Do Something New: Longboard

I couldn’t decide if today’s Do Something New should be “Do Something New: Longboard” or “Do Something New: Have Your Partner Teach You Something.” It’s kind of both: I had to have my darling fiancé, Michael, teach me today’s activity.

Michael’s been longboarding since he was 15 or 16, back at the age when people have free time to do things like getting really pretty damn decent at longboarding. He doesn’t claim to be an expert, of course, but even when he moved into the city of Chicago for college, he used to cruise around a lot, practice tricks, etcetera. I did not opt to longboard when I was 15 or 16, personally; I opted to go to ska concerts and watch Peter Sellers movies with my friends. Potayto-potahto.

But it seems fun, right? Fun in the way that biking is fun; you can get up to an optimal speed and then cruise at low effort. You just have to be comfortable balancing on an axis, steering by tipping your feet back and forth, and, at long distances, maybe overtaxing one of your legs, if you haven’t learned how to switch your pushing legs. But whatever, all worthwhile activities come with a learning curve, right?

Michael’s dad brought his very expensive, very sturdy, practically unbreakable bamboo longboard from his parents’ house in the exurbs last weekend. We practiced last night in the small parking lot in back of our apartment building just to get the basics down. Michael had me just stand on it and hold our neighbors’ deck so that I could feel how loose it was, and indeed, it was looser than the skateboard I tried all of one single solitary time to ride when I was 18. Longboards are spacious, but flexible, and they tip easily. Good to know.

Then he showed me how to push. There’s apparently lingo in the longboarding community that’s sort of funny: He “rides goofy,” meaning that although he’s right handed, he pushes with his left foot. He told me to try it both ways, and apparently I “ride regular,” meaning that I push with the right. My first push, I got about three feet away from my starting position and had my arms up in the air like a maniac, trying to balance. I was inelegant, but the first objective had been completed.

The next step was to push more than once. Michael stood on the board and showed me what your feet are supposed to do. When you push, your front foot should be parallel to the board. You then plant your pushing foot on the board, and turn your front foot in perpendicular to the board. “Push, plant, turn. Push, plant, turn,” he told me, and I mimicked him on the concrete. I tried it on the board, and was going slowly, and still with arms up above my shoulders, but I did it. I got better when I started looking forward instead of down.

Once I was able to get a good two pushes in, we started talking about turning. Riding regular, you can turn right, or clockwise, by pushing your toes down on the right side of the board, and counterclockwise/left by pushing your heels down on the left side (vice-versa for riding goofy). It’s hard enough to balance on a moving plank of bamboo, but turning is a whole other beast. I did my best. I couldn’t turn left, but I got about halfway through an arc to the right. This is when I started tripping.

It turns out Michael’s a really good teacher, which is why I halfway wanted to title this one “Have Your Partner Teach You Something.” He dropped some physics in, was very observant, critiqued my form – and, pro tips (semipro tips, maybe): If you decide to longboard, make sure that your weight is on your front foot, because you don’t want to step off of the board on your front foot when you want or need to stop. It’ll send your back foot flying with the board, which is jerky and painful and almost a guaranteed way to faceplant. Keep your legs a little bent, too, for balance. When you turn your front foot perpendicular to the board, make sure you get it all the way perpendicular. Since your weight is on it, that’ll be the foot you use the most to steer.

He was also very encouraging, and had this to say about new activities: “All of these things – longboarding, slacklining [which he’s also tried to teach me how to do] – are an issue of attrition. No one knows from the start how to do anything, you just go out, try new tricks, and you keep trying, and eventually you figure out how to do it. Any pro has fallen thousands of times, just trying to figure out how to do tricks.” Which, honestly, is good advice in life in general, isn’t it? If you don’t know how to do something, you just keep hacking away at it, little bit by little bit.

I also will admit that it was nice to have my second-to-last Do Something New activity be supervised by my partner, because at about the 45-minute mark, I got exhausted and panicky and just wanted to go back inside. I’m not going to lie, this project has just about killed me. June has been a wreck. Trying new things almost every single day is emotionally draining on top of the physical effort of commuting and sometimes just the doing of the activities.

Michael knows this, and knows that I’ve been feeling sick and feeling like faceplanting for two weeks, so we went inside and he told me to go to bed no later than eight rather than attempting to get more done. And he was right. I got nine hours of sleep, and I feel better today. It was good to try something that my husband-to-be loves, and that is objectively fun, but it was even better to find out that he’s a really good pep talker and teacher, along with being a great partner.

[Image via Shutterstock]
Send me a line at [email protected] and follow me on Facebook. Check out the Do Something New series, every weekday in the month of June 2015.