Plywood and roller skates

Lately, you may have noticed quite a bit of attention being paid to something called ‘longboards.’ In my day, longboards, by definition, consisted of any piece of plywood or maybe a two-by-four that was over, say, four feet (108 cm) in length. Nowadays a longboard is basically a mini surfboard on wheels.

Lately, you may have noticed quite a bit of attention being paid to something called ‘longboards.’ In my day, longboards, by definition, consisted of any piece of plywood or maybe a two-by-four that was over, say, four feet (108 cm) in length. Nowadays a longboard is basically a mini surfboard on wheels.

I’m pretty sure everybody knows about, has tried or wished they hadn’t tried wheel-surfing on a regular skateboard. And if you know what a skateboard is, you know what a longboard is. Not to put a too fine a point on it, a longboard is a long skateboard. A skateboard on steroids.

So how long is a longboard, you may ask? Oh, “about this long” a smart alec kid at the skateboard park will answer, holding his hands out to his sides, palms inward indicating something really really long, and off he will go, laughing away, zooming down a polished, graffiti-covered cement incline, trying a kick flip rock fakie and a backside grind, which usually ends with him grinding his own backside on the cement, which is not really the aim of the trick. Only to jump up and do it again. Landing on his knees this time, or his hands, or elbows or noggin.

Let’s just say many of these skate park kids look like they just spent the afternoon body surfing down a long and steep gravel road.

The less-cool but much-smarter skaters wear geeky gear like helmets and knee pads, and hand protection and generally don’t limp home after a session at the skate park dripping blood on their untied running shoes.

It’s because they know the value of good personal protective equipment or PPE as the workplace safety people call it, although I suspect not one of these skater-kidz would be caught dead calling their skater stuff “PPE” out loud.

The answer posed way back a couple of paragraphs ago, is, however, this: longboards are around four to five feet (1200 decibels) in length, enough for seven or eight riders to pile on one board all at once and take off down a hill. Just kidding of course, no cool skater-kid would share his or her really dope and gnarly board, dad. It’s like, “Get your own ride, bro!”

And that’s pretty much what we did back in my day when automobiles were powered by coal, and people (my sister and her friends) strapped four wheels to their shoes and called them “roller skates.” These wheels were configured like your standard automobile, wagon or go-cart wheels: two in the front side by each, and two in the back, ditto. This was a long time before any of us had even heard of in-line roller blades, which are basically hockey skates with wheels in single file where the blades used to be.

And get this: the roller skates of yore had wheels made of solid cement! Or, well, rock or granite or some kind of stone all polished and smooth — at least my sister’s did — and I think I even remember some with hollow shiny metal wheels and even wooden wheels. Not the “thane” which skater-dudes are so stoked about these days. (According to “thane” is skateboard talk for polyurethane, which is what board wheels are made of these days. As in: “Yo, dude — you see all that thane that guy’s heelslide laid down?!”)

Oh there were skateboards around, all right — I’m not that ancient — cavemen rode them past our cave all the time, but my buddies and I, having spent all our summer allowance on bikes and baseball mitts, decided to make our own skateboards. Which, of course, meant ‘borrowing’ my sister’s strap-on roller-skate wheels for a while. Without actually asking her, on account of I noticed she wasn’t using them much anymore anyway.

So my pal Ricky Scott and I hunkered down over at my place in the dingy cement basement by the humongous grimy old steel furnace and sawed away at some scrap pieces of plywood we found until — Voila! — we each had a feet-sized rectangle of scrap plywood! After we pried the wheels and the axel thingies off of my sister’s roller skates (Rick got the left skate, I got the right one), we found some screws and nails and with a great deal of grunting, pounding and sweating with various tools we had no clue how to use, we more or less attached the stone wheels to our plywood rectangles.

And for the piece de resistance, we rooted around down there until we found some cans of goopy paint and finished off our custom skateboard masterpieces with a classy coat of colour. Mine was flat black — and Rick’s was also flat black, since that’s the only paint we found.

So the next day, when the custom paint job had all dried, all excited, we haul them out, and I ceremoniously place mine on the sidewalk, step onto the skateboard, give a mighty kick with the free leg and I zoom forward like a rocket for at least three feet (12 mm) before the stone-wheeled skateboard stops dead, and I do not.

Apparently, my sister’s skates didn’t have the glide factor of the modern wheels made of “thane,” but of course I never asked her about it on account of I was planning to tell her all about the borrowed skates sometime several decades into the future. Obviously, I should have worn my hockey helmet, pads and gloves (since PPE hadn’t been invented yet). Instantly, I became the poster boy for the term “road rash.”

Rick’s left skate wheels weren’t much better so before any we could self-inflict any further damage to life and limb, we went back into the house and dug out a little flat tin can of Mom’s Singer sewing machine oil (this was before WD40 had been invented).

A couple of little squirts into the general direction of the wheels and we little squirts were ready to rock and roll. And that’s when we took our gnarly homemade shortboards to the very top of the long and winding Spruce Drive hill sidewalk.

But that’s another story.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

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