The long and short of longboarding is that it need not be any more dangerous than any other athletic pursuit. But it certainly is faster than a lot of them.
Longboards, like skateboards, were likely first created by surfers bummed out on waveless days in mid-20th century America. Whereas its shorter cousin rose to prominence with youth in the 90s and now every reasonably-sized community has a skate park or two, longboarding has long been a much more niche pursuit.
That is changing.
Longboards have become a preferred method of transportation for masses of youths; many may just use their one-to-1.5 metre long boards to get around town.
Others, like Riley Sibbet, take to the hills inside or outside of Red Deer where they can reach the posted speed limits in a hurry.
“We wait for a good gap in cars and we usually go about the same speed as them,” said Sibbet, 18, of when he and fellow riders head down the hill near Rotary Recreation Park.
Last week, it was a ride down a municipal road in Sylvan Lake that spelled trouble for a group of riders. After hitting some gravel at high speed, two 22 year olds wiped out, with one hitting his head on the pavement. He was not wearing a helmet, and ended up in the intensive care unit at a Calgary hospital.
Sylvan Lake RCMP had no update on the man’s condition over the weekend, which was last listed as stable.
That accident, said Riley Stoiberg at Allrose Skateboards & Snowboards in Red Deer, has spurred a number of boarders to come into the store over the last week to buy helmets.
Sibbet said all the people he rides with wear helmets when boarding, save for perhaps the odd short trip to the store. As it is for motorbikers, this time of year when melting snow leaves gravel and other detritus on roads can be particularly dangerous.
“We just have to be cautious and make sure we look at the hill before we go to it, and if we see gravel to stop,” said Sibbet.
Mom Sandra, who has come to love watching the sport, said she realizes it can be a dangerous pursuit, but so can anything.
“You still want them to have fun and push the edge a little bit,” she said.
Calum Anderson with the Allrose skate shop said more and more, parents are coming in to get longboards for their kids. Whereas doing tricks on a skateboard is more technically challenging, with longboarding a person can just push around and work one’s way up to hills. A few years ago, the store sold a dozen boards; this year it is ordering in 10 times that many.
“It’s like having a bicycle for kids now,” said Anderson.
Riding on city roads is illegal in hilly West Vancouver, but most municipalities do not have formal regulations for longboard use. In Red Deer, most sidewalks can be used by boarders, but in some areas they would have to ride on the street.
Sibbet will travel to races in B.C. this summer, where speed is the name of the game. There is an international circuit for riders with races on different continents, with Sibbet hoping his talents will one day earn him some stamps in his passport.