Dorky middle class girl learns to cruise a longboard, gains zero street cred

September 6 |
This is me and my Cloris. That effing helmet just screams NERD ALERT.
I am a master anthropomorphizer. I fall in love with objects, and if they don't strike me just right, I'll never have a good connection. Case in point: my bike.

I have an adorable bike. It's just my size and cute and red and easy to ride. It's a Schwinn. I heart! Except…I've never felt the connection with my bike that I felt with, say, my '51 Chevy pickup, affectionately named The Deathtrap since, you know, the gas tank is right behind the bench seat without any sort of guard. Or our 2001 Honda scooter, Cyndi Lauper. Or even our car, Bessie. Maybe it's because I never named the bike, now that I think about it.

It's essential that I have alternate transport: we're a one-car family so sometimes I have to get myself places unmotorized. We also live on a bus route and it's only a very-walkable mile to the heart of downtown, but those two options don't always work with my schedule. At least, that's what I told myself when I decided to buy a longboard.

They just look so cool. They're like moving conveyor belts of suave. I saw guys cruising the flat streets of Des Moines' downtown for two years and I thought, That is the life for me.

And so one weekend this May, I went to our local skate shop and told the man behind the counter, "I want to buy a longboard. I have never ridden a skateboard. Can you give me a 10 minute lesson?"

And the very friendly store owner did. I spent a few minutes picking out a board that felt good. In retrospect, my board is probably a bit long for my height, but I liked the feel of it otherwise. When I'd selected my board, homeboy had me pretend I was walking up a flight of stairs to determine my footedness. (I'm a regular.) He instructed me to lead with my hips. He also gave me an important piece of advice: if I'm going to crash, try to drop to my knees.

And that was it.

Armed with a new board, a helmet, and completely dorky knee pads, I was on my way. I tried to spend the evening learning how to skateboard from adorable teenagers on YouTube, but they weren't terribly helpful.

So I just took it slow. I went out a few times a week, committed to traveling by longboard when possible, and I've gotten better all summer. I can't slide, and I can't bomb big hills, but I no longer jump off and walk down the small moguls in our neighborhood! I've joined the Facebook group of our local longboarders, and I've even named my board: Cloris Leachman.

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This kid was enamored with my board.
I feel, at equal turns, completely fucking cool and totally lame. I will never, ever ride without a helmet, and the look of it deducts at least 10 Cool Points. When I get scared and hop off my board I make a little squealie noise, so that's another few points. But still, I love this board.

And other people love it, too. This kid on the right? He was waiting in line to ride a pony and abandoned his spot to ask me question after question about my board and to tell me how much he wanted one. These kids below, with the turtle? They yelled at me from across the street, "HEY LADY. LADY! WHAT IS THAT. WHAT. CAN WE SEE IT." Even riding the street downtown, people actually reply when I say, "Good morning!" instead of continuing on in their escaped-from-the-cube-farm-for-a-few-minutes trance.

These kids and I made a trade: I showed them my board, and they showed me their turtle.

Maybe humans are primed to have a propensity to bond with transportation — or maybe I'm just like this because my first transportation that was mine was a horse. A good horse feels like a partner — my horse was a dick, but I felt safe with her. We explored the countryside of Nebraska in the late, late, late night hours, and sometimes hit the streets of my hometown when no one was awake.

And — talented anthropomorphizer that I am — this is the feeling I get with Cloris. I feel like we get each other. Longboards are chill rides — they aren't built for tricks and you don't have to speedboard with them or carve down major hills. Plenty of longboarders are just in it for the cruising. So this is my ode — and my voucher — to longboards for anyone looking for alternative transportation. They're no harder to learn than a bike, I haven't crashed in three months, and I started learning at age 27. Your excuses? They're gone.

Anyone else got an alternative-alternative transport? Outside of bikes and buses, what do you get around on?

  1. Ahh! I looove my longboard! I used to skate to work in my supermarket uniform when I lived by the coast. I used to get many weird looks off the holiday makers. :) Its the one thing I really miss now we live in the country there really is no where to skate to round here. :( On the hunt for a new Schwinn cruiser at the moment as I had my old one stolen. I properly loved that bike to. I just have to have something with wheels an no engine that can get me places.

    The only time I ever really hurt myself was coming back from the pub when my leg just didn't meet with the road to push so my knee hit the floor instead. Longboarding drunk maybe not the best idea.

