The Rise of the Longboarders

By Jude Buenaseda • Aug 6th, 2013 • Category: Features

“Do an Ollie!” a random man yells at a group of skaters passing by. “I can’t, it’s a longboard!” says one of the skaters as they zoom by.

A vintage style of skateboarding is once again on the rise on New York City’s streets. They move in groups, slashing through traffic and speeding up to make a light. But these groups are not biker gangs or street racers; they belong to a steadily growing population of longboarders, representing a lifestyle of speed and freedom. They use their boards for a range of reasons, from the thrill of going fast to saving money on transportation.

“[Longboarding] is about feeling free and enjoying your time. It’s also good for my health and saves me money on the bus every day,” says Leke Pepaj, a longboarder of four years.

The community of longboarders continues to expand every year in New York. There are many events around the city hosted by many different companies, and each year attendance increases.

The Broadway Bomb race is one of these events and has the largest number of attendees. While it’s a competitive race, the majority of people go just for the experience. The event started in 2006 with just about 12 skaters. At last year’s event, in 2012, over 1,000 people from all over the world attended the race. The race starts from the Upper West Side near Columbia University and finishes downtown near Wall Street.

“It keeps people positive and healthy. I have awesome friends and met awesome people through longboarding,” says Pepaj, who has attended the Broadway Bomb for the past two years.

Like many other hobbies and sports, longboarding has characteristics that attracts certain types of people. “I started skating because I liked how you didn’t need a team or anyone else to do it. I was bad at playing with others anyway so it appealed to me,” says Edward Nieves, a sponsored rider for Earthwing Skateboards. “Skateboarding, to me, is a cheap, easily accessible means of freedom for anyone who seeks it out.”

Nobody knows when exactly skateboards were invented because they appeared in different places around the same time. But the unofficial birthplace was California around the mid 1900s. Skateboards provided surfers an alternative when the ocean waves were flat. Skateboarding was initially confined to city streets and sidewalks, but by the 1970s it evolved into a much more technically oriented sport. Tricks were invented and skate parks were built to make it a competitive sport. It was then that skateboarding split into two main disciplines, trick skateboarding and longboarding.

What makes a longboard unique are its wheels and manageability. In contrast to a trick-oriented skateboard, a longboard has smooth soft wheels and can mimic the moves of a surfboard slashing through waves — they’re not called longboards for nothing; the average longboard is around 40 inches or longer, but range anywhere from 24 to 60 inches.

There are two main longboard companies based in New York, Earthwing Skateboards and Bustin Boards, both based in Brooklyn.

Earthwing Skateboards focuses on the discipline of tech sliding, a form of skateboarding where a skater starts from the top of a hill and does sliding maneuvers all the way down the hill. Earthwing also experiments with different types of materials and stepping out of the industry norm of using 7-ply wood, experimenting with different kinds of fibers in its boards.

Bustin Boards’ longboards are composed entirely of wood, but they have many different shapes and styles. The company focuses on cruising and, more recently, the sport of downhill skateboarding – where usually four to six guys line up on top of a hill and race down to see who crosses the finish line first.

Both companies hold weekly events for riders to meet up and ride together. From beginners to professionals, the skill range of riders tends to be wide. Newcomers are encouraged to participate in these events, as this is how the New York community was first established.

Earthwing holds an event called the Friday Rip every Friday between 8 and 11pm. The event is held in Prospect Park on a hill off the park’s main loop. Riders meet up, skate, watch others, or just talk about their new favorite board.

Bustin’s event is every Sunday around 2pm. The Bustin crew leads the group around Central Park’s six-mile loop starting in the 59th street entrance at Columbus Circle.

The community is like a tight-knit family. Once you know a few of your local riders, you easily expand your network to riders from other places around the city and even the tri-state area.

“One of my closest current friends is named Ricky, and I wouldn’t have ever met him had I not been into skating. He’s the person I skate with the most in the city,” says Sami Hakim, who picked up longboarding through his high school friends.

Various forms of social media also help to foster the growth of the community. From Facebook groups to online forums such as Silverfish Longboarding, riders are able freely to discuss their love of longboarding.

“Longboarding is a way to meet people, a way to have fun, a way to try new things, and personally, it has become my favorite pastime,” Hakim says.  “I’ve chosen this as my hobby, and it’s something I can’t stop doing.”

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