The epicenter of South Sound longboarding looks like the bedroom of a kid whose mom gave him a can of spray paint and free rein to redecorate.
The walls of the small Nalley Valley warehouse are painted with larger-than-life images ranging from Hunter S. Thompson and Samuel L. Jackson (circa “Pulp Fiction”) to the Kool-Aid Man. A projector casts skateboarding videos on the wall and a mini ramp is tucked in the corner.
It’s here that two Tacoma men are putting their mark on the increasingly popular sport of longboard skateboarding. Dan Kasmar and Cody Shea started Five Mile Longboards in Kasmar’s basement in 2007.
They named the company after their favorite local riding spot, Point Defiance Park’s Five Mile Drive, and their goal was modest. “We just wanted to build a board we liked,” Shea said.
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As more people pick up longboards to commute, cruise, race and even do tricks, Five Mile has quickly carved out a name for itself. Shea said business increased 300 percent last year and Five Mile is now shipping boards as far away as the Philippines. In May 2011, they moved into their Nalley Valley facility.
Earlier this year, “Concrete Wave” magazine reader’s voted Five Mile the 16th best longboard deck manufacturer in the business.
Their wood decks look warped but the wavy “3D Concave” design has a purpose. It creates pockets at both ends of the board that allows skaters to feel as if they are locked into the board. It’s a feeling skaters have tried to create on their own by stacking grip tape or even attaching items such as cardboard to their boards.
“They (Five Mile) are truly innovative in the way they shape woods in multiple directions,” said longboard ride organizer Dean Ozuna. “It’s something others are only doing with carbon fibers.
“They have a great reputation among skaters.”
So recently, we dropped by Five Mile to get the lowdown on this burgeoning sport.
WHEN DOES A SKATEBOARD BECOME A LONGBOARD?
The answer to this question depends on whom you ask.
Shea, 24, said it’s when you put bigger, softer wheels on your board regardless of its length. Kasmar, 40, says “we’re all just skating.”
Ozuna, 50, says it’s not so much about the board. “It’s a lifestyle.”
But Max Wippermann, an 18-year-old racer from Mercer Island and employee at Seattle’s Motion Boardshop, said the difference really is in the name. Longboards are typically 35 inches or longer, while standard skateboards are rarely longer than 33 inches.
“And longboarders typically value speed over tricks,” Wippermann said.
But not always. Shea races downhill at 50 mph, but also rides the mini ramp in his warehouse. And Kasmar says he’ll ride his longboard in empty swimming pools the way skaters did on shorter boards when the sport boomed in popularity in the 1970s.
Kasmar says one of the great things about longboards is that they are easier to learn to ride than shorter skateboards. He and Shea insist almost anybody can pick up the sport.
Sara Paulshock, who works at a New York shop and rides Five Mile boards, says longboarding is the most diverse form of skateboarding.
“We get a ridiculous range of people,” Paulshock said. “It’s pretty interesting. We get the hoodrats from the Bronx and guys from Wall Street buying boards for their sons and even themselves. Even moms (are) getting into it.”
Wippermann says the diversity is what makes longboarding special.
“Show up at a downhill session and you’ll see kids 10-12 and adults 40-50 riding the same hill,” he said. “It’s kind of cool because in a setting like that you see kids mature faster and be more respectful.”
WHERE DO I GET A BOARD?
Some South Sound companies such as Northwest Snowboards carry a wide selection of longboards, but the closest longboard-dedicated shop is Seattle’s Motion Boardshop.
And many riders buy their boards online.
“God bless the Internet for those who don’t have a shop nearby,” Wippermann said. “But if you can get to a shop and try out some different boards it’s worth it.”
WHERE DO I RIDE?
Washington’s ultimate longboarding location is Maryhill Loops Road south of Goldendale. More than 240 athletes from 14 countries will ride the windy private road June 27-July 1 in an annual World Cup race known as the Maryhill Festival of Speed.
Downhill longboarders also rip down mountain roads like Denny Creek Road on Snoqualmie Pass.
But the South Sound is home to ideal riding spots such as Five Mile Drive and the paved trails around Chambers Bay Golf Course.
