalk," "dance," "carve," and "land paddle" on your longboard. Never mind how; Chet can tell you, and make you a board. A carpenter for 10 years, he designs longboards “with particular skills in mind,” he says.
But this isn’t California, and moving West Coast cultures east can be a bumpy ride. Dedicated longboarders speak of longboard communities, with standards and rules of behavior that ensure safety and coexistence within the larger community. But here, longboarders struggle with dubious geography and occasional bad attitudes about sharing the road. Good pavement and low traffic are arguably longboarding’s key essentials, but they can be hard to come by on our crowded, weather-beaten streets.
Chet and his comrades continually scout for good hills and moderate traffic. When "surf’s up," so to speak, on South County hills and dales, Chet recommends no more than four longboarders for the “playful racing” that comes naturally. Helmets, gloves and pads are essential to the fast action, aided by simple hand signals, like pointing to potholes and holding out fingers for the number of approaching cars.
Chet speaks passionately about longboarding’s camaraderie, which he says, “is unmatched in any other experience.” He adds, “I can’t describe the inner freedom and peace – the oneness with the road, nature and the environment."
Chet’s singular hope is for longboarding to become a recognized, respected sport, instead of denigrated as dangerous activity. He envisions an East Coast version of Maryhill, the legendary 2.2-mile speedway dedicated to longboarders in Washington state. “Here it’s a slow, uphill battle,” he says. Then he smiles and adds, “but then that’s part of what longboarding is.”