New to longboarding, trying to understand a few spills
September 4, 2018 9:43 PM   Subscribe

I've been tossed off my longboard twice by seemingly small rocks or pebbles, each time on the same super smooth piece of asphalt playground surface and I'm trying to figure out how to assess the risks of my new hobby.

After my son got me to buy him a skateboard, he tried to convince me to buy one, too. After a little reading, I decided a longboard was more my middle-aged style, so I picked one up. It's a 40" hard maple board with a 2" dropdown deck that the local skate shop recommended to me for beginners. It has large, soft longboarding wheels. The one thing I did to change it from stock was to upgrade the bearings to Bones Reds. It's built in such a way that wheel bite simply isn't possible: The trucks are too wide and the nose/tail are cut down pretty far.

Things have been okay. I've been on it for about a month now. I taught myself by going over to a local elementary school playground and pushing along, trying to stay upright. It's a huge, mostly flat asphalt surface with a few gentle inclines. There are a few cracks in the surface with weeds growing out, and it has a small amount of grit and gravel scattered around, about like you might expect to find on any street or paved parking lot. I like going there to practice because it's pretty smooth and generally not populated, and also so wide open that I'm not under a lot of pressure to perfect my turns. I can just glide around. I've put north of 20 miles on the board doing MUPs, paved paths, and streets, plus hours noodling around on that playground.

Generally, I can roll over the short weeds and small cracks without incident. I can hear small pebbles and grit under the wheels and occasionally see a pebble kicked away by the wheels. Sometimes, if I'm going too slow, I have to hop off when I roll over a crack or weeds because I don't have enough speed to clear them.

The thing I'm asking about is a couple of spills I've had that surprised me:

Each time I was tossed off the board while taking it easy gliding around that playground on one patch that was recently resurfaced, and is almost completely free of any debris, grit, or rocks. Just black, smooth asphalt. Abrupt stop, then I'm on the ground, having been thrown off the front. The first time, it was from a rock that was sort of pyramid-shaped and maybe half an inch tall. I figured its shape gave it a pretty stable base while the pointy top probably pressed into the soft wheel (or maybe caught the truck?) I could see a 6" groove in the asphalt where it dug in before finally stopping the board. The second time, it appeared to be from a smooth pebble (another 6" or so groove where the pebble dug in before stopping the board), but that pebble was tiny: maybe the size of an M&M (plain, not peanut) but round: definitely no way the truck couldn't clear it, so I'm pretty sure I hit it with a wheel. In each case I wasn't turning and I was moving along from a couple of reasonable (but not hard) pushes.

I'm really enjoying the longboard, and I've taken it for some longish (5 mile) rides on the local multi-use path where there are plenty of pebbles, twigs, grit, etc. While I generally try to avoid that stuff, I know I've rolled over plenty of it. I've also learned enough self-awareness to know when I'm losing my balance. I haven't taken a balance-related spill yet, even if I've had to scramble off to stay upright. Just these two cases of a small rock or tiny pebble getting under my wheels on an otherwise immaculately smooth asphalt surface and me going face first because the board has come to a sudden stop.

I guess I'm trying to understand if this is just a thing I need to expect of my new hobby and it has just so happened that it has happened a mere 10' from the other incident, or if the playground surface is a meaningful common denominator, or if there's something else I should be thinking about (besides using the knee and elbow pads and wrist guards I bought because this is just going to be my life if I keep longboarding).
posted by mph to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You have not specified your wheel diameter. My board came with 62mm wheels; I upped these to 77mm and then 85mm, and the difference is profound. I recently swapped the 62s back on for a few days, just to check them out. They're lighter, and have less traction, which is good for pivots and kick turns on smooth pavement; but the paths I ride on have enough rocks and debris that I put the 85s back on; they roll over everything, although...

This summer I took the board up into the mountains when we went car camping, and skated around the campground. Even with the 85s, I had more pebble trouble than I was used to. Down here, the pebbles are generic round things, but upslope, they were definitely pointier - shards of broken up granite, pyramid-like, as you describe - and they would catch me occasionally. As with mountain biking, you have to stay loose when the terrain gets sketchy.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:23 PM on September 4, 2018

Ah, right:

It has 70mm/78a wheels. I guess they're on the small side for a longboard, then.
posted by mph at 10:36 PM on September 4, 2018

That's just part of skateboarding. If you keep your body weight a little in the back leg you can roll over more stuff. You never know when you might have to run off the board.
posted by trbrts at 6:44 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm neither a skater nor road crew, but I wonder if the new surface is softer than others and that allows the rocks to dig in and drag some before acting as a brake
posted by Jacen at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2018

I finally found the right combination of search terms to understand what the skateboard (not longboard) world makes of rocks and their stopping power. The consensus appeared to be, "they make you fall a lot, and it sucks" and the advice was overwhelmingly:

1. Bigger, softer wheels. (Check ... I found a pair of 80mm Orangatang Kegels from my son's longboard and swapped them in last night. He's okay with it: He decided longboards are for olds, except when he's borrowing mine, so it's just been sitting out in the garage.)

2. Distribute weight to the rear. (Check ... this morning's session I tried sliding back a bit further to where my rear foot is comfortably snugged up against the rear rise, keeping my lead foot a few widths back from the front).

2a. Ride lightly in general, don't "push down through" the board. I think I understand this conceptually, but will need to spend some time trying to feel it.

3. Hop a little to relieve weight on the front when going over a crack or spray of gravel. That makes sense. I avoid that kind of terrain generally, and I never saw the rocks that got me, so my application of that advice is "adopt more conservative threat assessment habits and scan a little harder/closer."

And I went ahead and padded up this morning, which helped provide a little reassurance. Those spills haven't kept me off the board, obvs, but some part of my brain that has been reminding me that I'm at an age where I'm not guaranteed to just bounce back from something was a little quieter knowing my wrists, knees, and skull were protected.

There's also a way cleaner, never-near-fully-used Park-n-Ride lot a mile down the trail. You can see pebbles and debris from miles away, and the surface is amazing. I think it'll be a better "go glide around" spot than the playground.
posted by mph at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2018

Its been a while since I rode frequently, but falling down once in a while was a pretty regular part of the experience for me and most of my friends, especially when it came to sharp edged rocks.
posted by Lame_username at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2018

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