None of these are good places for learning, however, Kasmar said.
“The best place to ride for beginners?” he said. “Your driveway or the road in front of your house. Someplace flat.”
A swath of land between Metro Parks Tacoma headquarters and Cheney Stadium is sparking dreams in the longboarding community.
The wooded natural area is public land managed by Metro Parks and was once home of soap box derby races. Today, people walk short trails on the property and visit in hopes of viewing wildlife.
Ozuna sees the area as a perfect locale for a downhill longboarding park. He says such a park would simply require paving three or four short, windy 8-foot-wide trails. He also envisions non-paved trails for mountain bikers and walkers.
“It would be the first of its kind anywhere,” he said. “We’d need to find a way to get funding.”
Metro Parks has not had any official conversations with longboarders about the property, spokeswoman Nancy Johnson said. She said there are “environmental issues” with the land that have kept Metro Parks from developing it in the past. Among them, she said, it is part of a flyway for migrating birds.
While a longboard park might be the ultimate dream, Kasmar and Shea just want to see the sport keep growing.
They’d like to see more local riding sessions and maybe even a downhill race someplace like Chambers Bay. They’d also like to see a longboard-dedicated shop in the South Sound that could stage events.
“Longboarding will grow through shops,” Kasmar said. And he’s certain there is still plenty of room for growth. “It’s something you don’t have to be a graceful individual to do. It’s something almost everybody can do and enjoy.”
Longboarding is growing in popularity, with everybody from kids to adults picking up the sport for reasons ranging from transportation to downhill racing. Want to give it a try? Here’s what you’ll need to know:
A typical beginner longboard deck is 35-40 inches, says Max Wippermann of Seattle’s Motion Boardshop. Boards as long as 45 inches aren’t uncommon either. Skater and ride organizer Dean Ozuna says size doesn’t matter. “Longboarding is a lifestyle,” he says. Ozuna says aspiring longboarders should pick a board that feels comfortable and is adorned with art you like. Styles vary. Tacoma’s Five Mile Longboards even shapes the wood in its decks to create a wavy surface making it easier for skaters to keep their feet in correct position. $75-$300.
Most trucks are made of cast aluminum and the angle impacts the ability to turn the board. A lower angle is good for experienced racers screaming downhill at 50 mph, Wippermann says. A higher angle is better for those cruising and needing to turn quickly at slower speeds. $45-$50 (Or $300-$400 for precision racing trucks).
Made from polyurethane, longboard wheels are bigger (typically 65-85 millimeters) than standard skateboard wheels. You’ll want soft wheels to absorb the vibration of riding on asphalt. Otherwise, just pick your favorite color. $40-$50
These anti-friction components allow the wheels to roll freely. While prices range dramatically, Wippermann says “a bearing is a bearing.” He races on the least expensive bearings he can find. $12-$100
BUSHINGS: These are urethane rings in the trucks. They come with the trucks, but Wippermann suggests sampling other bushings to feel the difference in turning and control. “There’s definitely nothing wrong with starting off with stock bushings, he says. $14
GRIP TAPE: Applied to the riding surface, this improves traction for the skater. $5-$15
HELMET: Helmets may not be cool in some skating circles, but no matter how good you are, veteran longboarders won’t ride with you if you don’t wear one. Dan Kasmar of Five Mile Longboard says he ridicules helmetless longboarders using names we can’t print here. “Whose day are they going to ruin if they fall?” he says. “Mine. ... If they get hurt being stupid it’s not good for the sport.” $40-$300
SLIDE GLOVES: These thick leather gloves with large pieces of plastic called pucks sewn into the palms are used to control speed and direction by dragging your hand on the asphalt. “Like an outrigger on a boat,” Wipperman says. They also provide hand and wrist protection. $35-$50
PADS: As far as safety goes, elbow and knee pads are sometimes considered optional. “If you want to grind your knees and elbows down to the bone, that’s fine,” says race promoter John Ozman. “Just make sure you’re wearing a helmet.” $15-$50 each set.Craig Hill, firstname.lastname@example.org