Are you somebody who has reached his or her late twenties or early thirties (um, forties?) only to find that you have a burning, but as yet unmet, desire to skateboard?
Fig. 1. Greg Fewer on his Gordon and Smith longboard at Saleen car park, Back Strand, Summer 2001. (Photo: Pat McInerney)
Fig. 2. Pat McInerney on a Gordon and Smith longboard at Saleen car park, Back Strand, Summer 2001. (Photo: Greg Fewer)
If so, then maybe you will be interested in longboard skateboarding. This involves riding a skateboard significally longer than the standard 30- or 31-inch board beloved of vertical skaters and dominated by teenagers and twentysomethings. Longboards are suited to people who want to 'surf' on land!

A thirtysomething, I started longboarding in the summer of 2001. I first sought advice at a local skateboarding and surfing shop in Tramore called Ed's Shedz. Its owner, Ed Humm, provided lots of useful advice and encouragement (thanks Ed!). After some consideration, I soon purchased my first longboard, having selected a Gordon and Smith kicktail model with Venture trucks and Kryptonics wheels.

At IR£160 (€203.16), buying this longboard required a determination to really do some skateboarding. Unless I was actually going to skate, such a purchase would be a complete waste of money! In a way, the price helped convince me to make this commitment to skate - once I had made the decision, there would be no going back!

At first, just standing or balancing on the board seemed scary enough, but I soon found my balance (it takes practice). Not long afterwards, I started skateboarding on the road outside my house, availing of the slight gradient to get my board moving. However, it would take a few weeks before I graduated to pushing off with my foot with confidence. For those who really need to know, my stance is regular foot (even though, oddly enough, I'm left-handed when it comes to writing).

Although three of my friends (Ralph Martin, Orm Kenny and Pat McInerney [see Fig. 2]) tried out the board, there was some scepticism from some quarters (with comments like 'mid-life crisis' being mentioned). I probably also freaked out one or two local drivers who must have wondered at what a bearded man was doing on a skateboard! One thing I have come to appreciate is that while it is usually possible to hear an oncoming car before it rounds a bend when you are on foot, this is not so easy when you are on a skateboard (due to the sound that the board and its wheels make on the road surface).

In the autumn, I figured that it would be a good idea to get some protective pads for my knees and elbows given the possibility that I would fall at some stage (I once semi-wrenched my knee doing an unintentional fakie [i.e., I rode my board backwards]). Protective gear is fairly cheap (about £20 or €25.40 for knee pads and elbow pads) and I got a second set as a Christmas gift. This included wrist guards, which are regarded as being perhaps the most important form of skateboarding protection. This is because most people tend to put their hands out to break their fall. In addition, I got a pelvic pad, which is stuffed down the rear of one's trousers to help make some of the more embarrassing falls less painful!

However, I still lacked one piece of protective equipment: a helmet.
Fig. 3. Alex Nowak on his modified shortboard near Tramore skate park, Spring 2002. (Photo: Greg Fewer)
Shane Dunphy - Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Fig. 4. Shane Dunphy and his Leaning Tower of Pisa impersonation at the site of Tramore skate park, Spring 2003. (Photo: Greg Fewer)
I figured that it might be a good idea to get one, especially when I read an article in International Longboarder Magazine about the dangers of head injuries! Unfortunately, finding a helmet that would fit my head wasn't easy (most skate shops tend to stock protective gear for teenagers and younger kids). Eventually, on a trip to Cork in June 2002, I found a large-sized helmet that fit snugly (strangely, two 'extra-large' helmets made by different manufacturers did not fit!?).

During the 2001/2002 academic year, I shared an office with a new colleague, Alex Nowak, who likes to skate with his skateboard strapped to his feet!! This is because he is more of a snowboarder and so he adapted the snowboard concept to his skateboard. Alas! He has since returned to his native Germany, leaving us with one less skateboarder in the Tramore/Waterford area.

Anyway, now that I have all the gear that I need, I should be able to do some more skating this summer (now that correcting the exam scripts and tabulating the results of the students I teach has reached an end). Maybe I'll even get round to learning a few skateboard tricks.... Stay tuned to find out how I progress!

