Lord of Dorktown seeks alternate transportation
March 13, 2009 1:47 PM   Subscribe

How old is too old to learn to ride a skateboard?

I am considering the purchase of a longboard-style skateboard to commute around the large college campus on which I work and take classes. I might also use it around the neighborhood to exercise my dogs.

Though I ride a bike to work, it's a hassle to put my clip shoes on and haul it out of the office to go to class or lunch, and my campus has a crappy bike rack infrastructure. However, I would like to cut down on the huge amount of time I spend walking around, and a wheeled transportation device that I could simply carry into my destination would be really handy.

The complications: I have never ridden a skateboard. I'm fit, but not athletically skilled or coordinated. I used to rollerblade but was never very good at it, especially the stopping part. I've skied and snowboarded a couple times (in my entire life) and was not particularly skilled at either.

I am also nearly 37 years old.

My questions: given that I've never so much as stood on a skateboard, how hard will it be to learn to ride one? I'm not planning on doing tricks or anything, just rolling along the sidewalk or street and scooting myself along. I also have kind of crappy knees, which preclude sports like running, but are not harmed by my primary sport, bicycling. Do you need lots of knee stability or power to use a skateboard, or do you just stand or crouch there?

Does it take considerable skill to "carve" between people on the sidewalk, or is this a function of the board's trucks?

Also, I wear a bike helmet, do I have to wear a different helmet to ride a skateboard? Can I not wear a helmet and be reasonably safe?

What are some good longboards for beginners?

And finally, seriously, will I be ridiculed in the public square for being a 37-year-old n00b on a skateboard?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (44 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's too difficult to ride (I'm a 40 year old woman and I can do it). But I wouldn't want to date a middle-aged guy who rode up on a board. I'd think you were a perpetual kid. If you're already married/partnered and the mate thinks it's fine, then it doesn't matter what I think about how you look.
posted by Maisie Jay at 2:00 PM on March 13, 2009

I've never so much as stood on a skateboard

This. I promise you that the first time you try it you'll go arse over tit. Borrow a friend's skateboard first and do it in their backyard. You'll find you need a whole load of little muscles in coordination just to not look sketchy at a decent speed. It's best to test before you buy.

As for looking silly being your age riding a skateboard, I dunno. I used to know some pretty old (like real old, over 30!) and they were cool enough. But they were pretty old school and had being doing it since, um, the 80s.

Oh, and they're not that fab for getting around places sometimes, as kerbs and different levels get in the way. If you don't know how to olly up even a small kerb, you'll be stuffed. Snaking in and out of people and obstacles is easy though, you just have to lean back and forth. It takes a bit of strength with your legs though, so maybe your knees won't like it.
posted by Sova at 2:00 PM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: I should have mentioned I'm already married, and my wife knows I'm a perpetual kid!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:03 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

And finally, seriously, will I be ridiculed in the public square for being a 37-year-old n00b on a skateboard?

^^^^As a member of said public, this would be my response to you.

Do you have a pony tail? Do you still dress like you're 18? Is your favorite t shirt a shirt you got at a concert when you were 13? Do you still wear it? Do you consider your high school days the best days of your life? Do you have a soul patch, rat tail, and wear sandals with socks?

If yes, you are allowed to ride a longboard. If not, realize that you will look like a tool and as someone trying to reclaim their youth and suffering through a midlife crisis. Unless you're already part of the casual, I'll-never-grow-up-cuz-I'm-against-the-man, circle, then you can't look cool riding on a longboard. Plus, a long board is a statement, not a mode of transportation (what happens when you get caught out in the rain?). If you're willing to make "tool" your statement, then a longboard is for you. It won't be hard to pick up as long as your knees are healthy, your lower back is strong and doesn't hurt, and you're willing to invest in shoes to help slow you down while going downhill and a smock to wrap your longboard in when you have to carry it home in the rain, snow, etc.
posted by Stynxno at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

longboarders have a lot of stigma attached to them on campus too, at least on mine. plus, with pedestrians it gets quite dangerous if you hit a patch of gravel or something. i would stick with a bike, but i'm not you
posted by Think_Long at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2009

Also, a longboard is not a skateboard. Two different styles, two different statements, two different cultures, and two different ways to ride and use it.
posted by Stynxno at 2:06 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

A longboard on the sidewalk is not a good idea. (My opinion.)

A longboard on the sidewalk is your best bet, but expect to have to stop and carry it a lot. (My sk8r-punk teenager's opinion.)

