When Michaela Albanese brought her longboard skateboard to Main Campus with her, she did so mainly for its convenience as a mode of transportation.
“I started [longboarding] a couple of summers ago when I lived at the shore and there were a lot of other kids that had them, and I just bought one to fit in,” said Albanese, a sophomore jewelry major. “And I brought it to campus because it’s just a lot easier to get to class with it.”
Albanese isn’t alone in using her longboard to travel to Main Campus. To Cameron Snyder-Mitchell, a sophomore visual anthropology major, it’s easier to get from Point A to Point B without wasting time to park a bike and lock it up.
“It’s so fast going around campus,” Snyder-Mitchell said. “You don’t get the same maneuverability with a bike that you do from a longboard because with a bike, you always see people having to get off and walk it, especially if there are other people in the way. On a longboard you just hop off and on.”
While their main mode of transportation may be convenient, as longboarders, Albanese and Snyder-Mitchell are also part of a growing trend across college campuses.
“I don’t want to call it a trend, but it is a trend,” said Alessandro Pruscino, a civil engineering major in his third year at Drexel University. Pruscino also designs and constructs longboards for sale under the name Dro Pru Longboards.
After he saw his roommate’s board in 2009, Pruscino asked if he could borrow it to visit a friend. Pruscino, who said he didn’t start noticing other longboarders until he started riding one himself, has been longboarding ever since.
But while many longboarders appreciate the convenience of cruising around the city, others don’t enjoy it as much in Philadelphia.
Andrew Becker said he “would love to just cruise around,” but here in Philadelphia, he thinks of longboarding as a “nuisance.”
“I call it urban longboarding here because you’re dodging cars and people,” Becker, a freshman business major, said. “A lot of times you have to constantly jump off your board because you can’t slow down.”
Originally dubbed “sidewalk surfers” in the 1950s, longboarders constructed longer, wider skateboards to use as a training tool between surf sessions, according by Michael Brooke’s book, “Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding.”
Compared to a 28- to 32-inch skateboard, longboards measure anywhere between 35 and 60 inches. Given the extra length and width of the board, riders have replicated the same carving motion as surfers and snowboarders. These two elements also add weight to the board, allowing the rider to easily carve and turn and offering more control when skating downhill.
The first generation of longboards was fitted with clay wheels, which were less expensive to manufacture, and according to Brooke, there wasn’t much research or development in the construction of longboards at the time. While the wheels remained cheaper to produce, they caused many accidents and gave longboarding a bad public image.
After the wheels changed from clay to urethane, a material that provides a more stable and gripped ride, longboarding became popular again in the ‘70s on the West Coast. Skaters began to use the boards to “bomb” – reaching the bottom of a hill as fast as possible – the steep California coastline, gaining speeds as fast as 50 mph.
Around this time, the infamous Z-Boys, a group of skaters from South Santa Monica, Calif., and Venice, Calif., became a phenomenon. The group created a skating subculture by breaking into backyards and skating drained swimming pools. The media attention they attracted lifted the sport to national recognition and led to the creation of skate teams, competitions and sponsorships.
At this time, skaters started to experiment with downhill racing, freestyle skating and slalom – curving between objects.
Tony Alva, one of the original Z-Boys and a pioneer of skating as a sport, took skateboarding to a new level through his tricks, and the sport became more dangerous.
“Skate-park insurance became an issue due to the problem of liabilities. In fact, skate-park insurance was so expensive for most owners that they closed their doors and the bulldozers were brought in,” Brooke wrote in his book.
U.S. cities started to ban skating due to concerns about the safety of the public and skaters.
Steve Miller, owner of Exit Skateshop of Philadelphia, said longboarding is a current fad and fair-weather sport.
Miller said his average customer’s attitude toward longboards is that they are “basically the equivalent of a hummer in terms of an unnecessary piece of wood and product.”
“We can’t fully stock them because the kind of person who buys a longboard is the kind of person who throws it in the closet after a couple of months and never steps on it again,” Miller said of people in Philadelphia, adding that the sport “hasn’t caught on” yet in this city.
Representatives from two other shops, Bainbridge Skateboard Shop and Nocturnal Skateshop, said they do not stock longboards but will specially order one for a customer. Although longboards can be difficult to purchase in the city, two groups, Liberty Longboarders and the Philadelphia Longboarding Society, exist to promote the growth of the sport in Philadelphia.
Pruscino is one of six active members of LL. The group has a strong presence online with Facebook and silverfishlongboarding.com, a forum dedicated to the longboarding community.
Pruscino originally became involved with the group through two longboarding events in Philly: the ShoeKill on the Schuylkill, which is organized by LL, and the Broad Street Bomb, which is organized by the PLS. Considered push races through the city, the two events have been held annually since 2009.
Sponsors, separate competing classes, prizes and word-of-mouth have all helped the events grow. This year’s ShoeKill, held in July, grew from 40 people its first year to 60 in its second.
Both events were modeled after New York’s Broadway Bomb, where hundreds of longboarders participate. Having never actually attended one of those races, Pruscino and a gang of passionate riders had to pull their resources together to make these events successful.
“We put a lot of time into organizing that race. We had to figure out where to do the race, how people were going to park and stuff like that,” said Pruscino, adding that although the city isn’t the ideal place for a race, the organizers made it work. “A lot of people organizing, especially a few older people, didn’t like the idea of just skating in the street.”
Pruscino gives a face to longboarders in Philly. Although he enjoys planning events and widening the local longboarding community, he said he knows longboarding will likely remain a passing fad, especially in Philadelphia.
“Philly doesn’t really have a good longboarding scene. It’s not like New York, [which] has a phenomenal longboarding scene because of Bustin Boards Custom Longboards, a major company based in that city,” Prusino said. “For it to grow in Philly, a major longboarding company needs to be headquartered in the area, and then, chances are, it will emanate from there.”
Stephen Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editor’s note: The original version of this article in correctly attributed a quote to Exit Skateshop owner Steve Miller. The quote was to be attributed as a common sentiment of Miller’s customers. The quote has been corrected in the current version of this article.]