They see me rollin’
Some pedestrians may hate it and authorities may try to catch them when they ride, but the love for longboarding is only growing around campus. According to Michael Brooke in his 1999 book, “The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding,” skateboards were first invented in California in the early 1950s. These longboard ancestors were built to resemble surfboards and emulate “sidewalk surfing” when the waves were down. Longboarding’s laid-back, surfer-dude origins haven’t stopped the trend from tenaciously making its way east and throughout the country in recent years, especially in colleges and universities.
According to Google Trends, which measures the frequency of keywords queried in the Google search engine, “longboard” searches in the United States have steadily moved up in frequency, with yearly peaks coming in the summer months, since 2004, when the system began tallying searches. Popularity measured a sharp incline in June 2011, with Google measuring double the average of “longboard” searches for 2004 through 2012.
Andrew Tielking, a senior majoring in economics and longboarder since age 13, said Google’s numbers jive with his anecdotal knowledge of the practice’s rise at the University.
“My freshman and sophomore years, I would literally see just one person [longboarding] per semester. Now, I see at least three or four every day on my way to classes,” Tielking said. “[Conventional skateboards] had these bursts of popularity in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, but it seems like last year and this year have really been the first big longboard boom.” Edroyal Womack, a two-year longboarder and junior majoring in pre-med biology, largely attributes longboarding’s increasing popularity to its use as a mode of transportation on college campuses.
“I’m sure it is more of a West Coast thing because people that are into surfing and skateboarding usually longboard, as well,” Womack said. “I feel like it gets big in college because it’s a more enjoyable way to get to class, rather than riding a bike or walking.
Madison Sharps, a senior majoring in management information systems who has six years of longboarding experience, said she primarily rides her board to get to and from class. She feels steep descents aren’t a prerequisite to enjoying the activity.
“I would say it’s not really a West Coast thing,” Sharps said. “It’s more of a transportation-skater-fun thing. Where I’m from in Florida has barely any hills, but it’s still fun to do.”
Brandon Batchelor, a junior majoring in marketing, said he got hooked two or three months ago when he saw a board in the back of his friend’s car and asked to borrow it. Like Sharps, Batchelor primarily uses his board for on-campus transportation, but he never passes up an opportunity to have some fun.
“I ride it to class, but then I always find myself taking the long way home around the Ferg to take the hill down,” he said.
Tielking spent all of last school year with a longboard as his only form of transportation. He said skating anywhere between six and ten miles every day made for excellent exercise.
“I skated to and from class, I skated to get groceries, I skated to pay my water bill, electric bill,” Tielking said. “When you ride a lot, your calves blow up. When you think about it, your pushing foot is just flicking back and working that whole time. I was afraid, ‘Am I going to have this one monster calf and one small one?’ But the foot on the board is just busy stabilizing the whole time. They both feel really tired by the time you’re done.” Despite its relative surge in popularity, longboarding remains a niche activity at the University, one not everybody is quite used to seeing yet.
Tielking and Casey Crooks, a senior majoring in biology and environmental science, both said their transportation method of choice draws plenty of questioning glances from onlookers.
“Whenever I go skate, people are like, ‘You’re 20 years old, and you’re on a skateboard?’ You have to deal with that a lot,” he said.
Crooks said he has been told by police officers on several different occasions both to get off of the sidewalk and to get out of the road. He tries to treat his board like a bicycle and keep in the bike lanes when possible.
Naysayers and officers aren’t enough to keep Womack from getting out and enjoying his experience.
“It makes my day better to board around to each class while listening to some good music,” he said. “I ride for fun whenever I can. It’s my stress reliever.”