In the meantime, if you take up (or have already taken up) longboard skateboarding (especially in the east Waterford area), I'd like to hear from you (I can be contacted at the e-mail address below). Would you be interested in forming or joining a club? Are there enough interested people for establishing an online magazine about longboarding in County Waterford? What about an online forum about longboarding in the area? If such a club were formed, should it lobby for either of the local authorities (Waterford County Council or Waterford City Council) to build a proper skate park suitable for longboarders? These are just a few ideas, but maybe you have a few more, in which case, get in touch!

Update, May 2003: Over the past few months, I've introduced longboard skateboarding to another mate of mine, Shane Dunphy, while trying out the shortboard. I can keep my balance on the latter, but for speed and a smooth skate, I prefer the longboard. Still, the shortboard is better for doing tricks and I'm now trying to learn some, so who knows? Maybe I'll end up being a shortboarder instead. Shane, on the other hand, prefers the shortboard but, like me, has yet to learn a few tricks on it! His stance might also be a little precarious, as you can see by his Leaning Tower of Pisa impersonation in Fig. 4, though he didn't end up bailing... this time!

Red Bull's Local Heroes event (April 2002)

This was a free event for anyone who wanted to skate on the day concerned (using Red Bull's equipment).

Local Heroes tour at Tramore Skatepark

Fig. 5. Some shortboarders trying out the ramps during Red Bull's Local Heroes tour at Tramore Skatepark (6 April 2002). (Photo: Greg Fewer)

Of course, the skate park at Tramore, suitably souped up with ramps supplied by Red Bull, was swamped by kids and young adults on the day. After the event, Red Bull sold a couple of ramps to local people who help to maintain the skatepark, thereby greatly improving its quality (the ramps have metal rather than wooden structures).

This time, no longboarders demonstrated their skateboarding skills. Should there be a similar event for longboarders (not necessarily run by the same, or indeed any, sponsor)? If you think so, then how should it be organised? Let us know your thoughts. When sending your e-mail (to Greg Fewer at gfewer@hotmail.com) please put the phrase 'longboard skateboarding' (or something like it) in the subject line. (Otherwise, I might think your message is junk mail, which I usually delete without reading!)

More Local Heroes at Tramore!
Fig 6. More Local Heroes at Tramore! (Photo: G. Fewer)

Incidentally, I founded a club for rollerbladers (in-line skaters) and skatebaorders for staff and students at Waterford Institute of Technology, where I work, in January 2002. If you're thinking of going to college in 2003 and haven't made up your mind about which one you want to attend, then maybe this is all the information you need to make your decision! Hopefully, the club will have its own Web site up in the coming year so that would-be student skaters can check it out for themselves. If you've already made up your mind and/or have been offered a place at WIT in the coming academic year (2003-4), then maybe you can join up in the autumn and show us what you and your skateboard can do.

Yop sk8 jam, Waterford City Skate Park

Yop sk8 
jam, Waterford

Fig. 7. Yop sk8 jam at Waterford City Skatepark (May 2004). (Photo: Greg Fewer)

On 8 May 2004, Yoplait, in association with Waterford City Council and Beat 102-103 FM, hosted a skateboarding competition at Waterford's skatepark.

Halfpipe at Waterford City Skatepark

Fig. 8. The halfpipe at Waterford City Skatepark during the Yop sk8 jam. (Photo: Greg Fewer)

Since the competition was limited to entrants aged 12-20 years, skategeezers like me couldn't have a go, but there was a good turnout all the same. The Yop sk8 jam involved three competitions in all at the skatepark, the other two taking place on 15 and 22 May. The idea was that contestants from Counties Carlow and Waterford would compete on the 8th, those from Kilkenny, Wexford and South Tipperary would compete on the 15th, and the county finalists would battle it out on the 22nd.

Quarterpipe air

Fig. 9. A young rider catches some good air outside Waterford City Skatepark during the Yop sk8 jam. (Photo: Greg Fewer)

The skaters had a practice area outside the skatepark where some of them were able to get good air on a quarter pipe.

