Thirty-Nine Inches And Up

One of the most interesting trends in the past few years is the rebirth of skate longboarding. Although many retailers are beginning to profit from the resurgence of longboards, many within the skate community are still scratching their heads and wondering what the heck is going on out there.

Last year International Longboarder Magazine conducted a reader survey (yes, there is an actual magazine devoted to skate longboarding, with a circulation of 30,000 worldwide and a Web site at longboardermag.com). This article draws from that survey as well as comments from longboard-industry executives to give you a better understanding of the longboard market.

Before launching into the current state of affairs, a brief history is in order. Longboards have always been on the periphery of skateboarding. While the first skateboards rarely exceeded about 25 inches, in the 1960s a number of longer models were produced, and some are rare collectors’ items today. The longboards of the 60s were meant to push the idea of sidewalk surfing, but with clay wheels, the ride was pretty rough and dangerous.

The introduction of the urethane wheel in 1973 finally gave skaters the grip they needed. Avid surfer Tom Sims started to promote skate longboarding in the mid 1970s. Back in the 70s many skaters had a quiver of skateboards–it wasn’t uncommon to find skaters with a vert board, slalom board, freestyle board, as well as a longboard they used for downhill or cruising. At the time, skaters like Brad Strandlund, Ed Economy, and Sims promoted the use of longboards, but there wasn’t a huge demand for them.

In the 1980s Schmitt Stix created the 36-inch Yard Stick and Madrid brought out a number of boards in the 40-inch range. These boards were fun to ride and quite unusual at the time, but they weren’t massively popular. In the mid 1990s Sector 9 manufactured longboards with a lot more flex than previous models–their shapes were eye-catching, and they fused the snow and surf experiences to create the feeling of riding a skate longboard. The concept took off, and the company moved quickly from the backyard to a commercial warehouse. Sector 9 also influenced many other people to start their own longboard companies.

The vast majority of the skateboard population ranges in age from ten to eighteen, but longboarding encompasses a much wider demographic. “The age range is the beauty of longboarding,” says Steve Lake of Sector 9. “It appeals to a very wide range of riders, six to 50, male and female.”

The ILM reader survey backs this up. About 86 percent of readers are over the age of sixteen, and roughly half are between the ages of twenty and 35. In fact, ILM found that its average reader has been skateboarding for over nine years. This has enormous repercussions for the skate industry. Longboards can extend the amount of time that customers stay with skateboarding, and this can mean less customer attrition and increased revenues for shops.

But what exactly is drawing people to longboards? Steve Lake believes that people are drawn in for many reasons: “It’s a diverse sport that offers many different styles of riding to a wide range of people. Some ride longboards because it’s a stable, easy, smooth ride. Others enjoy a little longer board for more of a surfing feel.”

Jaime Iribarren of TVS speculates further: “Longboarding might seem less intimidating to people than regular skateboarding. Others are drawn to it because it’s a different trip than they’re used to.”

Echoing these sentiments is Gravity Owner Michael Bream: “I think that people are drawn to longboarding because it’s just good, clean fun. Traditional skateboarding is so trick oriented that if you’re riding a short board, it’s assumed that you can ollie or kickflip. But that’s not the root of the sport. Carving, styling, and cruising are the roots of the sport, and the best product to do that style of riding ois a longboard. You don’t have to be intimidated to ride a longboard.”

In perusing the ILM reader surveys, it’s interesting to see some of the responses to the question “Why did you buy your first longboard?”

“I love the rush you get from going fast downhill. It relaxes me.”

“I use it to commute to work.”

“It looked liked fun.”

“I tried my dad’s and wanted one.”

The survey also asked readers about the various types of riding they did with their longboard. Although multiple responses were given, it does paint a very different picture than the current shortboard market:

Cruising: 90 percentDownhill: 63 percentStreet Skating: 48 percentSkateparks: 27 percentVertical: 15 percent

For the most part, cruising and bombing hills are not going to weaken or destroy boards. With just under half of ILM?s readers street skating and less than a third riding skateparks or vert, the replenishment factor is much lower than short boards. This is a crucial factor, and longboard companies are addressing it in several ways. “Our boards do last much longer than the conventional skateboard,” says Lake of Sector 9. “But our customers are a bit more adventurous in that they tend to purchase multiple styles of boards for different styles of riding.”

