As the evening deepens, Adam Lund, 19, is driving an ambulance behind seven longboarders on a Southeast Portland hill. Music blasts inside the...
PORTLAND — As the evening deepens, Adam Lund, 19, is driving an ambulance behind seven longboarders on a Southeast Portland hill.
Music blasts inside the cab and Lund describes what it’s like to “bomb” down a hill.
“When you’re going downhill, all you can hear is the wind blowing through your helmet and tears fly out your eyes,” Lund said. “It’s nuts.”
It’s the first run of the night for a group of Portland skaters known as the Eastside Rollers. They meet on a smooth inner-city street every Monday at 10 p.m. and repeatedly bomb their way down 30 city blocks.
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Lund, a University of Portland sophomore, has volunteered to drive the ambulance for the first run. He follows closely behind the skaters, keeping traffic off their backs before shuttling them back up the hill.
After removing the sirens and the word “ambulance” from the side — making it street legal — the ambulance has become the perfect shuttle for the longboarders.
The Eastside Rollers represent growing devotees of longboarding, a form of skateboarding. Longboards have bigger and softer wheels, which make for a faster and smoother ride. Longboards also have more space between the deck and the wheels, allowing riders to turn and lean the board to a greater extent.
The Eastside Rollers’ founder, Robin McGuirk, contends that longboarding at night is safer because of the decreased traffic. McGuirk said the police rarely bother the longboarders since they agreed to start wearing lights on their helmets. Brian Schmautz, a Portland police spokesman, said he hasn’t heard of longboarders causing any significant problems or of any extra patrols set up to go after them.
Nonetheless, longboarders try to avoid the city when they can.
The best hills, they say, are freshly paved, low in traffic and have few or no traffic signals. That’s a recipe that often calls for the suburbs, and few communities make longboarders drool like the city of West Linn, about 10 miles south of Portland.
Neil Hennelly, a West Linn police spokesman, said they typically get calls from people in the hilly neighborhoods who complain about longboarders. James Boehner said he has never called the police to complain, but he is concerned about safety on his street since it is curvy and longboarders like to use the middle of the road.
“When the kids start at the top of the hill, they can’t see if a car is coming at the bottom or not. They take one tumble here, and they’d get maimed up pretty bad.”
Hennelly said West Linn police haven’t issued citations to longboarders and don’t plan to step up their enforcement. As long as skaters obey the law, he said, the department supports longboarding as an alternate means of transportation.
The future of longboarding in the nearby city of Lake Oswego, however, is in question. Jane Heisler, assistant to the city manager, said the city received a letter from homeowners complaining about longboarders. “They find it disruptive. They find litter. They find that their landscaping is being used as a restroom. It’s probably not the skating itself, but the externalities.”
The City Council recently discussed the issue and has decided to research what other communities have done to deter dangerous and disruptive skating. Some ideas include physically altering streets to make the smooth, straight hills less appealing, adding police patrols and giving officers the right to confiscate boards. Heisler recalled that a longboarder a few years ago was given a speeding ticket for going 45 mph down a hill.
In two years, Daddies Board Shop in Northeast Portland has seen longboarding go from making up half of its sales to about 80 percent to 90 percent of them.
Probably the biggest reason for the growth, though, is the fact that longboarding also appeals to people outside the traditional skating culture. Melanie Loveland, who opened Daddies with her son 10 years ago, said college students who have embraced longboarding as a means of transportation are primarily responsible for its growth.
“It’s a whole different style of skating,” Loveland said. “For one thing, anyone can do it. You don’t have to have a skating background. We’ve got a lot of younger kids who can’t do tricks. It takes the pressure off of them, but they can still skate.”