MARQUETTE - You'll often see them cruising Third Street, coasting on the bike path along the harbor and carving down Front Street.
They're longboarders and chances are you've seen a lot more of them in the last few years.
Though longboarding is similar to skateboarding, don't look for practitioner to grind on rails or flip on ramps. A longboard, as the name suggests, is much longer than than its shoprter skateboard counterparts, measuring from 42 to 60 inches compared with regular boards that are 30 to 38 inches. Used primarily for transportation, longboards have bigger wheels, longer trucks and a larger wheel base.
Brandon Smaby, 19, of Harvey makes his way down the bike path at Lower Harbor in Marquette on his twin-tip longboard recently. (Journal photo by Danielle Lehto)
They can be found in many different styles and shapes. Whichever style choosen is based on personal preference. For example, the pin-tail shape gives a smoother ride and a more "floaty" feel. A twin-tip board has no front or back, allowing you to ride it switch, or both ways. A kick tail board allows you to lean back on the board and lift the nose end up off the ground to help maneuver over curbs. It also aids in stopping.
With the current gas prices, longboarding is another "green" alternative for commuting. It is relatively compact, and unlike a bicycle, can fit into much smaller spaces. Additionally, it works the core muscles and helps with balance, strength and cardio, making it an all round good workout.
Longboarding has become more popular in the last couple years, according to Andy Jones, co-owner of Casualties Skate, Snow and Surf in Marquette
It's one of those sports that has grown organically. One person tries their friend's board and then they want one.
- Andy Jones,
co-owner Casualties Skate, Snow and Surf
"Oh yeah, it's definitely grown," he said. "It's one of those sports that has grown organically. One person tries their friend's board and then they want one."
Typically, the age group of most longboarders is high school and college-aged kids, although Casualties has seen a new demographic buying longboards as well.
"We're getting dads coming in and skating with their kids. Some dads that used to skateboard and want to get back into it," said Jones. "It's more stable and easier to learn than a regular skateboard."
"People with no experience in any extreme sports can pick it up," added business co-owner Matt Jones. "The learning curve is relatively small."
In addition to longboarding as a way to save gas and lessen your carbon footprint, manufacturers are also seking ways to make their product more eco-friendly. Traditionally, wheels have been made of urethane, which is made from petroleum. The newer alternative is biothane wheels, which are made from a soy-based urethane. You can also buy boards made of bamboo, which is a rapidly renewable resource. And bamboo is lighter than traditional boards as well.
Mike Standal, a Northern Michigan University student from downstate Fenton, bought a longboard recently from Casualties.
"I used to skateboard, but I broke too many bones," said Standal. A longboard's length allows you to ride over rocks and twigs and gravel without getting tripped up like you would on a skateboard, he said.
"I'll use it for getting around school," he added.
For those who are new to longboarding, there are a few things to keep in mind to stay safe and minimize injury.
"Stick to the bike path until you get the hang of it," boarder Jeff Larson, "Look for really good pavement and stay away from hills until you feel comfortable with your board."
Wear a helmet, and a proper flat-bottomed skateboard shoe. Practice stopping, and yield to pedestrians.
Danielle Lehto can be reachjed at 906-228-2500, ext. 256. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.