As classes wind down for the day at Belmont, a flurry of activity can be found on any sidewalk. Students walk back to their residences and teachers begin to leave campus. The quad is filled with the usual Frisbee throwers and readers as the bell tower strikes 6 o’clock.
As if on cue, a group of students exits Thrailkill Hall and heads for 15th Avenue, each of them carrying a longboard.
“Once all those parked cars are gone, 15th becomes the perfect place to board,” said Drew Lamb, a sophomore longboarder and part of the group that has been out in force at Belmont this fall.
For the uninitiated, a longboard is a short surfboard on wheels or a long skateboard. If you become an aficionado, you’ll develop an encyclopedic knowledge of wide-set wheels, flipping hangers and toestep, standup slides.
Freshman Jimmy Bucey, entering a new and unfamiliar environment at Belmont, was matched with a roommate who brought two longboards to campus. Bucey’s experience was only with skateboards, but he agreed to try it. After all, there was an extra board.
“Usually longboarding just started out with one or two of us, and more people joined in,” Bucey said. “There’s now a bunch people on my floor who longboard together.”
The craze may seem sudden to those who don’t take part. However, longboard sales have increased nationwide by 37 percent, according to Transworld Business magazine.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Lamb said. “It’s free transportation and it just looks fun. It’s easier than skateboarding, so the popularity is obvious.”
On a standard day, the average longboarder rides to and from classes, in addition to group meet-ups that can last an hour or two in the evening.
“Honestly, the best times to ride are when classes are going on. No one is out walking around to get in the way. Other than that, 15th is awesome because it’s so long. We usually go when it’s dark,” Lamb said.
One weekend, Eric Steltenpohl planned a boarding trip around the streets surrounding Belmont.
One frequent destination is 18th Avenue, popular due to its smooth surface, length and gradual decline. Other locations, like 15th and Bernard avenues, are also popular for longboarders from other communities.
“There’s a group of high schoolers who do Bernard Avenue,” Steltenpohl said. “They’re really good boarders. Bernard probably wouldn’t be fun for us just because it is so steep and not long enough,”
As with any sport, longboarding comes with risks.
Two years ago, Lamb was admitted into the hospital after dislocating his right shoulder and removing much of the skin off his arms.
“One of my wheels wasn’t working right as I was riding down a hill and I hit a bump and it flipped me forward,” he said. “I wasn’t wearing any gear, so I just slid straight down the pavement.”
Now, he said, “I’ve probably dislocated my shoulder about 10 times,” he said.
Protective gear only becomes appealing to those who have taken a fall, according to experienced longboarders like Lamb and Steltenpohl.
Those who aren’t moving through campus on wheels are concerned, too.
“I get so nervous when I hear their wheels on the cement behind me,” junior Anna Matlock said. “All I’m thinking is that they’re going to run into me. I’ve seen more people wipe out on longboards than I have be successful, so it just makes me uncomfortable.”
While boarders do not overlook this concern across campus, it’s something that is a “non-issue,” Lamb said.
“Longboarders get a bad rep just because people have a punk-skateboarder image of us. We do what we do, and we know the risks. With the hills that most of us do, it’s obvious that we can handle some simple maneuvering around people on the sidewalks,” he said.
As the longboarders called it a day after boarding around Belmont’s neighborhoods, it’s noticeable that the activity served as a de-stressor for the rigors of academic life.
Shaking out his hair at the end of the day’s last ride, Lamb nodded to Steltenpohl and others.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, ready to try Bernard?” Steltenpohl asked.