Denied official club status by UBC, a group of student rebels has turned to subversive tactics to practice their controversial sport and prove it’s safe.
The UBC Longboard Club, a group of about 15 regulars, has taken to late-night skating in the university’s private parkades, a practice looked down upon by university officials.
“We love to skate, and if we didn’t go in the parkades, this club wouldn’t exist,” said Spencer Murch, a third-year honours student and club organizer. “Longboarding is a great way to de-stress from the daily pressures of school.”
He says his group is finding a way to do it safely, despite what critics say about its inherent dangers.
Living on the edge
Many UBC students use longboards as a form of transportation around campus. A longboard is essentially a longer, wider skateboard with larger wheels, offering riders more speed than a skateboard and more portability than a bicycle.
The UBC Longboard Club practices downhill longboarding, which is extremely difficult and dangerous. Riders carve downhill at breakneck speeds in an exercise that looks similar to snowboarding on pavement.
As longboarding grows in popularity, it has become increasingly controversial. This past July, North Vancouver banned longboarding on its Skyline Drive after a rider collided with a truck. The UBC Longboard Club applied for club status in 2009 but was turned down by the university officials, who said longboarding “was too dangerous.”
Club members do most of their skating in UBC’s six parkades, which provide excellent downhill tracks and cover from the rain. The club meets late at night, when its members have fewer vehicles to contend with.
However, parkades are private property and school officials have a right to evict anyone from their premises. UBC Campus Security has evicted the club numerous times, citing safety and property-damage concerns.
“It’s mostly an issue of safety,” said Paul Wong, acting director of campus security. “Even if they are in there late at night, there are still occasionally people coming and going, so it is not permitted at any time. We’re not just concerned with the safety of drivers, but the riders as well.”
“When we see people skating in the parkades, we ask them to leave, and if they don’t, it becomes a police issue.”
While Murch acknowledged the dangers associated with longboarding, he also explained that the UBC Longboard Club has made safety a top priority. The club has mandated helmets and has equipment for members who don’t have their own. Members have also developed a system of spotters to make sure the coast is clear of oncoming cars.
“We take a lot of precautions,” he said. “These guys are paying thousands of dollars towards their brains every year; we’re all invested in keeping ourselves in good health. To my knowledge, we’ve never hit a vehicle.”
Incidents with campus security are typically short and uneventful, though Murch recalled one time police intervened.
“A couple years ago, a local group, Coast Longboarding, organized a race in the Rose Garden parkade. There were almost a hundred people in there and the cops showed up pretty quick.”
Murch was quick to point out that this was not a UBC Longboard Club event and that when the police showed up “everyone left pretty quickly.”
“We deal with campus security with as much respect and civility as possible,” he said. “It’s important to us to foster a civil relationship with them.”
“We recognize that when they throw us out it’s because they have to, it’s because it’s their job. There’s no bad blood or resentment.”
UBC Longboard Club members know they are fighting an uphill battle.
“Perception goes both ways,” said Kevin Langley, a fifth-year engineering student who has been with the club since inception. “Someone who skates into traffic irresponsibly, that’s not good for the sport, and that’s something we’re trying to separate ourselves from.”
Longboarders are often lumped in with skateboarders, said Langley, who cause more damage to pavement and have more of a reputation for being vandals.
“There’ll always be bad apples, but if we do this as safely as possible, be respectful, and take precautions, hopefully, eventually that’ll change the way people see the sport.
“We just love what we do, and we want to keep doing it.”