Longboarding: commuting with purpose and buzz
James Peters had no reason to believe that the beginning of this particular April workweek three years ago would be different from any other...
Special to The Seattle Times
Stay safeIn his commute, James Peters sticks to paved trails and sidewalks whenever possible. The recent death of a University of Washington student in a collision with a bus underscores the hazards of skateboarding among traffic. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
• Always wear a skateboard helmet and slide gloves. Slide gloves are heavy leather gloves, with a hard plastic "puck" in the palm to protect the hands during stops and falls. They are available in skateboard shops for $25 to $50.
• Learn how to stop, and practice over and over and over. A flat, empty parking lot is an excellent place to learn. After you're comfortable pushing around at low speed, you're ready to proceed to foot braking.
"Transfer all your weight to your front foot while slowly placing your rear foot on the ground," advises Shane Donogh, who manages www.northwestlongboarding.com, an online gathering spot for longboarders. "Slowly apply pressure to slow you down."
Donogh demonstrates by putting down his foot, applying pressure to the blacktop with the sole of his shoe, kind of like a brake pad applying pressure to a bicycle rim. And though he no doubt loses some shoe tread in the process, he stops in about the same distance as would a bicycle at the same speed.
"The first thing new longboarders need to learn is how to stop," Donogh said. "Practice at 5, 10, 15 miles per hour, until you've got it down. Learning how to stop is really the most important thing."
• Always yield to pedestrians, and warn with your voice when passing.
If you go
Seattle Push Race is a 7.4-mile longboard race from Mercer Island's Park on the Lid, 72nd Avenue Southeast and Southeast 22nd Street, to Beacon Hill and back via the Interstate 90 floating bridge. Race starts at 9 a.m., registration at 8:15 a.m. The event is free. Helmets required. More information: www.northwestlongboarding.com.
Ultraskate IV: Starting at 8 a.m. June 14, James Peters and Sheldon Lessard, as well as several riders in England, will participate in a 24-hour fundraising skate for Livestrong and Lowe Syndrome. Peters, Lessard and local riders who will likely join them for part of the skate will ride the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish trails twice, followed by continuous laps around Green Lake until the 24 hours are up. For more information, or to contribute, see www.livestrong.org/grassroots/pavedwave.
To learn more about James Peters' many long-distance pumping adventures including his past fundraising events — as well as a nice tutorial on learning how to dial in long-distance pumping — see his Web site: www.pavedwave.org.
To find out more about regional longboard events, hot spots to ride, cool photos and videos, forums and more, see www.northwestlongboarding.com.
James Peters had no reason to believe that the beginning of this particular April workweek three years ago would be different from any other.
It was a sunny Monday morning, so he did what he always did: grabbed his longboard — a longer-than-average skateboard designed for distances — and headed out onto the Burke-Gilman Trail for his thrice-weekly 12.5-mile rolling commute to his job as a software engineer.What he soon realized, however, was that the Traffic Light Gods were smiling down on him. He sported a huge, toothy, goofy grin. For after that initial push to get going, Peters completed his mostly flat, definitely not downhill, commute without once having to put his foot down to push again.
He got all the traffic lights green, and nothing — not the slugs and pine cones on the pavement, not the lunging dogs on leashes, not the expansion joints on the Fremont Bridge — could keep him from completing that one-push ride all the way from his home in Lake Forest Park to his office at the south end of Lake Union.
For him it was a first, and an affirmation of his nontraditional but increasingly popular mode of commuting.
"It was totally unexpected and euphoric," says the 40-year-old. "The kind of ride that leaves you buzzing — a morning shot of endorphins instead of caffeine."
Peters had long been into skateboarding and longboarding and in 2000, started commuting to work three times each week via urethane wheels. (The other two days he rides the bus.)
He's intent on making things work for his single-car family — he and his wife have an 11-year-old daughter — and isn't interested in paying to insure and maintain a second car that most of the time would sit idle in the garage. Certainly the price of gas edging toward $4 per gallon factors into it as well. So Peters longboards to work or wherever he needs to go.
"I chose longboarding, too, because it's far more satisfying to glide along low to the ground quietly, without the complications of gears and tires that need repairs," he says.
Along with experiencing that killer one-push commute, Peters has met a lot of new people while boarding to work, something he wouldn't have been able to do were he commuting by car.