Don't worry about a helmet, but wear wrist guards. (We're in agreement on this.)

I love skateboarding and skateboarders, but I do NOT want skaters carving between, around, and past me on the sidewalk. It's rude IMO, and dangerous (pedestrians won't know which way to go to get out of your way, and they will step into you instead of away from you. It will be your fault.)

Of course you can start at 37, no problem! (That's from the kid.)
posted by headnsouth at 2:06 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If yes, you are allowed to ride a longboard.

I have no experience at all with longboards, but lots of experience thinking various people look like tools. For my money Stynxno got it exactly backwards. If you are trying to pull of some sort of eternal childhood, and look like it, you are more likely to look like a tool than someone who is who they are and, perhaps, just happens to ride a longboard.
posted by dirtdirt at 2:10 PM on March 13, 2009 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to disagree with the you'll-look-like-a-tool thing.

There are at least two doctor-looking guys who skate through my neighborhood most mornings (I live half a block from a large hospital). They are both in their 30s, and are usually dressed in khakis/sport coat/occasionally a lab coat. Neither has a ponytail or a goatee. They both ride longboards. They just look like....people going to work.
posted by rtha at 2:11 PM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

You could get a scooter, like this.

A lot easier to ride, probably about the same level of dorkitude. Just be careful using them indoors.
posted by GuyZero at 2:12 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Short answer: you should be able to do this.

The primary thing you're going to need, body-wise, is balance. It's less than walking a tight rope, but a bit more than riding a bike (IMO). Though a long board is more stable than shorter boards, and as such requires less balance. At any rate, you're never too old to have, or attain, good balance. And if you're already an avid biker, you're probably most of the way there. The type of riding you're looking at is not quite akin to your experience in skiing or snowboarding, because you're not really barreling along with that big help from gravity; it's like an extremely Lite version of snowboarding, with the ability to have one of your feet easily freed up at any given time.

Stopping's not really that hard, and certainly much easier than with inline skates, because you can just put your free foot down and kind of kick-stop the board. In your situation, you won't likely be going fast enough to need another 'trickier' stopping maneuver than this (or just sort of rolling to a stop; skateboards pretty much naturally go back to a stopping state without further influence from you).

Re: knees. If you're using your proper (abdominal, leg) muscles to keep your balance on the board, your knees should really be no more affected than riding a bike, at least for the type of board activity you're proposing. Kicking up speed is really no more impactful than pushing down on your pedals, and on a board you don't really do it as constantly. I can't see a problem here.

Carving: see balance above. That said, yes, the trucks get you most of the way there. The board is made to naturally pivot with your center-of-gravity adjustments.

Helmet: It doesn't need to be different for what you're proposing. If you were going to do rail slides and other crazy trickery, you'd probably want something a little more impact-resistant.

Ridicule: If so, screw 'em. In my experience, I've seen lots of 40-somethings riding around the city on their long boards. Seems pretty efficient and logical to me.
posted by Brak at 2:12 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't like dealing with any type of skateboard or longboard when I'm a pedestrian, particularly when the person on the board doesn't quite have mastery of it and nearly takes me out. It's never about the age of the rider, though, more the mere use of the board. So, if you're ok with annoying cranky pedestrians like me, don't let your age stop you.

A possible alternative: I've seen quite a few grown men on razor scooters and have never feared for my life when they're rolling by me.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:13 PM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: As for the hiptitude of my appearance, I no longer wear concert shirts or ear spacers, but I still have a full head of hair and wear jeans to work, so hopefully this would keep me from appearing as though I was in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

What is the stigma attached to longboards? And am I correct in my assumption that a longboard would be more stable and slower than a traditional skateboard?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:16 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Also, I agree with rtha. At least around here, long boards seem to be used quite a bit as a standard mode of transportation. No one I see is really trying to 'look the part.'
posted by Brak at 2:20 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Just riding a deck isn't difficult to pick up - and a longboard is much easier to just ride than a normal skateboard (in my opinion).

This is how I got around at college, though on a normal deck and not a longboard.

The comments regarding pedestrians are spot-on - you WILL learn quickly how to bail off the board because someone doesn't realize that you can navigate around them much more easily than they can get out of your way.

You'll also quickly learn the most deck-friendly routes around campus - both in quality of sidewalk/pavement and in quantity of interfering pedestrians.