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  2. I get around on a pair of roller skates (quads) with outdoor wheels :) Because I play roller derby I dont feel comfortable without at least my helmet and knee pads, so fellow dork here. Except there is this EMT who insists I'm the coolest person he knows for rocking the helmet;)

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    • A helmet saved my brother's life, so I say keep rockin' the helmet chic! :D

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    • i play derby too! what kind of wheels do you use? i'd like to start skating outside more to build up my endurance but since i skate on a banked track all of my wheels are pretty hard and would get chewed up outside.

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    • I'm retired from houston's league. I still skate on my quads but I don't think they'll let me in the grocery store or I would skate down there. You have inspired me to give the long board another shot tho. my husbend bought onelast year and after 2 squeels and jump offs I gave up, sure would be a lot easier than taking quads on and off.

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  3. I love my Jeep Wrangler.. she gets me, even though she remains nameless. I haven't found that perfect name yet.

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    • I feel the same way about my Subaru Outback, Kimmi. I feel incurably guilty if she gets dirty and I nearly punched my little brother in the face when he scraped her with his car, Hazel (I forced all my family members to name there car and/or motorcycles).

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  4. I adore you for this. I'm in a skateboarding house, part of a skateboarding community, and I don't skate. At least not yet. I'm still on the heavy side and don't trust a piece of board to hold me and feel comfortable while doing so, but I'm working on it. Because I used to ride when I was younger. And I miss it. So major kudos to you. Keep rockin' it like you do!

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  5. I tried skateboarding once in high school and gave up pretty quickly. I went rollerblading once in junior high, completely wiped out on a massive hill, and never touched them again. Luckily, I didn't give up on my bike as a kid.

    HOWEVER, I have to say that while it's not alternative transportation, I feel the same way about my snowboard as you do about your longboard. I picked up snowboarding after college and fell in LOVE. I'm not nearly as good as other people on the mountain, but I adore my board and just cruise slowly down the mountain like a big geek.

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  6. I have a standard bike (a longboard sounds so rad!), but its name *still* cracks me up. It took me months and hundreds of miles to name it, but finally I chose Voldemort, or The Bike That Shall Not Be Named. My husband fears I am jinxing myself.

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  7. I have wanted a longboard for so long (ha!). I finally decided that I'm going to buy one this year to start learning next spring (I figure I can find a sweet winter sale or something). Thanks for the inspiration!

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  8. I'm so excited to get my bicycle; my boss picks up falling apart bikes from the dump and refurbishes them to awesomeness glory. Hopefully I should get Marchie in time for the (Southern) summer. She's going to be painted orange and have a bell.

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  9. All my bikes have been named, all as variants of Elizabeth. My current and longtime favorite is Betty. My mixte is Libby. I have a showy roadie named Liza. And a bike I ended up hating and no longer have named Liz the Lemon.

    The longboard looks pretty awesome but I'm very attached to my bikes to the point where I can't imagine not cycling. I do it every day, with only a couple of days off per year when we have a snowpocalypse or something.

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  10. I'm with Liza as a Derby girl on the quad skates. It is occasional rather than daily, so I'm still a bit unsure on hills, but I live in a pretty flat city with miles and miles of cycle paths. (Cycle is my day-to-day in city transport) I tend to go for just knees and wrists when I go out, as the lid seems like overkill to me.

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  11. if I didn't live with so many hills I would totally want to try a longboard (you go lady!). But for now I have my lovely bike-friend, Kilroy

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  12. I wanna longboard now. Kinda feel like a Cat fangirl now… weird, but not stalker-y, as making it to Iowa is more money than I have. Anyway, yeah, I wanna longboard.

    Oh and I name my stuff too! All the teeth in my fossilized shark tooth collection have names and my daily wear shoes are Ren and Stimpy!

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  13. ooh! cool. i used to get everywhere by either bike or rollerblades way back in high school. i lived in utter flatland, so i took the brake off my blades, which made them fit in my backpack once i arrived at my destination. then i lost said brake and moved to a very hilly location, which has been a mediocre combination.

    i really want a scooter, though – both motorized and non. it would be the *perfect* sort of dorky.