"The best thing is the bikers that ride by and pass on good vibes, either with a thumbs up or by riding alongside and chatting," Peters says. "There's more of a camaraderie, too, on the rainy days because we're all kind of pushing together through the nasty weather."
Seattle's Sheldon Lessard, 21, echoes Peters. He also commutes to work via longboard — his current commute is about a mile, on Capitol Hill, though in the past he's boarded five miles each way to work.
"Living in the city, you just don't really need a car so why make your life cost more than it needs to? It just ties up your freedom," Lessard says. "My board takes me everywhere."
And while Peters' and Lessard's green commutes contribute not at all to global warming or expanding their carbon feet size, it's not like it comes without a certain amount of sweat equity.
They're both practitioners of LDP, or long-distance pumping. That is, creating the energy to move forward on flat — or even uphill — surfaces by swaying, or pumping, their lower bodies back and forth.
Like most longboards — aptly named because they're about a foot to 2 ½ feet longer than a typical skateboard — LDP boards have big urethane wheels that provide a smooth ride.
But unlike most longboards, LDP boards are composed of a thin, springy carbon-fiberglass mix that transfers that pumping action into forward motion. (One of the leading makers of such boards is Seattle's RoeRacing, www.roeslalom.com, with whom Peters has played a role on the design team.) It takes a fair amount of physical effort.
"I've found I have more in common with the typical ultramarathoner or triathlete than the average skater," Peters says.
Peters is so efficient at transferring energy through pumping that his 25-mile commute pales when compared to some of his ultradistance rides.
Along with completing the last two STPs (the 200-mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic), he's the world record-holder for the longest skateboard ride in 24 hours, 208.1 miles, accomplished just last weekend by riding the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River trails twice, and finishing up with multiple laps around Seattle's Green Lake. The ride was a fundraiser for Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation that provides support for people affected by cancer.
Lessard joined the fundraiser, skating 50 miles before being felled by injury. Eric Lowell, a friend from Houston, skated 166 miles, and various friends and curious folks skated 10 to 50 miles.
Peters broke his own previous record (195 miles), accomplished last October during another fundraiser.
"Locking into a rhythm is essential for the really long rides, where it becomes almost meditative," Peters says.
Lessard, too, has gone beyond just commuting. Earlier this year, he longboarded more than 1,200 miles, the length of New Zealand's North and South islands.
"There were days I wanted to be nowhere else, and days when I thought, 'I never want to step back on a skateboard again!' "
Next month, Peters, Lessard and others plan to repeat the 24-hour fundraising ride — this time accompanied (kind of) by five riders who'll be doing the same thing in England. The British riders are raising money for Lowe syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes physical and mental handicaps.
Going downhill fast
Of course, not all longboarding is about going long and mostly flat. It's also about going downhill. Fast. At Interlaken Park on Seattle's Capitol Hill a few weeks ago, Peters and some friends spent a sunny late afternoon hitching a ride on gravity's back down Interlaken Drive through Interlaken Park. Joining him were Kirkland's Shane Donogh, Issaquah's Dennis Monougian and Bremerton's Jeremy Geier.
As joggers and cyclists huffed and puffed their way up the steep grade, Peters and friends cruised downhill at 30-plus mph. Bent at the waist, they leaned into their turns, one hand down for balance, looking like surfers Photoshopped in 3-D against the park's backdrop of blacktop and lush greenery.
"This is probably one of the best hills in Seattle for longboarding," said Donogh, 24, who also manages www.northwestlongboarding.com, an online gathering spot for longboarders.
Donogh also organized this Saturday's first-ever Seattle Push Race, a 7.4-mile longboard race from Mercer Island's Park on the Lid to Beacon Hill and back via the Interstate 90 bridge across Lake Washington.
"It's a way to promote longboarding and skateboarding as a viable way of alternative transportation," he says.
Like most outdoor pursuits, longboarding can be broken down into multiple disciplines. Along with LDP and downhill riding (like at Interlaken Park), there's sliding (pitching the board sideways at speed so that the wheels skid across the asphalt), slalom riding (zigzagging through cones), buttboarding (as the name suggests: riding down big hills while laying on the board on one's back and butt), and several others.
And lots of riders do lots of different types of riding.
Says Monougian: "I fit into every category. If I'm riding I'm smiling. It's all fun, regardless."
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer and author of "Day Hike! Central Cascades" and "Day Hike! North Cascades" (Sasquatch Books).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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