But I see no reason not to pick up skating at any age - riding my deck to/from classes was one of my favorite parts of college, and almost became incentive enough to go to those classes I didn't enjoy.

Sadly, commuting via deck is no longer an option for me - but if it is for you, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:20 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having only tried shorter boards, I can't personally comment on the ease of using a longboard, but they sound like a smoother ride. But you'd be more subject to awkward transitions on and off curbs.

I've seen guys in business suits riding skateboards (though they looked in their mid 20s). As long as you don't suddenly become all Sk8-or-die, I don't see the problem with it. If you are comfortable with being seen as a bit juvenile (or trying to re-capture some lost age), everyone else can suck it. You'll look awkward and clumsy at first, but that's the learning curve. You might want to wear gloves and jeans when first going around.

As a pedestrian on a college campus, my biggest complaint was on the hills. Sure, as a skateboarder, you could get down the hill quickly, but mixing a lack of brakes and oblivious people on cell phones results in a hazard to everyone. That's why all skateboards were banned on my campus. It's all about the ability to stop yourself and your board. Even if you jump off in time, taking a longboard to the ankle sounds really painful, if not hazardous.

Why not get basic platform pedals? You don't get full power from pedaling, but you can wear normal shoes around. You'd still have to find a place to park your bike, but at least you don't wear bike shoes all day.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:22 PM on March 13, 2009

This reflects my experience on a Southern California college campus:

It is acceptable for professors and other adults to ride longboards and other types of skateboards. Anyone who says otherwise is closet square or on their way to becoming one.

Be polite to pedestrians and watch out for bike riders. I saw some horrendous accidents occur when a bike rider and a skateboarder approached a blind corner from different directions.

Don't leave the board outside or in the hallways, because it's much easier to steal than even an unlocked bike.
posted by muddgirl at 2:26 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I started of skating with longboards. It's a lot easier and more forgiving of grass and gravel than a shortboard because of the softer, larger wheels. As well there's a lot more leaning involved, which feels more natural. I got it down in about a week.

Screw all that noise about looking like a tool, by the way. Can't we follow our interests without having some grinch shoot us down? If you're comfortable in who you are and want to get around on a longboard, all the better for you.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:30 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Started skateboarding right before college and practiced in a large open parking lot the summer before. I'd also go skateboarding at night on well lit paths because there were no pedestrians and the weather was much cooler, easing my nerves.

That said, I still had some serious spills a few times for my body to learn the actual physics of carving, kick turning, ollie'ing (okay we don't need to go there), stopping, starting, hopping over sidewalk cracks and what have you. Having things in your hand or strapping on a backpack also adds dynamics that need to be learned.

I had both a standard double kicktail shortboard and longboard. Both are very different in the way they ride, but I'd say a shortboard coupled with longboard-style wheels (soft compound, large diameter) offers the best of both worlds- the ability to kick turn, easy to carry around when you're not riding, and less intrusive wherever you store it.

Carving between pedestrians does take a bit of skill, but it's more confidence in not waiting til the last minute to make your move so people don't flinch. It's having to never make people think they're playing a game of chicken with you, or, just point where you're going. I did, it worked.

Sector9 makes some popular, easily accessible longboards. All the cute girls at my school rode them with their flipflops and short shorts... *sigh*
posted by liquoredonlife at 3:09 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I might also use it around the neighborhood to exercise my dogs.

You should get a longboard just for this. When I see the 30ish guy in my town who gets towed around on his longboard by his dog, I think "Sweet!", not "What a tool!"

My level of skateboard proficiency is good enough to get from A to B and I picked it up in an hour or two. It really isn't hard if all you want to do is move at a reasonable speed. Just beware of the hills until you are sure you are ready for them (a lesson you probably learned while rollerblading).
posted by ssg at 3:13 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My friend works for an orthopedic surgeon. Twenty years ago she said "as long as there are 40-year-olds on roller blades, we'll have clients." I infer that the same applies to skateboards.
posted by doncoyote at 3:22 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ssg -- yes to both! I like to think being towed by my three dogs will bring joy and comedy to my neighbors, and when I rollerbladed, I had to ditch on purpose several times because I got going too fast down a hill and couldn't stop. Duly noted.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:42 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Here at the University of Oregon skateboards are a very popular mode of transportation for students. This quarter I'm teaching in a classroom with nice bay windows facing one of the main student walking/skateboarding routes. The sound of a board running on the sidewalk is often loud enough to interrupt the discussion section, to the point where people will pause and then continue speaking. So, keep in mind the potential noise pollution.