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  14. I am so glad I'm not the only one who refuses to ride without a helmet. Years ago, I bought I bike while I lived in Athens, GA. I would feel soooo lame because hardly anyone wore helmets and I definitely wouldn't ride without mine. Even my mother made jokes about it!
    Rock on! And continue wearing the helmet! Plus, it looks cute on YOU! Haha :-)

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  15. I love my bike Shadowfax, but I also want to get a vespa type scooter. I'm terrified of driving cars because they're sodding enormous, so I feel like a scooter would be a good idea. Any scooter peeps out there?

    Also, yay for helmets! I swear I am the only person on camps who wears a helmet, but I have crashed too many times to be ok without one. I like.my brains in my head, thanks.

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  16. I'm currently rocking a push scooter since my ancient car was stolen. It's the dorkiest possible conveyance for the mean streets of Oakland (and SF), especially because I, too, refuse to go out without a helmet! To mitigate the dorkitude somewhat, I got the kind of helmet that is colorful and says "I love my brain" on the back. People compliment me on the helmet way more often than the scooter!

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  17. I think we need a video tutorial Cat.
    Video! video! video! video! everyone is chanting it with me : ) I promise.

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  18. get fined here if you don't wear a helmet.

    My hubby's a skater (amongst everything else) and was trying to teach me to skate on a short board a while ago… no go… but a long board sounds good, I've just convinced him to get me one.

    If Cat Can Do It, I Can Do It!

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  19. unicycling FTW! Seriously, it's awesome. I go slow enough that I don't need a helmet, it's super easy to avoid big crowds (everyone moves away when they see a unicycle coming towards them) and having people staring/screaming "you go, girl" makes my day unbelievably better.

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  20. Even though I can pretty much only do it when we get a snowpocalypse, I really, REALLY love snowshoeing. Even though my legs hurt like hell after the first tromp of the year because seriously, you have got to lift your knees with those things!

    Also, the boy has a black '97 Jeep Wrangler which is named Gene. His first one ('97, red) was/is named Eugene. Jeep heads will get the reference. We like to go cruising with the windows off, even though the fenders are rusting out and the front seats are torn to bits (as, at this point, are the seat covers).

    Do you use your longboard on the road, or the sidewalk? We do not have sidewalks where I live. :(

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  21. I, too, am a Namer of Things. Case in point? Longboard's name is Inki (took me three years, but I did eventually wipe out on her- freaked my husband the hell out, but I was fine. Definitely aware of my status as a 29-year-old-with-creaky-joints, but fine) My other longboard (8'6" surfboard/aka my True Love) is named Ruli. My bicycle (which I ride to work and totally feel you on the whole helmet-is-dragging-down-my-cool-points-but-oh-well-I-love-my-brain thing) is called Zuri. And our car? She is called The Blueberry (thank you, Psych). I don't know that I could trust life and limb to anything I didn't know well enough to know the name of…

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  22. I'm a big chicken but I had my first longboarding lesson this past spring from my hubby. He's been longboarding for years so he adjusted one of his boards for me. There was much squealing and some latching on but I'm hoping next summer to work at doing it a bit more. I didn't go more than like 10 meters and slower than walking pace, so I didn't worry about the helmet. Yet. But I didn't want to injure myself before our wedding.
    I tried rollerblading a few years ago and I totally rocked the helmet and pads. I didn't get too far with learning though since, as I said, big chicken. Plus I didn't have anyone to help support me and that helps me a lot.
    Bikes are not for me. Then again, in my city, a bike is not the best choice since the weather sucks and the drivers suck more.
    Mostly I stick to my car (Eleanor Rigby, the beetle) or my feet. After 3.5 years in a big city where walking was normal, I try to remember that I can walk and it doesn't take me that much longer than my car, especially if it's just a few blocks to the grocery store.

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  23. I love my longboard! It hasn't got a name yet, but I think it will once I've arted it up. (My friend, its previous owner, accidentally melted the graphic off the bottom with rubbing alcohol, so now I get to paint it and make it my own.) So far, it's just called Apex, as it's an Apex 34.

    However, my Suzuki Sidekick is named The Bean (or, if I'm feeling steampunky, the HMS Green Bean), and our Dodge Dynasty is The White Whale.

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  24. Sounds like your on the right path to being a pro longboarding chick! Here's a little secret…pretty much all longboarders are dorky ;) so you have nothing to worry about! Anyway, great post, keep shredding!

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