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September 10, 2013
Longboard Transportation

Calvin Kimball gives up automobiles and hits the streets on his board 

He crouches down, both feet planted firmly on his longboard, gripping the edge of the board with one hand while leaning into the turn. He puts his other gloved hand out, skimming the pavement, much like a surfer does when riding a wave.

Calvin Kimball surfs the pavement of Salt Lake City daily.

You see, the 23-year-old college student, who grew up in Tooele, uses his longboard as his primary mode of transportation, not because he can’t afford a car; it was a choice he made.

“Funny story,” he said, “I started longboarding when I found out I didn’t have to pay insurance on a car.”

He was 20 years old at the time and owned a 1994 Chevy Cavalier. He sold that car to purchase his first longboard and hasn’t owned a car since.

A longboard is similar to a skateboard, but with a longer deck, as the name suggests. The board is more flexible than a skateboard and has different parts, such as softer, bigger wheels. Skateboards are mostly used for tricks, whereas longboards are primarily for cruising, racing or transportation, like Calvin’s choice.

Most days, he rides his longboard from his downtown Salt Lake City house to school and work. Work is just a few miles away at the Gateway Mall. School is Salt Lake Community College.

Occasionally he will ride to a friend’s house in West Valley City. It was on one of these occasions that his longboard took him from Salt Lake City all the way to Tooele.

“When I got to West Valley City and my friend wasn’t home, I was wondering what to do,” he said.

He had the day off and all of his other friends were either working or doing something else. With no other plans, he made the spur of the moment decision to continue on to Tooele.

“‘Just longboard to Tooele,’ I said. It’s not that far,” he recalled with a laugh.

So he headed to Tooele by going up Butterfield Canyon Road and over the mountain to Middle Canyon, almost a 45-mile trip.

“I had to hike up and over to the downhill part before I could ride my board,” he said.

In fact, because he can’t safely ride on any surface but pavement, he had to walk part way down Middle Canyon to where the paved road begins.

“Once I got there, I got back on the board and stayed on the pavement all the way down Vine Street,” Calvin said.

Even after that grueling six-hour adventure, he still thinks longboarding is the perfect transportation.

“You have more rights as a longboarder, biker or skater in Salt Lake City than you do as a driver,” he said.

The reason for this is because as a longboarder, he is still considered a pedestrian, so cars are required to yield the right of way.

He said: “Salt Lake City has a lot of bike lanes open so if you want to ride to work, you can. Actually, you can ride in traffic with cars if you are going fast enough.”

It’s easy to get going fast enough, sometimes hitting upwards of 45 mph, depending on the hill. That speed is what Calvin, and most longboarders, consider the fun part of using his longboard for transportation.

Another part of the enjoyment is sharing the passion for longboarding with friends. Although the sport is gaining in popularity, it’s still one of the least common forms of transportation. The camaraderie longboarders share with one another tends to form a long-term bond. Like what Calvin has with his long time friend, Mickey.

Mickey High, 21, and also a native of Tooele living in Salt Lake City, has known Calvin since before high school. He has been longboarding with Calvin for almost as long.

“I got my first longboard as a birthday gift when I was 10 or 12 years old,” Mickey said.

He wanted a longboard after seeing other kids racing cars with their longboards. The speed of the longboard is what first got him hooked, but Mickey shares Calvin’s opinion on longboarding being the perfect transportation.

“It’s good for the environment and it’s cheaper than cars,” he said.

Mickey compared the cost of regular oil changes in cars with maintenance on a longboard.

“I replace the bushings and bearings once every six months whereas I’d be changing oil every three months,” Mickey said of the maintenance required for his longboard.

The cost is about half the price too.

“I wouldn’t pay any more than 20 or 30 dollars for bearings,” he said.

Other benefits include zero insurance or fuel costs, protection of the environment, and exercise.

During inclement weather in the winter, public transportation is used as the backup to their longboards.

Besides the practicality of longboarding, the pure adrenaline rush and challenge of a new hill is what continues to fuel their desire to ride.

“People pick up longboarding because they are always trying to challenge themselves,” Calvin said.

Besides riding to Tooele, some of his most challenging rides around the Salt Lake valley have included going up Emigration Canyon past Hogle Zoo and back down the canyon, about an 8-mile trip. He rode the backside of Bangerter Highway down the mountain and had also ridden all the way down 10600 South from that side of the mountains.

He said the 10600 ride is a hard one because it’s so straight. Longboarders use the turns and curves of a road to slow themselves down.

But he still enjoys it because he can take public transportation up the hill and ride his longboard back down.

“It does make it easy when you can ride a train up the hill, but going up on foot is probably the most challenging and rewarding because the reward comes when you get down. You know you’ve done something really cool,” Calvin said.

That seems to be a common theme among longboarders. They always want to do something they have never done before, something challenging, like longboarding from Salt Lake City to Tooele, a feat Calvin has done on more than one occasion.

Longboarding is not a short-term transportation solution for Calvin and Mickey. It will continue to be a part of their lives in the future because of the life lessons it has provided.

“When you are on the top of a hill and you’re getting ready to push yourself down, you really don’t want to do it,” Mickey said.

That’s because longboarding isn’t without its dangers. Occasional broken bones, concussions and the actions of unsafe motorists are part of the agenda. But it always comes back to the challenge.

“It forces you to push yourself through something hard. It forces you to accomplish that thing,” Mickey said.

Mickey compared the hill to finishing school.

“When you’re scared to go down the hill, you just push yourself through the fear because you know it’s going be the greatest ride. Then when you’re safe at the bottom; that’s like my degree,” he said.

That’s the metaphor that helps them in other aspects of their life. Push through the difficulties and fear because the end result will be worth it.

As for future plans, both Calvin and Mickey are studying Aviation Mechanics. Mickey wants to start a business building custom planes. Calvin is a part-time wildland firefighter and desires to obtain his pilot’s license so he can pilot the planes that drop water and retardant on the fires.

When Calvin reaches that goal and trades riding his longboard to work for flying a plane to work, he won’t give up longboarding.

“I love the challenge,” he said. “I hope I never give it up.”

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