Fall reflections on longboarding, health insurance and parental subsidies
Fall is the best time for longboarding through Vail.
The cooler temperatures prevent you from sweating through all that padding you should be wearing, and the leaves are right there in your face and on the ground in front of you to see, smell and feel as you connect with the outdoors.
I’ve been spending a lot of time longboarding this fall, cruising down hills and hiking back up them, and on those hikes, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about skateboarding and society.
The further we come as a civilized nation, the more people we see who the defy the stereotypes that have been applied to them. Nevertheless, stereotypes continue to be perpetuated in the U.S., and in an objective observation, you might say stereotypical thinking is getting worse these days. Different areas of the country have people engaging in different lines of stereotypical thinking, and living in Vail, I do find myself guilty of it.
The sport of longboarding, however, has really refreshed my view of some of my neighbors and the preconceived notions I have harbored of them. They’re all white, many of them are wealthy, and many of them are older the age of 60. This is not a demographic you would assume to be tolerant of skateboarding.
DANGER AND DEFINITIONS
Longboarding is essentially a sped up version of skateboarding, which takes place on a bigger board that allows you to go faster. It’s been around since the birth of the sport, but has become a lot more popular over the last decade.
Last year I was longboarding around the neighborhood with my neighbor, Sammy Katz, when we were approached by a wealthy old white woman. We were certain we were about to be chastised for behavior she saw as dangerous. Instead, she told us if she were physically capable she would be out bombing hills too.
We had just cruised down Buffehr Creek Road going the same speed the cars go, and this woman told us it was a beautiful thing to witness. She said she was jealous because she was a recreational roller skater once upon a time, and knew the pleasant feel of the wheels against the road.
Indeed, those wheels, spinning fast under your feet with a nice layer of blacktop beneath them, is about the best feeling I’ve experienced in life and sport. For me, it’s even better than a fast ski run down a fresh layer of powder. But it’s never going to truly fit in, in modern society. For every one of my supportive neighbors, there’s one who hates encountering a longboarder on their street, especially when they’re in their vehicles.
NOT AS FAST AS YOU THINK
Most longboarders try to not behave much differently than a car on the road. I use a GPS tracker to clock my speed and I’ve got news for the longboarder who says he has gone double the speed limit on any road in Eagle County — no you did not. None of the roads in our area sustain a turn-free pitch for long enough to reach the speeds of 50 or 60 miles per hour. GPS speedometers are a dime a dozen these days and I’ve never seen one eclipse 50, not even on the Vail Pass rec path. I’m always surprised by how slow it turns out we were actually going.
On my longboard, I observe the law about as much as I do in my car. Sometimes I find myself going 5-10 miles over the speed limit, I’ll cross the center line on a turn if there’s no one else around, and usually I slide to a rolling stop, rather than a complete stop, at the stop signs. Yes, longboarders are able to stop. We stop by sliding our boards sideways, and we’re able to stop just as fast as road cyclists can stop using the brakes on their bikes. If there’s cars around, then I always come to a complete stop just to show the drivers that I’m able to obey the rules of the road.
Every time I post a longboarding video to vaildaily.com, I get comments from people who do not like it. When I ride my board to work from Vail to Eagle-Vail, I could be confused for a Bible salesman, dressed in a collared shirt and slacks and wearing a bicycle helmet. Nevertheless, I get the stink eye from motorists.
Road bikers are also hated by motorists, but the popularity of their sport has allowed them to overcome a lot of the animosity they face. Longboarders are just not there yet, and I suspect they never will be.
NICE ROADS, NEARBY HOSPITAL
The funny thing is, the sport is a product of the environment we live in. In Vail’s Sandstone and Buffehr Creek neighborhoods, where I live and skate, the roads are perfect. They’re swept clean of gravel and the blacktop is resurfaced every few years. There’s not many cars on these roads because the people who own houses in these neighborhoods don’t actually spend much time in those houses.
Also, there’s a great hospital nearby.
In other parts of the world, there’s roads may look like they would be good for skateboarding, but they’re not. They’re not clean, they’re not newly resurfaced, they have lots of traffic, and there’s not quick access to medical care nearby.
I recently read about a group working to bring the joy of skateboarding to Greece. I have also read much about how that country is unable to afford basic municipal services, like street sweeping and road improvements, and how they are struggling to keep the hospitals open. One headline said “Patients who should live are dying,” and mentioned how people are contracting life threatening infections after visiting the hospital. Getting cuts stiched up is a part of the sport, and worse things can and do happen, so Greece is not an area where I would to practice skateboarding.
Vail, however, is exactly the kind of area a person can practice skateboarding safely, assuming they have health insurance. In our area, health insurance is a measure of one’s success — if you’re in your late 20s and doing well for yourself, then you’re probably insured. If you’re struggling to get by, then you’re probably doing so without health insurance.
In Vail and Eagle County, parental subsidies provide an untold boost to the local economy. Many parents — dispersed throughout upper middle class communities all over the country — are providing kids residing in the Vail area with regular infusions of cash to help them live the dream here in the mountains. Those kids, at least the ones who are younger than 27, are also still enjoying the security of their parents’ health insurance.
I encourage those kids to get out and skate while they still can. As skateboarding rolls down the path of becoming an Olympic sport, and health insurance also becomes a measure of one’s wealth, a stereotype you may soon see of top-level skateboarders might mirror one that currently exists of top-level skiers: their families have the money to fund their rise in the sport. Olympic skateboarders will be the kids whose parents own land and build ramps and features on that land, just like Olympic skiers come from families who can access the mountains, purchase the equipment and put their kids through training programs.
But there will always be those who defy those stereotypes. These days, as I skate through the neighborhood and wonder which of my neighbors will take issue with the sport, I also wonder what the future stereotype would be. The Rich Kid Skateboarder stereotype is certainly different than the dirtbag stereotype we currently see, but I suspect it will be one stereotype that will soon eclipse its predecessor. I can think of a dozen more I’d rather see eliminated, but right now, that does not appear to be the world we live in. Even if the sport becomes dominated by insured kids who live on newly resurfaced, gravel-free roads, the speed of the sport and its interaction with vehicles will likely prevent it from mainstream acceptance.
Nevertheless, I hope to enjoy fall in Vail on my longboard for many years to come. It truly is the best time to experience something you’ll be hard pressed to find in other parts of the world — the euphoria of a fast run down a clean stretch of blacktop.