As a bike commuter, skateboarders add an interesting third speed level between cyclists and pedestrians. If you do start boarding, please don't develop a habit of suddenly carving off to the right or left. Several boarders have been lucky that I have disc brakes and mountain biking reflexes.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 3:48 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I think it's a great idea, and it would really amuse me (in a good way) to see you tooling around campus or exercising your dogs on a skateboard.

If you've never even set foot on one before, I would recommend wearing a helmet, at least until you get the hang of it. When I first tried a few years ago, my feet shot out from beneath me before I could even blink and the first part of me to hit the ground was the back of my head.
posted by anderjen at 3:59 PM on March 13, 2009

What you want is called Hypno Skates
They're rollerblades with removable wheels.

Roll to work, take off the wheels, walk in the boots to your office and change to your regular shoes.
posted by PowerCat at 4:14 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: My 37 year old body may be very different from yours, but about the time I turned 30 it decided that it didn't like falling down anymore. The cuts and breaks were no longer an ok thing. So... my boards now collect dust. Hopefully your body will be more forgiving.

Also, it takes a while before becoming skilled enough to negotiate obstacles. Be very sure of yourself before heading into traffic or onto the sidewalk - because you know whats worse than injuring yourself in a skateboard accident? Injuring or killing someone else because you're out of control, shoot your board into traffic, knock over a little kid, etc.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:33 PM on March 13, 2009

As long as you can LEARN TO TAKE A FALL without breaking bones or disfiguring your face, you're not too old.

Came in to say THIS! Personally, falling down is not my kind of thing. You may be different. But you WILL fall down. Best of luck.
posted by Aquaman at 4:48 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I did exactly what you're thinking about doing a few years ago (when I was in my mid-20s.)

I hadn't been on a skateboard since I was 10 or so, but I was intrigued by the longboard craze when it hit big in 2000 or so. So I ordered up a Sector 9 Luke Nosewalker. I put many miles on it getting around town, it was great.

Here's how I got used to it: I spent a few hours practicing in an empty tennis court. After some kicking and pushing you'll get the hang of it. So find some traffic free area, maybe a smooth parking lot or whatever, and practice.

You will hurt yourself though, no matter how careful you are. It's the nature of the beast. I fractured my arm in one fall, and got lots of scars in others. So, wear protection.

About commuting by board: long boards are really for cruising the street. They are not as nimble nor as hop-able as short boards... so taking on to the sidewalk where there can be cracks, curbs, and the like is probably not a good idea. (This isn't true of all long boards, but many.)

So if you have access to nice, broad streets, I say go for it.

I still have my Nosewalker, but I haven't ridden it since moving to Chicago. I just don't feel safe anymore. I loved it most in Norfolk Va where the roads were flat and reasonably smooth and traffic was light. I would do everything on it - make beer runs, commute to downtown, it was great.
posted by wfrgms at 4:55 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I think it's going to be more difficult than most people are telling you, but I sure wouldn't let what others think come into the equation. The coolest people, at any age, are the ones that don't give a fuck what others think. You want to skateboard, do it.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 4:58 PM on March 13, 2009

You are only too old at the point you are afraid to fall off or be ridiculed. Otherwise, never too late.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:04 PM on March 13, 2009

One datapoint: 45 year-old male, young at heart, just purchased a Ripstik (caster board). It's great fun, but for some reason my feet hurt after a few minutes on it.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 5:14 PM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: I've thought about those Ripstiks, but they look beyond my level of balance control.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 5:48 PM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: With regard to falling, I've thought about that. I certainly would like to minimize it, but I've crashed bikes a few times in the last couple of years, and emerged ok from those experiences, just scrapes and bruises.

That said, I haven't broken bones since my 20s, and I really, really would rather not now.

I like the tennis court practice space idea -- I have one nearby and will use it should I carry through with this plan. And yes, I'm thinking most of my travel by wheeled board will be on roads, which are flat for the most part, but with rough patches. Occasional wide university sidewalks, but I know I'll never be as capable as the kids who weave dangerously through masses of pedestrians.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 5:57 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Just bend your knees and lean forward. You'll be fine.
posted by joe defroster at 6:05 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Just to counteract GuyZero, you'll look like much more of a tool if you ride a scooter than if you ride a longboard. Longboards are great; they're fast, they're smooth, they're easier to control. Go for it.
posted by Dr. Send at 6:12 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: Take it for what you will: Pat Quinn. "My playing career [in the National Hockey League] ended prematurely. I fell off my daughter’s skateboard and shattered my fibula and tibia."
posted by philfromhavelock at 6:28 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to counteract GuyZero, you'll look like much more of a tool if you ride a scooter than if you ride a longboard

Quoted for truth. the only way you could look more toolish is if you had a Segway.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:14 PM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: I just started longboarding this year (I'm 29). I greatly enjoy it and expect to keep at it for the next ten years or more. Agreed with those who say that as long as you just do your thing without trying to look a certain way, you don't need to worry about how you look.

