Longboarding’s steady growth in Prague
In a small basement shop on a quiet Vinohrady street, a friendly and enthusiastic crowd of mixed age surrounded by long skateboards with large, candy-colored wheels galore began to sing Happy Birthday in unison. A stocky young man clad in a Mad Max-esque leather jacket carried a doughnut with a single lit candle and handed it across the counter to Thomas Kahle, the Czech-Canadian owner of One15 Longboard Shop. “Here’s to our first year!” beamed Kahle, 30, who was born in Vancouver to Czech dissident parents and has lived in Prague on and off all of his life, and permanently now for nearly eight years. The celebration didn’t interrupt sales. Enthusiasts continued to buy decks, wheels, trucks and protective gear amid the festive vibe. The shop refreshingly avoids being just another skate-oriented fashion boutique, as so many others found throughout the city.Not to be confused with the more traditional symmetrical street jobs with hard little wheels found grinding every corner in every city, longboards stand out. Everything is grander: The decks are 34 inches (86 centimeters) or longer; extra-wide trucks provide precision turns; and big, soft wheels allow grip and smooth riding – even the moves. Downhill skaters can reach speeds of in excess of 70 kilometers per hour. As the ollie, a leveraged board jump using only the feet, is crucial to street skating, so the slide is to longboarding. Turning the deck sideways so the wheels skid along the asphalt and even leaning down and letting specially gloved hands caress the pavement in powerful, fluid slides allows the rider to manage his speed and even come to a stop.
“Like the ollie,” Kahle explains, “slides are a crowd-pleaser with their pure style and ferocity.”
In 2005, when Kahle started on the longboard, he says only a handful of others participated in the sport in the Czech Republic. Things began to pick up quickly in 2008, culminating in the first Kozákov Challenge downhill race in 2009, now an annual IGSA World Cup Series held every June near Turnov. By 2011, interest in sport was booming, and Kahle decided to open his shop. While the Czech Republic is three years behind countries like Germany in terms of events and organizations, and with the average price tag for a complete board at around 5,000 K?, Kahle says, “Manufacturers predict five to 10 years of solid growth worldwide, and I am seeing it here in my shop.”
“I wanted a place where the community could meet and grow, where one can find quality boards with knowledgeable service,” Kahle says. “We are the only true skateshop in Prague willing to get our hands dirty.”
Surprisingly, women make up a fifth of his customers. “More and more girls are getting into the sport,” says Daniela Gaislerová, a 20-year-old sponsored skater and instructor who transitioned from snowboarding, because it is “relatively easier to pick up than street style, its focus on smooth movements, and it’s a practical mode of transportation.”
On the weekend of Sept. 22-23, those interested can see what the fuss is all about. The Slivenec DH Skate Cup promises to showcase top riders from the Czech Republic and around Central Europe reaching speeds of near 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour). The hay-bailed course takes over a notorious winding hill running between the Prague 5 suburbs of Slivenec and Velká Chuchle that bottlenecks at one point, ensuring some eventful moments. With more than 60 male and female participants registered, racing four at a time, full-face helmets, gloves and body protection – preferably racing leathers like those used by motorcyclists – are required.
“It will be great exposure for the sport,” says Kahle, who is both an organizer and a competitor in the Slivenec Cup. “It’s not far away in the mountains, but right here in Prague. The two-day event will take place come rain or shine.”
While there isn’t a purse for the winners, trophies, skate equipment and decks will be presented, although it is ultimately the glory and the thrill of being able to speed down a car-free road that will motivate the racers.The sport of longboarding has come a long way since California surfers invented skateboarding in the 1950s as a way to stay occupied when the waves were flat, recreating the turns of the ocean on the paved terrain. These primitive DIY designs featured a plywood construction as well as clay roller-skating wheels. With the introduction of urethane wheels in the 1970s, the sport could progress as this new technology allowed for safer and more stable riding. Now, maple-layered, bamboo or fiberglass longboards come in all shapes and sizes: stiff, rocket-shaped decks for downhill races or deep, concave rectangles for sliding and cruisers reminiscent of ’70s pill-shaped models that are excellent for commuting throughout the city.
Richard Gibello, 27, a professional rider visiting from South Africa, is sponsored by the longboard maker Sector 9, a market leader that had humble beginnings in a San Diego backyard in 1993. Gibello has a gift for the gab and held the attention of many at the shop’s anniversary celebration as he told stories of his surfing/longboarding lifestyle.
“In my book,” Gibello says, stepping away from his own fame, “the Czech riders are very skilled skaters no matter if they are racing or sliding; they are solid.”Age is not an issue either, as it’s not uncommon for 10-year-olds to be seen cruising with others three times their age. A friendly supportive atmosphere fosters new members and keeps the community tight.
“In many ways, it’s definitely like a family,” Gibello says. “I’ve found downhill skaters always welcome someone [with] whom they just share the common ground of skating, and build friendships on that, and the Czech boys and girls hold true to that. They are a great group of people always stoked on the ride and of course the beer after.” By James Gogarty