Montana State University

Forget bicycles, some MSU students prefer longboards

October 16, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

James Binkley rides a longboard past Montana Hall at Montana State University. The business major rides all over campus, but later in the school year, he will travel around the West to ski on the IFSA Freeskiing World Tour. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- James Binkley skis all over the West, but he wouldn't even need to leave Montana State University to hit the slopes.

The sophomore from Alaska is one of at least 30 students who ride longboards down the hills of MSU and across campus to reach their classes. More convenient than bicycles and faster than walking, longboards are distinctly longer than skateboards. Students say they're used more for transportation than tricks.

Binkley rode a 46-inch longboard down the street on a recent fall day. Reed O'Brien rode a 48-inch "Never Summer." Travis Schademan rode a 40-inch Carvestik and had a 45-inch board at home. Nick Hensley rode a 34-inch "Loaded Vanguard" but said a former roommate had a board more than eight feet long.

"It was pretty crazy," Hensley said.

Longboards, unlike bicycles, don't need to be parked or chained. They're small enough to carry into buildings and stow during class. Besides that, they're fun, the longboarders said. Like snowboards on wheels, they give some longboarders a chance to carve during the off-season. Longboards can coast over sidewalks or fly down a hill.

"Campus is really fun to ride around with all the hills,"said Hensley, a civil engineering major from Anaconda.

Mike Dvorak, a sophomore in business from Minnesota, said, "I definitely like the speed aspect of it."

MSU Police Chief Robert Putzke said MSU doesn't allow riding boards on handrails, tables or other surfaces, but "Longboarders don't typically do that. They are typically using them to get from one point to another."

Binkley, after briefly chasing his runaway "Sector 9" down W. Koch Street, said he rides his longboard two or three times a day to and from class. He also rides it all over Bozeman and sometimes joins other longboarders on paved roads around the county. A typical road run might involve five or six guys piling into a vehicle, driving to the top of a long hill, riding a longboard down and driving back to the top. One run takes them three miles down Sypes Canyon Road. Others take them through the Triple Tree and Painted Hills subdivisions.

"It's nice. It gets me ready for the ski season," Binkley said.

Longboards, he added, are easier to ride long distances than skateboards. Costing anywhere from $100 to $500, they are more stable than skateboards and have larger wheels so they can go over bigger bumps.

Hensley said he drives to campus, then switches to his longboard. MSU hills, like those at Bridger Bowl and Big Sky, have names, he said. "Kamikaze," for example, runs between Leon Johnson Hall and Linfield Hall. "The Mall" refers to Centennial Mall. Hensley had just ridden from Montana Hall to the Johnstone Center, but didn't have a name for that hill.

"This is one of the hardest because you are going fast," he said.

Longboarders sometimes carry their boards across campus, but it's common to hear them clicking and clacking over sidewalks. Speeds vary, as do rates of success.

"I have bailed a few times, but never fallen," Hensley said.

Eric Davis and O'Brien, both freshmen from Colorado, said they have been injured ("Ohhh, yeah.") and believe in protecting themselves, especially when they're "skitching" off campus. Skitching, or skate-hitching, means they hang onto a moving car while longboarding.

O'Brien, a civil engineering major, and Davis, a film major, wore caps while riding between Safeway and campus, but O'Brien said high speeds call for a helmet. He has reached 60 mph behind a car, and it's accompanied by unwelcome wheel wobble, he said. Davis added that long sleeves are good and skate shoes are important. O'Brien said he likes shoes with thick soles so he can drag a foot to stop.

"That's the best way to stop I would say," he said, admitting that, "There are other unconventional methods."

Dr. Robert Flaherty in the Acute Care Clinic at MSU's Student Health Service has probably seen most of those alternative forms. Longboarders come to him with injured wrists and hands, sometimes with damaged knees and ankles and occasionally injured heads, he said.

"During the summer, we definitely see several each week," Flaherty said. "In the fall, it cuts back a little, maybe to a couple a week, but it's not uncommon at all."

Longboarding, nevertheless, has grown increasingly popular at MSU.

Flaherty, based on the number of injuries he has seen, said he wouldn't be surprised if MSU had hundreds of longboarders. Dvorak gave a more modest estimate, but said the numbers are definitely growing. He attributes that in part, to longboarding videos on YouTube. Longboarding at MSU has gotten to the point, he said, where he doesn't know the last names of his fellow riders any more.

"The first year, it was me and four other guys," he said. "Now, there are about 30 of us. It's blown up."

Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service