When the pandemic put New York State in lockdown last Spring, I decided to do something I’ve been wanting to do for some time… learn how to skateboard. No, I’m not talking about half-pipes and kick-flips, I’m talking more about how to use skateboards and longboards as a legitimate means of last-mile transportation. So at the age of 39, I went out every day and skated around my neighborhood, trying to overcome the sense of boredom with the exhilaration of learning a new skill. Spoiler alert… it worked.
In learning how to skate, I realized something. After we learn how to drive, we rarely challenge ourselves to learn something new that requires failing again and again and again, only to FINALLY realize one day that, after lots of practice, you can do it. Learning how to comfortably cruise on a skateboard/longboard is a rush, not unlike getting your license. It requires an ability to see past failure, and unlike driving, that failure usually results in painful falls, scrapes and massive bruises.
Now that I’m comfortable cruising on any style of board, I realize the appeal of skate culture. There is a beautiful simplicity in finding a “spot,” or a place that features an obstacle that challenges your ability to conquer it. This spot could simply be a steep hill, a slope in the concrete under a bridge, or a drop off of a staircase. For super-amateurs like myself, it’s about developing a familiarity with your neighborhood and where the best places to skate are located. For example, if I want to skate to the nearest convenience store, liquor store or grocer, I want to know what side of the street has the smoothest sidewalk. I want to know what route has the fewest interactions with cars. I want to know what path is the most enjoyable. All of this is in stark contrast to driving, where the only goal is how quickly we can get from point A to point B. When riding a longboard to a destination, there’s an art to the journey, and a feeling of accomplishment when you arrive.
Skateboards and longboards have small wheels, which make you, the rider, particularly “picky” about where you ride. Here in the snow-stricken Northeast, our sidewalks are often nuanced with cracks, gaps and general wear that make skateboarding a serious challenge. Knowing the sidewalk terrain makes me hyper-aware of the condition of our pedestrian infrastructure. If we place value on sidewalks that are well maintained, skateboards are the proverbial canary, giving us a baseline for sidewalk quality.
Longboarding also intimately puts you in touch with your local environment. At a speed of around 6-8mph, skateboards are faster than walking but far slower than biking. It is the kind of speed that intimately connects you with your surroundings better than perhaps any other form of vehicular mobility.
And finally, in a time when so many uncertainties are pummeling us every day, longboarding forces you to focus your wandering, anxiety-ridden brain into the moment-by-moment task of navigating your neighborhood sidewalk. Skateboards don’t have brakes. They have smaller wheels that can easily be thwarted by a soft pine cone. They require laser-focus, and simultaneously, a distinct calm. Every crack in the sidewalk, every twig from a branch and every imperfection in the pavement can hurdle you toward the realities of broken bones and badly skinned extremities that take months to heal. When riding, there’s no room for the nagging “what if’s” of life. There’s no place for politics, news, worries or concerns. Your focus must simply be “how do I survive?” This sounds morbid and I don’t mean to put it in this context… but if you are not 100% committed to the task of navigating on a longboard, you will face an eventual pain. Longboarding is a welcomed and healthy distraction from the dark places our minds can wander.
When we talk about last mile, multi-modal transportation, the longboard is a tremendous option to include in your micro-mobility quiver. It’s light and portable, perfect for riding to the bus or train and cruising the rest of the way to your destination. By no means am I implying that everyone should/can learn to ride a board… but for those who can/want to learn, longboards are an enjoyable and even practical solution in the last mile dilemma. Cruise to your nearest transit stop or station, pick up the board and hop on your bus/train. No need for a bike rack, nothing to fold up… you just get on and go.
Of course, the downside of longboarding as a means of practical transit is that they really aren’t meant to be ridden in the rain, and really can’t be ridden in the snow. They are a fair weather solution for sure.
In addition, longboards take a lot of strength, balance, practice and energy to move. And even when you get comfortable riding them, the occasional wipeout is inevitable. They are certainly not for everyone, but they can be a tremendous option in drier climates and during summer months in northern communities.
For me? My longboards (yes I have many now) are part recreational, part practical. Sometimes I just like to cruise down a well-paved trail. Other times, I like to skate down to the local store for a 6-pack. And for me, that’s fine… if I can save the occasional car trip and replace it with a zero-emissions vehicle while getting good exercise, I’m good with that.
There are some really powerful reasons to consider longboards as a way to connect to transit and run those “around the corner” errands while saving a car trip. Sometimes it’s not about finding alternative mobility solutions that fit every scenario… it’s about finding a plethora of modalities that, together, give you a robust and enjoyable fleet of options that minimize your time behind the wheel.
Note: if you are interested in learning how to ride, there are lots of amazing tutorials on YouTube. If you are looking to purchase a board, look no further than Landyachtz. Look for the longboards that have a lot of surface area and big fat wheels for rolling over anything!