The tang stench of tar is in my nose. The street ahead is fresh and featureless, a snaking stretch of smooth asphalt put down just days ago by a construction crew.
I am surfing on land, the wheels and wide deck of a longboard swooping downhill, carving polyurethane to pavement as I lean to check speed on a city street.
The sport of longboarding — a discipline that mixes facets from surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding — is a rising trend with active adults. No longer is this sport limited to the realm of the teenager, and no longer do the boards simply mimic a skateboard with a stretched deck.
Kahuna Creations, a company based in Hawaii, is one outfit with a new take on the longboarding game. Instead of the familiar one-foot-kicking technique that skateboarders use to obtain speed, Kahuna’s longboards are made to be “paddled” on land.
The company (www.kahunacreations.com) sells wood shafts topped with carbon-rubber grips — called Big Sticks — that riders stroke and push off the pavement to progress along. The motion is similar to technique seen in the sport of stand-up paddling, where surfers stand feet spread atop their board and employ a long paddle to stroke out to sea.
I tested Kahuna’s 48-inch Pohaku Surf Rider longboard and the Kahuna Big Stick Classic paddle pole, which cost $149 and $139 respectively. Both are of nice quality, and the stand-up-and-stroke technique came easily for me after 10 minutes of trying.
By reaching and pulling with the stick paddle, you obtain a nice upper body workout — something rare in outdoors sports. The exercise also felt more even than kicking, which tends to exert one side of the body more than the other.
On the Kahuna setup I felt like an amalgam of the surfer Laird Hamilton and a Venetian gondolier. The stroke-to-move technique was unusual and fun, though as a skateboarder since my childhood I found myself wanting to kick the board for more speed and not just paddle along. Fortunately, the Kahuna boards accommodate either mode of locomotion.
Another new longboard, the Freebord with G3 Trucks, acts almost nothing like a skateboard when underfoot. Indeed, with six wheels and two foot-ensconcing binding wings, the Freebord, which costs $229, can produce a wild ride down terrain so steep that you’d normally need a brake.
Made to mimic a snowboard, Freebord (www.freebord.com) riders buzz downhill on two polyurethane wheels mounted on a spinning mechanism that sits in the middle of the trucks. Leaning into a turn, the center wheels rotate and the rider carves on his inside or outside wheels, which act like edges on a snowboard.
It’s hard to explain. And it’s even harder to master. I watched several Freeboard videos online, with the riders carving effortlessly on steep streets and skidding to stops with precision heretofore unknown on a skateboard.
But on the hills around my house, I flailed and crashed into the grass. It took several laps until the feel for the board came through, and even then I was uneasy with my technique.
A steep learning curve is common in sports like surfing and snowboarding. So why not Freebording, too? Though it looks like a longboard, this is really a new discipline in the sport.
Freebord cites more than 50,000 boards sold since its founding in 1998. There are videos to show proof of this board’s potential. If you try it, wear a helmet and pads. And be prepared for a few bumps before you get it down.
But once mastered, you’ll be able to essentially snowboard on land. Step in. Point the deck downhill. And ride off carving, the concrete or asphalt skimming past below, gravity pulling faster as the wind picks up and begins to beat on your face.
(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)