Boarding Down Broadway

Story and photos by Ashley Lofters

Broadway Bomb 3
They’re off, on Broadway.

More than 1,300 skaters zipped through Manhattan’s traffic on Saturday, Oct. 8, in the biggest longboard race ever in New York City, the Broadway Bomb. Both beginners and diehard skaters from around the world came together for the 11th anniversary of the race, created in 2000 by skaters Ian Nichols and Fred Mahe.

The race started at noon at 116th Street and Broadway and ended at the bull statue in front of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.

“It’s a highly spiritual thing just for you to mix with the people,” says Solomon Lang, a racer and an employee at a longboard shop. “Without having to say a word, without having to say anything, you just know that these people get it.”

New Yorkers took first place in the race, with Kiefer Dixon winning the men’s division and Sara Paulshock and Cami Best tying for first in the women’s division.

Because the Broadway Bomb is not officially recognized by the city, Broadway was not shut to traffic during the race, and participants had to weave through vehicles and pedestrians. Part of the race’s appeal, several skaters say, is the congestion. The motto of the race, “You Could Die,” says it all.

In the Wall Street area, racers also had to contend with the demonstrators who have been gathered for days in the Occupy Wall Street protest. They seemed generally supportive of the race. (One skater, Jack Smith, on the Broadway Bomb Facebook page before the race encouraged fellow skaters to bring food or other useful items for the protestors.)

Broadway Bomb 1
Cami Best, who tied for first place in the women’s division of the race, shows her stuff.

A longboard is similar to a skateboard, but has a much longer deck, ranging from 33 to 59 inches, and wheels that are larger, making for smoother travel over pebbles and potholes. While skateboards are usually used for kick flips and on ramps, longboards lend themselves to different kinds of tricks, such as sliding, and some people even use them to commute (though no one seems to know how many).

(In sliding, skaters wear gloves with circular pucks attached and use their hands and board to slide across the ground, creating enough friction to brake. Sliding is also used in longboard downhill racing.)

“Longboarding is a different community than skateboarding,” says one skater, Christian Liriano, 18, from Queens. “Longboarding is a lifestyle. There’s no better feeling than cruising down a hill at top speeds with some of your buddies.”

The race had only two rules — wear a helmet and no skitching (when a skater holds on to a moving car and is towed). Both rules were stressed by organizers of the race but were not strongly enforced, and several skaters were seen without a helmet and skitching.

“There haven’t been many injuries, but people should be wearing proper safety gear and taking precautions,” said James Soladay, who finished seventh. Yet Soladay acknowledges that it’s hard to race cautiously. “In order to be a top finisher in the race, you have to throw caution to the wind and just go for the glory, because if you don’t, someone else is going to,” he says.

There were no restrictions on board size or setup. While the majority of skaters used longboards for the race, a few people raced on skateboards.

For those who prefer not to race in traffic, other races are held in New York during the year, including one in Central Park. Despite the huge turnout at the Bomb, the police made little attempt to stop the skaters. One police car trailed behind skaters at the start of the race, announcing that people should stay on the right hand side of the street.

Broadway Bomb 2
Frank Russo glides through lower Manhattan.

This year’s race drew its largest turnout ever, more than twice as many skaters as last year. As the race grows every year, several first-time participants ask how best to prepare. Soladay feels the best strategy is to know New York City. “All you can do to prepare for this race is learn the timing of the lights, learn the intersections and make sure nothing blindsides you,” he says. “Always be prepared for the worst possible scenario in the sense that you’re dodging strollers, other skaters, pedestrians, jaywalkers, cars and cabs.”

Several longboard companies, including Bustin Boards on Allen Street on the Lower East Side, look forward to the race. Bustin, one of several shops in the city devoted to longboards, hosted a barbecue after the race at the East River Park, with freestyle competitions and product giveaways.

Lang, who works at Bustin and was sponsored in the race, says the Broadway Bomb is an opportunity for companies to promote their products, and Bustin has seen a growth in its customer base as the sport has advanced.

“Two years ago we opened up the Bustin company, just doing online customization, and we’ve opened up two shops in the past two years,” says Lang. “At our newest shop, in the Lower East Side, we carry our brand plus our competitors brands, so I think that’s a test for how well we’re doing. We’re doing our best to keep up with demand and to keep up with the growth.”

Other brands sold at Bustin’s Longboard Loft include Rayne, Sector 9, Loaded and Land Yachtz.

Lang says the recession actually helped Bustin, because “in urban areas like New York City, if a board is your transportation, you don’t have to constantly spend money on an MTA pass.”

The average Bustin Board sells for about $195 to $250 (including trucks, wheels and bearings). Lang adds that longboards are also good for the environment. “You reduce your carbon footprint more by not catching a cab or not catching the train,” he says. “Plus you get the benefit of in a few years being extremely healthy. It’s a workout that you can do every day.”

Among Bustin’s competitors is Quicksilver on Broadway between Spring and Broome Streets; it carries both longboards and skateboards. “We sell more longboards now,” says Lester Fish, manager of the Quicksilver store on Broadway. “Longboarding is really starting to pick up especially recently with the Broadway Bomb. Practically everyone that works here has one.”

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