Falling is best thought of as a learned skill. If you can spare the time, it might be very worthwhile to take a few classes in a martial art that emphasizes falls/throws such as Aikido, Judo, or some forms of Jujitsu. As a new skater, my confidence is greatly increased by knowing that I can safely fall (and roll, if needed) in any direction.

I wear a hardshell helmet of the type that skaters typically wear (when they wear one at all). At $40 it seems like a worthwhile investment, though I don't see why you couldn't wear a bike helmet since you already have one. As for the safety of not wearing one, I suspect it depends on your environment, your skill at anticipating and reacting, and your propensity for taking risks.

You'll want skate shoes or other shoes with a moderately soft outsole. Note that grip tape and footbraking are very hard on shoes; depending on how much you skate, you can easily go through several pairs in a year. (Over time, as you become better at carving to slow down, you'll rely on footbraking less.) I'm satisfied with shoes in the $20-30 range, of which there are many to choose from.

Since you asked for board recommendations, I have one: Kracked Skulls. They are quality boards at very reasonable prices and have developed a good reputation over the last couple of years. Although it's a bit unattractive, the drop-through design increases stability while making pushing and footbraking easier. (Note that, while it doesn't have its own product page yet, the Scimitar model is probably a better choice than the M1 because it accommodates larger wheels, which translates to a smoother ride.)

Congrats on choosing (or considering, at least) an activity that can be very rewarding. Have fun!
posted by [user was fined for this post] at 12:07 AM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: The thing that's difficult about learning how to skateboard when you're older is the apprehension-factor. My best friend and I tried to learn when we were 17 but I was so afraid of falling that it made it really difficult. I think we even tried to take lessons, but I couldn't even ollie. I was a pretty decent snowboarder back then, too, but for some reason I just couldn't relax. I think that's why skateboarding is popular with preteen/teenage guys, because they have no fear!
posted by radioamy at 9:51 AM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: I'm about to turn 27 and am thinking about taking up longboarding myself basically because I want to do nothing but go for miles and miles...and have no desire to try any tricks. I've heard nothing but encouragement from people who are actually skateboarders and mostly snickers from people who've never set foot on any kind of skateboard.

I think you should do this to give people like me something to hope for in 10 years and tell the people who might laugh at you to fuck right off.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 1:49 PM on March 14, 2009

Buy an old $20-$30 Schwinn you don't need clipped pedals for, and just leave it locked up at the campus? I imagine you could buy a half dozen of them for the price of a longboard...

It just seems counter-intuitive to me to develop another set of 'safety reflexes' (Pedestrian, bike, skateboard), particularly since you've probably already got a good set for the bike.
posted by Orb2069 at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2009

Response by poster: OK -- to update, I've obtained a used Sector something-or-other longboard, and I've been practicing balancing on it in the yard. Tonight, with the help of my wife, I plan to go coast around some chipseal streets in our neighborhood.

If my participation on Metafilter suddenly drops off, you'll know I received a traumatic brain injury.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: In case anyone is following this thread, a one-week update:

Earlier this week, I did an evening of practice in a parking lot with my wife spotting me. I chose it because it was rougher than the tennis court, and I wanted to go very slow.

By the next night I was rolling around my neighborhood, and now I've skated for a few miles at a time. Haven't gotten past 12-13 mph on the hills though -- I'm not so keen on going faster than I can run, in case I need to bail. Which is frequently. I bought and wear a skateboarding helmet, but I haven't fallen yet. I'll admit I've already graduated to Chaco sandals -- something I expect to regret.

Learning the basics was easier than expected, and it's definitely as enjoyable as I always imagined longboarding would be.

Thanks to all for your advice!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:20 PM on May 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, and also, I see that I have a long learning curve to go before I'm at the point where the dogs could tow me around.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:23 PM on May 3, 2009

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