When I was asked to write about longboarding my first reaction was "I'm not qualified to write about longboarding!" But then I stopped and thought, "Wait a minute I do longboard! I don't race, I don't hang out in the inner circles of competitors and sponsors - but I longboard and I love it."
I started longboarding while an undergrad at Aberdeen University in Scotland. I'd skate mostly at night in empty car parks or along the beach front with the guys I surfed with. At the time I was one of the only girls with a board, though seeing anyone with a longboard was still pretty rare. Now, ten years on and living in Vancouver -- described by some as a longboarding mecca -- it is not uncommon to see all sorts of people on longboards: kids, men and women.
The longboarding community is diverse, it is not just young skater dudes as many would imagine. Take me as an example: I am a marine mammal scientist working on my PhD in my early 30s. In fact the guys I skate with are all thirty-something too. I don't get to skate as much as I'd like. I blame grad school but my work also takes me to many unskateable places -- usually boats at sea or the Arctic. But when I do get out on my board it always proves to be a good time. There is nothing shabby about a 20 km skate mission though the Seymour Demo forest, a beautiful second growth temperate rain forest (yes I realize we are a bit spoilt here in Vancouver!).
Over the last three-four years I have watched the popularity of longboarding with girls explode. You just need to follow the Longboard Girls Crews on Facebook to realize that there are now longboard girls groups sprouting up all over the world. They race and freeride; their tricks flow so beautifully, they could be dancing down the street -- and they love it. I think there is something inherently elegant about the way that girls ride. I admit I envy these girls a tiny bit, I would love to skate with more confidence and finesse but I break easier now and I know my limits! But, just like longboarding girls all over the world I know that I love being on my board. It is an unconventional freedom, an escape from the slog of grad school and everyday life.
During my time in grad school I have also noticed the growing popularity of longboards around campus. Sadly, I rarely see anyone wearing a helmet and if I do it's school kids venturing up for a skate session. True when I started skating I didn't even think to wear a helmet. Now I can't skate without one and I can't imagine how I ever did. I think it's ironic that the youngsters are smarter than the students! Though this is not always the case. Just on Sunday I heard on the news of yet another incident involving a collision between a longboarder and a car. In this case the kid was only 12 and he failed to stop at an intersection.
Longboard companies such as Vancouver's Landyachtz and Rayne Longboards are advocates of helmets and other safety gear, and the same goes for many in the longboard community. There are regular safety meetings where members of the community can come together to discuss how to improve both the safety of the sport and the general public's attitude to the sport. There are even skate camps were kids can go to learn both how to skate and how to stop safely. We are a diverse lot but unfortunately it is easy for the general public to sterotype us based on the actions of a few.
Accidents are likely to happen, as in any sport, but we can try to limit their severity by being smart and not reckless. Even as a recreational longboarder I know I have a responsibility to the sport to ensure its longevity, and part of this is to encourage the use of helmets. It is cool to sport a helmet, gloves and pads. It is not cool to skate bare. Helmets are not called brain buckets for nothing! So my message to anyone getting out on a longboard is love it, but love your brain too: Wear a helmet!!