More quarterpipe air

Fig. 10. The same rider shows how to get air again outside the skatepark (just in case anyone missed it last time)! (Photo: Greg Fewer)

In fact, some of the stuff they did there was at least as good, if not better, than what they did in the skatepark itself!

I was there on the opening day of the competition and caught some of the tricks on camera but I didn't get the various riders' names. Some of the pictures I took are posted here, so if you're reading this and you were one of the riders depicted in them let me know and I'll add your name to the photo's caption. (However, before adding your name, I'll need proof that you were at the sk8 jam.)

Overall, I think that Waterford's Eric Smith won the competition on the 8th but I don't know how the contestants fared at the finale on the 22nd. Hope you like the pics!

Skateboarding in Brussels

On visiting friends in Brussels in May 2006, I did the tourist thing and visited a number of historic sites.

B/S tail slide in Brussels

Fig. 11. A skateboarder does a backside tailslide on a step at Mont des Arts, Brussels (May 2006). (Photo: Greg Fewer)

Curiously, given the status of Brussels as the capital of the European Union, the city has a provincial feel to it, especially as its historic centre is relatively small compared with other major European cities. That said, its medieval hôtel de ville (or town hall) is a stunning piece of Gothic architecture (as is the marvellously preserved, if somewhat over-ornate, Maison du Roi, a sixteenth-century house, which was architecturally embellished in the nineteenth century), while its late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century town houses, a number of which front onto the city's historic main square, the Grand Place, add to the city's charm.

While I toured le centre-ville (city centre) on foot, I wondered at the lack of skaters in this and other nearby locations as well as in the suburb where my friends live, but I would eventually find them. In the city centre, at least, the narrow medieval streets were thronged with tourists, school groups, EU diplomats and local shoppers, and I realised that skating amongst the multitude would be something of a challenge there.

Place de la Chapelle skatepark, Brussels

Fig. 12. The skatepark at Place de la Chapelle, Brussels (May 2006). (Photo: Greg Fewer)

Also, since I saw a cop ticking off a twelve-year-old boy for playing ball in the Grand Place, I suspect that he would have been even less accommodating to any skaters!

Anyway, one day, while walking towards the southern end of the medieval core of the city, I spotted a couple of twenty-something year-old skaters ollieing off a ramp next to the massive bronze equestrian statue of Belgium's King Albert I, which stands between two skateable sets of stone steps, which form part of Mont des Arts. With so many steps to skate on/off, it was strange that these skaters should have brought their own plywood ramp but perhaps they had done the steps to death at this stage and wanted to do something different at their favourite skate locale.

These skaters were not alone, however, as I soon found a free and open skatepark farther south at Place de la Chapelle, right across the street from the Notre-Dame de la Chappelle, a church consecrated early in the thirteenth century and my original target as a tourist. Although

Low wall and rail, Brussels skatepark

Fig. 13. A skateboarder pushes off along the top of the low wall at Place de la Chapelle skatepark, Brussels (May 2006). (Photo: Greg Fewer)

I got to see inside the church, I couldn't resist hanging out a while to watch the skaters and take a few snaps with my camera.

The skatepark is triangular in area and comprises a large concrete surface with a long slope and a grindable kerb along one side as well as a bowl and a long, low, straight and narrow wall ideal for skating off after a long run up to its edge. You can also ollie from this wall onto an adjacent rail. At one side of the skatepark is a tiered wooden seating area where a number of people could sit and watch the proceedings or just read the newspaper.

Skateboarders dominated the skatepark on the day I visited, but there were a couple of in-line skaters there too. The skaters varied in age from about ten to thirty years, although some of the relaxed onlookers were considerably older! Nobody wore helmets but a couple of skaters wore elbow and/or knee pads. Most of the skaters spent their time simply carving up the concrete or ollieing off the end of the low wall. A few tried out the bowl or did a grind or a boardslide along either the kerb or the rail.

