When longboarder Jason Murphy rides Signal Hill, he isn’t thinking about anything.
With a helmet pushed down over his dreadlocks, leather gloves on his hands and a longboard beneath his feet, there’s an absence of thought, pushed out of mind by an all-consuming focus.
Standing on an oversized skateboard going 60 kilometres an hour requires a singlemindedness, along with fair-sized cajones.
“On the way down, nothing is going through my head. I’m in a speed tuck and I’m not thinking about anything. I’m kind of focused on not wobbling, on making that S turn, not drifting off the road,” he said, describing the experience while standing on the sidewalk below The Battery, longboard leaning against a nearby handrail.
It’s a weekday evening at the tail end of rush hour downtown, and Murphy, along with longboarders Christopher Bellchambers and Thomas Halfyard, is doing repeated runs down a hill with fresh pavement while The Telegram collects photos.
That is, until the traffic starts to get a little heavy, and everyone agrees to gather on the sidewalk to discuss longboarding before moving on to the next spot.
Longboarding is on the rise in the capital city, the tide of popularity coming a little later to these shores than it has the mainland.
But longboarding isn’t new. In fact, the style of longboarding recalls the earliest days of skateboarding, when California surfers were looking for something to do on flatwater days.
While skateboarding progressed into a variety of styles and a myriad of technical tricks, longboarding remained closer to its surfing roots, replacing waves with hills. And St. John’s has some great hills.
It used to be that Murphy and a few of his friends were the only longboarders in town, but these days, there’s a good chance they don’t know everybody with a longboard. The rise in popularity could be attributed partly to a local skateshop that has begun stocking longboards and accessories.
Since early this spring, Ballistic Skate and Snow on Water Street has sold about 40 longboards, and will likely sell more before the snow flies.
It’s where Murphy got his board a few months ago, a Landyachtz 9two5.
“I was about to order one and Ballistic finally got a bunch in. They got exactly what I wanted,” he said.
His board is designed for downhill riding, with features like a stiffer board that is cut away from the wheels.
The board Thomas Halfyard rides, an old Vision USA, is more like the Sunday cruiser, complete with retro style and a healthy dose of flexibility.
That flex makes turning a breeze, but makes bombing hills a real challenge, said Halfyard.
A few days later, inside Ballistic, sales manager Matt Reid and shop staffer Ethan Murphy explain the different styles of boards stacked in two racks at the back of the store.
They carry sidewalk cruisers, old school replicas, and boards made for going really fast down hills.
Longboards are something new for Ballistic, with store staff noticing a rising interest in the sport, especially after the shop started stocking longboards earlier this year.
“As soon as we brought them in, the scene basically built itself,” said Reid.
The decision was made after talking with other shops around Atlantic Canada, and hearing from people at trade shows across the country.
The new boards are bringing a new type of customer into the store, too.
“We’re finding that women, and especially younger girls, are showing a huge interest in longboarding,” said Reid, attributing the demographic shift — skateboarding is largely a male-dominated sport — to longboarding’s more forgiving nature and calmer learning curve.
While a longboard may look like just a bigger skateboard, the two riding styles, and the lifestyle approach to the two disciplines, is very different, said Reid.
Like other subcultures, longboarding has its own magazines — which are even available at Wal-Mart in Mount Pearl — and videos, which can be found on YouTube.
Furthering the progression of the sport is the Memorial University Board Sports Society, which has a Facebook page and hosts events.
“You can tell there’s a whole subculture starting to form, and it took off very, very quickly,” said Reid.