Antonio Rao was riding along Lacordaire Boulevard on his longboard when he ended up on the hood of a woman’s car who was exiting a grocery store parking lot.
“I heard this huge crunching sound come from underneath,” he said. “I was just like, “Oh shit, there goes my board.’ It was cracked in half.”
Rao has had a few close calls in the four months he has been riding, but none have stopped him from getting back on his longboard.
Two years ago, if you mentioned the word longboard to anyone unfamiliar with skate culture, you would probably get a puzzled expression at best. Nowadays, it seems like everyone is riding one. Best described as ultra-long skateboards, longboards have been gaining popularity on the streets of Montreal for several years now, but it was this past spring that the sport really caught on.
Alex BÃ©rand, assistant manager at Underworld on Ste-Catherine St., said the longboard has been the store’s bestselling product of the summer. “On a good Saturday, we would sell between five and 10. Even on a weekday, it would be around five. I think we sold over 500 this summer,” he said.
Those picking up longboarding are not all young males either, the typical demographic associated with skate culture. A lot of women and older guys have also gotten into the sport.
Despite the recent rise in popularity, longboarding is anything but a new sport. Quite the opposite, actually. The first skateboards used before today’s more traditional styles were developed were, in fact, longboards. Skateboarding emerged in California during the “50s and “60s as a result of the surfing craze. Surfers needed something to do when they weren’t at the beach, so they started attaching long, flat pieces of wood to roller-skate wheels in an attempt to adapt their favourite sport to the hilly streets of California.
As the sport evolved, these first skateboards took the tailfin shape of the surfboard, but shortened them to allow for better manoeuverability on cement. The aim in those days was to go down a hill as fast as you could, keeping very low to the ground.
Soon after, in the “60s and “70s, skateboards started to evolve into the style we are used to seeing today, and a shorter shape with the ends turned up became the norm. Since then, longboarding has existed mostly under the radar, appealing to speed-freaks and fans of the old-school skateboarding who do it for sport rather than to fit into the skater style.
Until recently, that is. So why has longboarding become so popular all of a sudden? BÃ©rand cites a few good reasons.
The main reason seems to be that it is an easy and convenient way to get around. “A lot of people wanna take their longboard to work. There aren’t that many people that longboard for real,” BÃ©rand said. A complete longboard may soon be cheaper than a skateboard because as the sport gains popularity, prices have gone down.
“There’s a lot of people that were skating in the “80s and “90s and they want to skate again. But real skateboarding is too hard when you are 30-years-old,” BÃ©rand added. “The wheels [on a longboard] are softer so it’s not as hard on your knees.” You can also go farther for longer without having to push as much.
But just because some aspects of longboarding are easier does not mean it is any less dangerous than traditional skateboarding. Typically, the longer your board is, the more speed you’ll be able to pick up.
BÃ©rand said those who are serious about it and do downhill riding, also known as slalom-style riding, can reach speeds up to 100 km/h. That is really fast when you’re standing on a thin strip of wood with no brakes.
Even a casual rider just cruising around the city can attain 50 km/h on a gradually sloping street. Very often, beginners are surprised at how quickly they pick up speed on a slight incline.
Rao realized this for himself soon after he started riding.
“[The hill] didn’t look that steep from the top of the street, so I went for it. Ten seconds later, I was already going too fast. It got harder for me to keep the board under control but I didn’t know how to stop so I just jumped off,” he said.
Easier said than done. Unfortunately, Rao didn’t experience the smooth landing he may have imagined. His arm and the palm of his hand were basically one giant scab as a result of the fall.
Learning how to brake when going at a high speed is the hardest and scariest part of longboarding for the first time. There can be serious consequences if you lose control, like injuring yourself or getting hit by a car.
Despite the danger, it seems that almost everyone who has tried longboarding can’t stop. Once you pick it up, you quickly understand why it’s so popular.
Simply put, it is a fun, fast way to get around.
This downtown skate shop sells all the necessary longboard gear with complete boards ranging in price from $200 up to $365.
289 Ste-Catherine St. East
NDGSkate (No Damn Good)
Located on the de Maisonneuve bike path, this skate-shop-meets-skate-park carries complete boards between $200 and $350.
2105 Old Orchard St., corner de Maisonneuve
With several locations in Quebec, this skateboard and snowboard shop sells longboards and cruisers from $140 to $350.
Visit their online store at www.store.thinkempire.com for boutique locations and product catalogue.
Montreal Sessions is an online “forum for longboarders & old school skaters” from inside and outside the city.
For those looking for information on equipment, events, skate spots or tips head to www.montrealsessions.forumactif.com
This longboard endurance/push race is taking place on Sept. 25, 2010. Riders will tour the city of Montreal, going through a series of checkpoints at various locations. The ride is about 20 km and will take about an hour to complete.
Time: 9:30 a.m.
Location: Olympic Stadium Ramp (Viau Metro)
Price: $10 entry fee includes BBQ and event hat
Helmets are mandatory
For more information, visit www.bit.ly/avNpbb