Longboarding at UMass

Found this from first semester of freshman year. Ahh, the memories. Sorry, no pictures or video. 😦


It’s one of the most popular sports on campus for it’s convenience, solidarity, and athleticism, yet it’s not even recognized by the UMass Athletics as a college sport or even an intramural one. Unfortunately, skateboarding is heavily declining in popularity around the country due to the sport’s so-called “punk” image and propensity to attract a younger crowd. (A poll in 2002 showed that 85% of skaters were under the age of 18.) Skating tends to be more popular in cities and areas with dense populations, thus explaining the sport’s presence at UMass. Most notably, skaters at UMass have adopted a more casual, trend-like approach to the sport by taking advantage of it’s convenience.

For Tim Sughrue, a freshman living in Southwest, skating is incorporated into everyday life, more specifically whenever he goes out alone. Sughrue rides a longboard, one of the many different types of skateboards available. Many students on campus prefer longboarding because of it’s focus on gaining speed on hills, a perfect mode for cruising around the large campus quickly and efficiently.

“I can get to a class in Northeast in five minutes,” Sughrue stated.

Although it’s learning process emphasizes individuality and personal commitment, skateboarding and longboarding are exceedingly social, especially at UMass. Sughrue was surprised at the number of skaters on campus, which he noted was “a lot more than I expected.” Despite such a large number of skaters, a surprising number of skaters are new to the sport, especially longboarding.

Sughrue jokingly pointed out ways to tell a new longboarder from an experienced one, “Lots of people are falling…they don’t know how to ride in crowds of people…I also see a lot of really nice new boards that looked like mine when I first bought it.”

Although the vast crowds of students aren’t conducive to new skaters, UMass is a perfect location for beginners looking to pick up the sport, according to local Transworld skateboarding photojournalist, Mike Cirelli.

Cirelli got involved in the east coast skating scene at the young age of 8 and has been involved for over 22 years; he started shooting skate photography in and around his home city, Hartford, Connecticut. Along with his local skate team, Skate Lair, Cirelli spends a lot of time filming at UMass, where he, like Sughrue, observes there are “lots of kids skating.”

“There’s such a mix of kids riding around, new and experienced,” Cirelli stated, “Skateboarding is generational…the old helps the new, teaches them all the tricks of the trade.”

In addition to the help of other skaters, UMass’s wide variety of terrain fosters skaters of any skill level. Cirelli describes UMass’s variety as “bang for your buck,” with enough interesting features to keep skaters entertained for awhile or help beginners develop and improve. Aside from the crowds, Sughrue also spoke highly of the campus’s plethora of downhill areas, especially en route to classes. (He particularly enjoys the hill leading into the Southwest Tunnel.)

Both Sughrue and Cirelli ride for the thrill and intensity of skating, a sports combination that regularly results in injuries that a Skate Lair team member wished, “he didn’t have to go through.” Additionally, most professional skateboarders convey an extremely anti-establishment, “punk” image that attracts young teenagers. This is a major deterrent for athletes who choose not to skate, says freshman Sports Management major Robb Looney.

“Skating was at the height of it’s popularity around 6-8 years ago,” Looney stated, “Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen put out a good image for the sport, but now it seems to appeal to the “punky-hardcore” crowd.”

At 31, Cirelli does indeed maintain such an image. He’s an avid firearms enthusiast who includes guns in some of his skate videos, with one even entitled “Armed and Hammered.” (when interviewed, he emphasized safety and respect when using weapons) Skate Lair’s website also includes profanity-laced interviews with team members talking of fighting and fighting the establishment.

One member’s interview profile included the quote “I hate every mall across the nation. The masses are asses and that’s their headquarters.”

For those who aren’t as tough or thrill seeking as Sughrue and Cirelli, skateboarding; specifically longboarding, has taken on a more casual image at UMass. The biggest factor for riding is the sheer size of the campus. Looney noted that many UMass longboarders “ride to get around” as opposed to “riding for fun” on a typical skateboard. In a general sense, the majority of skaters longboard as a hobby more so than as sport.

Ashley Beam, a freshman, has recently taken up longboarding on campus and believes that longboarders are more welcoming than conventional skateboarders who are “typically the judgmental ones who skate on campus.”

“I’m friends with the longboarding crew at UMass…they offered to teach me how to ride better. They were very welcoming and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable,” she stated.

Beam’s status as a female longboarder is quite unique, yet also highlights the casual and trend-setting nature of the sport. From the same 2002 poll referenced earlier, 74% of those who said they skate were male.

Beam admitted, “I see girls longboarding on campus and I think it’s strange, despite the fact that I’m riding one too.”

As opposed to most sports, skating is extremely cost efficient and convenient: all one needs is a board. For those tired of waiting at the bus stop, a longboard simplifies the transportation process. With no fuel to pay for, no schedule to follow, and minimal maintenance, longboarding solves all the downsides of owning a vehicle or using the PVTA for short, day-to-day transportation. Such convenience allows for a social aspect of longboarding; riding with a friend or group of friends to class can be fun in it’s own right.

Those interested may be asking themselves the obvious question: “how do I know what type of board to get?” Longboards are the safest and easiest way to casually “cruise” around campus as typical skateboards are too small and unbalanced when riding at high speeds. Every boarder prefers a certain feel when riding, requiring specific part choices when building their longboard.

1. The Deck

This is the part of the longboard that is the actual board, the place where the rider stands. There are three major types of decks: drop, top mount, and drop through. A top mount deck sits on top of the trucks (mentioned in #2) and keeps the rider high off the ground. The top mount has lots of surface space and allows for easier turning, but has the highest center of gravity among the three types. Drop decks are like top mounts in that they are essentially a wooden board, yet the middle of the board is lowered below the trucks. Drop through decks achieve the same goal, except the board is actually cut out around the trucks. Both styles have a lower center of gravity than the top mount, yet its closeness to the wheels and axles requires more foot adjustment. Longboard decks have an extremely large price range, with cheap decks starting at $50 and the most expensive to be near $200.

2. The Trucks

The trucks are on either end of the longboard. Their purpose is to provide a mechanism for the axle to turn with, as placing a bare axle on a board greatly reduces the ability to turn and just doesn’t physically work! Choosing trucks is a simpler process than it seems; the only variation is in the width. Wider trucks are more stable and vice versa. Additionally, many longboarders choose reverse-kingpin trucks. With these, the kingpin (the nut that adjusts the tightness of the axle aka the resistance when turning) is turned to the outside, unlike a conventional skateboard. Basically, just put the trucks on backwards for more turning stability. For a higher center of gravity, riders can buy risers to put under their trucks. Unlike typical skateboard trucks, longboard ones are sold together. Prices typically range from $40 to $75-80.

3. Wheels

The wheels of a longboard are important, as they affect how fast the board will go. Softer wheels are the common choice of longboarders because of their versatility on rough terrain. (Pebbles and potholes are still dangerous) For casual riders, wheel specifics aren’t a major influence, they just need to have surface area and width. Additionally, wheels need bearings, which sit inside a wheel on both sides, these help the wheels roll more smoothly. Depending on the sizing and style of wheels, prices range from $35 to $100 for top-grade wheels.


1 Comment

Filed under Class Work, Creativity, Interesting Stories, Journalism, My Reporting, News, Observation

One response to “Longboarding at UMass

  1. Mom

    This is a very informative article would be a good one to submit to the Collegian. Mom

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