Coasting downhill on a longboard at 44 mph on the outskirts of Austin, Nate Douglas reached the fastest speed he had ever skated this summer. As he watched the blur of pebbles fly by him, Douglas experienced an unreal feeling and a rush that was both exhilarating and slightly terrifying.
With the wind in his face, there is also the feeling of freedom, and that’s the main reason why he longboards, Douglas said.
“[Longboarding is] pretty easy to pick up once you get your bearings and balance,” Douglas said. “One of the hardest things to learn when you first start is controlling your speed and not freaking out.”
Skaters can lose control of their boards when they are scared because their legs shake, causing their boards to wobble, Douglas said. It’s a challenge for some to decide whether they want to continue skating after the first major fall — and everyone has one, he added.
Douglas had his first crash after losing control on a flat section of a road between two hills. He flew off his board and landed on the slant of the second hill, losing a half-inch chunk of his elbow and bruising both his hip and back.
“You have to have a high pain tolerance if you want to really get into it,” Douglas said.
After moving to Austin from Dallas two years ago, Douglas joined Austin Longboard Club when his friend introduced him to a group of people who meet up to skate every Monday night.
This Sunday, the club will throw its annual Labor Day event, which will feature six races and longboarders from other clubs outside Austin, including the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, San Antonio and Houston.
Longboards differ from skateboards, which are also referred to as “shortboards” or “trickboards.” They measure anywhere from 30 to 60 inches, but are typically in the 40-inch range and have wider axles and softer wheels.
Their design makes them more ideal for long-distance skating and stability at fast speeds, said 35-year-old Joshua Davis, a longtime longboarder and coordinator of the Labor Day event.
One of the problems longboarders in Austin face is that it is still considered an outlaw sport, Douglas said.
“Some officers will thank us for skating on private property instead of on the streets where there’s traffic, but sometimes security guards will call the police to kick us out,” he said. “Technically they have the right to, since it’s private property.”
Douglas hopes that through the Texas Recreational Use Statute, longboarders can ask for permission to use empty city or state-owned parking garages and lots once a week. Users would still be held responsible for their own injuries and any damage done.
This solution is safer for new skaters because they could then meet at the same place as experienced skaters, see everyone wearing the proper safety gear and have the support of a group, Douglas said. Members of the club have also offered to clean up the facilities they use, he added.
“No one wants to wipe out on a stray McNugget or something anyway,” Douglas said. “The thing is, we’re not here to grind rails and destroy public property. The only thing we’re using is the concrete.”
Over the years, the club has traveled to various competitions and events across the country. For one event during Memorial Day weekend, Oklahoma closed down a part of the Talimena Scenic Drive, a road that stretches between Oklahoma and Arkansas and was once a popular site for luge racing.
Law enforcement actually encouraged the racing because it brought money to the community, said 23-year-old Grant Phillips, a longboarder who frequently travels with the club.
“Once you reach speeds beyond your normal comfort levels, there’s that voice in the back of your head telling you to watch the fuck out,” Phillips said. “You start exercising a part of your mind you never knew existed because you’re concentrating on controlling every muscle in your body.”
Turning his arms to show the scar tissue covering them, Phillips said he lost a considerable amount of skin over the years before he bought full-body leather armor, a requirement at some races. After falling in jeans and a T-shirt, falling in the armor is like sliding on a cloud, he described.
“You have to have a lot of passion if you want to pick longboarding up as a serious hobby,” Phillips said. “I’m not even an adrenaline junkie. It actually makes me feel tranquil.”