Slope and kerb at Place de la Chapelle skatepark, Brussels

Fig. 14. A skater negotiates the kerb that seemingly emerges out of the slope at Place de la Chapelle skatepark, Brussels (May 2006). (Photo: Greg Fewer)

While the skatepark is not huge and some skaters might want more vert than is on offer, what is great about it is how it's almost seamlessly integrated into the surrounding streetscape with its open plan and discreet skateability. On the one hand, it's a skatepark, but on the other, it's also a public space that is open and accessible for anybody to use. Why can't Irish skateparks be like this? Why do Irish planning authorities in general fail to provide multi-use amenities like this in our towns and cities? Even on the rare occasions when local authorities do provide skateparks, why do they bow down to Irish insurance companies' unreasonable demands for enclosed and lockable spaces open only at certain times of the day or year? It seems to me that we need competition from more flexible continental and British insurers so that Irish people can engage in the same leisure pursuits as other Europeans without having to satisfy nanny-like conditions from companies frankly uninformed about skateboarding.

Regrettably, I didn't have a skateboard the day I visited this skatepark but maybe the next time I'm in Brussels I'll remember to bring one with me!

Skateboarding articles


Fig. 15. Another young rider ollies onto a quarter pipe during the Yop sk8 jam. (Photo: Greg Fewer)

'Outlawed Interpretations - A Response to Jocko Weyland'. Shane Dunphy reviews Jocko Weyland's book, The answer is never: A skateboarder’s history of the world, and offers his own take on skateboarding in his home town of Wexford, Ireland.

Three groms

Fig. 16. Three groms doing their thing during the Yop sk8 jam. (Photo: Greg Fewer)

'Going to extremes ... all for the love of sport'. Journalist Ed Power compares a range of increasingly popular extreme sports in Ireland, including parkour, wakeboarding and, of course, longboard skateboarding (interviewing Greg Fewer in the process!). The article appeared in the 15 April 2005 edition of the Irish Independent newspaper. Online access requires free registration.
URL: http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/stories.php3?ca=45&si=1378581&issue_id=12349

Longboard links

Fig 17. Greg salutes you! (Near Tramore skate park.) (Photo: Alex Nowak)

Concrete Wave: The Magazine This magazine 'exists for those people fascinated by the history and legacy of skateboarding - it's a celebration of skate culture, spanning over four decades'. Although this is a printed magazine, its Web site contains a forum, a handy links page, news and more.
URL: http://www.concretewavemagazine.com/

Longboardermag.de 'Home of longboarding, streetsurfing and slalom skateboards'. This is an online German-language longboarding magazine. URL: http://www.longboardmag.de/
Contact e-mail: info@longboardmag.de

Gravity Skateboards This is an American longboard skateboard manufacturer's Web site. The company's catalogue will give you an idea of what longboards look like, the range of deck sizes available and related information (not to mention product prices!). URL: http://www.surfingsports.com/gravity.asp?dept=fltflx
Contact e-mail: info@surfingsports.com

Other skate links

Irish Skatepark Forum advocates the building of more public skateparks in Ireland and offers advice to skaters on how to get one built. Includes links to the Web sites of Irish local authorities, skaters and BMX riders, as well as to specific newspaper articles dealing with skateparks in Ireland.
URL: http://www.oocities.org/irishskateparkforum/index.html
Contact e-mail: irishskateparkforum@yahoo.com

Waterford City Skatepark

Fig. 18. Another view of Waterford City Skatepark during the Yop sk8 jam. (Photo: Greg Fewer)

extremepix is the 'the home of Ireland's extreme sports photography'. This site includes mainly Irish BMX, Motocross and kiting photos, as well as articles on skateparks and links to other Irish Web sites dealing with these sports.
URL: http://www.freewebs.com/extremepix/
Contact e-mail: fineartrecordings@hotmail.com

Boardersworld.com offers forums, galleries and news on a range of different boarding sports - skateboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding, kitesurfing and windsurfing - though much of the textual material is in German.
URL: http://www.boardersworld.com/
Contact e-mail: webmaster@boardersworld.com

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