Sidewalk Surfers

Renee Rosenow

Many have seen them on campus, barefooted, sandaled or sneakered. They’re all out on a similar mission – to shred the streets of Eau Claire. Longboarders haven’t been around forever, but long enough to have a lasting impression on students, businesses and those campus tour groups that just can’t seem to get out of the way in time.

So what is a longboard?

Longboards are about a foot longer than skateboards, Terry Hintz, of Bike and Sport, 403 Water St., said. Other differences include a longer wheelbase and bigger, softer wheels. Hintz mentioned that longboards are also smoother and cover more ground than skateboards.

“Mainly people use their longboards for transportation,” Hintz said.

He mentioned what he called “the cool factor” influenced people in buying a longboard as well.

Senior Daniel Steltz said the difference between skatesboards is similar to that of road and BMX bikes.

“A skateboard is made for doing tricks and a longboard is more of a relaxed ride,” Steltz said.

Even among longboards, there are many differences.

“I ride two boards,” Steltz said. “One is 42 inches . the other is 38 inches. The longer the board is, the more stable it is.”

Steltz suggested Bike and Sport to anyone wanting an educated longboard purchase.

Senior Jessica McCollum offered advice to the minority female longboarder.

“If you’re a chick, get a smaller board,” she said. “Sector 9 (a brand) is sweet for downhill, but my Arbor (another brand) is good for street skating.”

Less of the social stigma associated with skateboarders is associated with longboarders, Hintz said.

“I think the attitude toward the sport is more mellow.”

Hintz suggested that law enforcement is usually less wary of longboarders as they are less likely to damage city property.

Where did it all begin?

Steltz said there are a lot of people who have started riding in the last three years after he started. Since then, the popularity has increased exponentially.

McCollum said that she’s been longboarding for about three years.

“When I started boarding there weren’t that many longboarders or skateboarders,” she said. “Now it’s tripled.”

The popularity of the activity could have increased lately due to many different factors. McCollum said that she uses her board to save gas, as it is a fun form of transportation. Steltz can be seen just about everywhere on his board.

Longboarders are typically 18 to 30 years old and the sport is more mature than regular skateboarding. College students tend to enjoy longboarding while high school students enjoy traditional skateboarding, Hintz said.

Eau Claire’s longboarding scene

“I guess you could call it a scene,” Steltz said.

Though he may not admit it, he has had a large impression on Eau Claire’s longboarding environment. As the creator of the Facebook group “Second Edition: The Longboarding Chronicles,” Steltz has been doing what he can to get Eau Claire students involved.

“It’s not a clique thing,” he said, “It’s a fun social network to meet a lot of people.”

Steltz has been known to approach just about anyone on a board and invite them on weekend rides. The Facebook group is now used as a utility to organize as many boarders as possible for mass rides on Fridays or Sundays. Steltz said everyone is welcome to come and see what it’s all about.

So why join the scene?

There are quite a few opinions on the issue. McCollum explained how much she loves the activity.

“Getting around is a good excuse to go ride,” she said. “That’s how you learn.”

As far as the scene goes, McCoullum thinks it’s just starting.

Hintz is looking at it optimistically as well.

“We’ve probably sold 50 longboards this year,” he said. “It’s certainly getting to be a scene.”

It’s been about six or seven years since the skateboarding world has accepted longboarders and it’s been getting better for everyone since then, Hintz said.

“It’s definitely a growing thing,” he said.

A few warnings

“Legally, as far as I understand, the police don’t make a deal of (riding) on the sidewalks,” Steltz said.

As a senior longboarder on campus, Steltz has seen quite a lot.

“If people are going to be riding they need to be aware of what is legal and illegal,” he said. “The campus hill is illegal.”

Riding down the campus hill can be dangerous and expensive. People who have fallen have had to pay hospital fees and police fines, Steltz said.

“I’ve owned three boards,” he said.

He only has two of them these days though — his third was run over by a vehicle not long ago.

McCollum has also had a few close calls.

“I’ve gotten hit by a car,” she said.

She did add that she wasn’t terribly hurt and managed to make it to class, but there was blood involved.

“Cars need to watch the pedestrian lane,” McCollum said.

She said drivers look left and right, but most of the time they ignore sidewalks and pedestrians, adding this is dangerous for everyone.

Hintz believes courtesy to other pedestrians is also important. Most of the time pedestrians can hear a longboarder coming up from behind but it is the responsibility of the rider to be safe.

“People that are riding should be respectful of the people they’re passing,” he said. “Be conscious that you’re out among other people and creatures.”

Anyone can get involved these days. Steltz said his dad wants to learn how to ride. The longboarding scene in Eau Claire is an open community of people all dedicated to the pursuit of a good time. Anyone is invited to learn and make longboarding a part of their lives, Steltz said.

“I’m going to do it for the rest of my life.”