Lake believes that a dedicated longboarder might have a quiver that consists of a pintail-style board for downhill carving, a fiberglass board for slalom-style riding, and a 33- to 40-inch board for cement parks or pools. “Sales lost to non-replacement of broken boards are made up for with creativity and diversity,” he says.

A number of manufacturers are promoting the idea of using longboards in a street or skatepark environment. Their team riders are doing some of the same tricks as short boarders–airs, kickflips, rail tricks–and going through boards quickly. This certainly can have a dramatic affect on replenishment.

The other key area of development is bringing in a new audience (that doesn’t have a skate background) to the world of skate longboarding. Snowboarders and surfers were early adapters to longboarding, and as word continues to spread about longboarding’s cross-training benefits, look for more snow and surf shops to carry the boards.

There is also a huge untapped audience to be found in former skateboarders. Many veteran skaters in their twenties, thirties, and forties who carry great memories of their boarding past may find they can’t relate to today’s skate scene. Longboarding speaks to their roots, or it may just be a more stable experience. While you’re selling a regular board to a kid, you might well find yourself selling a longboard to the father or mother.

Another area of interest is the female factor. Women generally have low participation rates in skateboarding, and the same is true for skate longboarding. However, with longboarding being more accessible, there is certainly a huge potential to develop this market. Many longboard companies are designing graphics and shapes with women and girls in mind.

Longboarding is slowly but surely making a name for itself, and it’s spreading via a number of different mediums. Besides International Longboarder Magazine in North America, there is a longboard magazine out of Brazil, numerous longboard videos, along with many Internet sites dedicated to the discipline. One of the best sites is the Northern California Downhill Skateboard Association (ncdsa.com). The site just celebrated its five-year anniversary and is drawing over 200,000 unique visitors a month. It is a treasure trove of information and includes hundreds of equipment reviews.

As with all businesses, longboarding faces its own set of challenges. It’s a different demographic and vibe than traditional skateboarding, and it may not fit within the parameters of all ‘core skate shops. However, there is no question it’s leaving its mark on the retail environment. ILM asked its readers how much they planned to spend in 2001 on longboarding and related equipment. When all the numbers were boiled down, ILM calculated a figure of 35-million dollars worldwide.

Gravity’s Bream believes the longboard skate industry is going through the same shakedown that snowboarding went through years back. “It seems like there were a ton of little companies in the beginning, and they were just more or less copying what the big guys were doing,” he says. “Now a good deal of them have gone out of business, and I think that’s good for the industry and the consumers, because the stores now stock product from brands that back it, develop it, and will be around to support it for years to come.”

Lake at Sector 9 sees the market expanding even further, and believes that skate longboards have become a staple in the action-sports industry: “There are some very good companies out there right now helping to push each other and grow our sport.”

While there may not be longboards in every skate shop in the country, many longboarders figure it’s only a matter of time. As Iribarren of TVS states, “Longboarding is a sport that offers a good time for every kind of skater, whether you give blood during every session or skate barefoot to the beach.”

Michael Brooke is co-publisher of International Longboarder Magazine and author of The Concrete Wave (The History Of Skateboarding). He can be reached at mbrooke@interlog.com.

nt. ILM asked its readers how much they planned to spend in 2001 on longboarding and related equipment. When all the numbers were boiled down, ILM calculated a figure of 35-million dollars worldwide.

Gravity’s Bream believes the longboard skate industry is going through the same shakedown that snowboarding went through years back. “It seems like there were a ton of little companies in the beginning, and they were just more or less copying what the big guys were doing,” he says. “Now a good deal of them have gone out of business, and I think that’s good for the industry and the consumers, because the stores now stock product from brands that back it, develop it, and will be around to support it for years to come.”

Lake at Sector 9 sees the market expanding even further, and believes that skate longboards have become a staple in the action-sports industry: “There are some very good companies out there right now helping to push each other and grow our sport.”

While there may not be longboards in every skate shop in the country, many longboarders figure it’s only a matter of time. As Iribarren of TVS states, “Longboarding is a sport that offers a good time for every kind of skater, whether you give blood during every session or skate barefoot to the beach.”

Michael Brooke is co-publisher of International Longboarder Magazine and author of The Concrete Wave (The History Of Skateboarding). He can be reached at mbrooke@interlog.com.