The city of Chilliwack is keeping a close eye on longboarding following more than five serious collisions between riders and vehicles in other municipalities.
The fast adrenaline-fueled sport brings participants careening down steep, windy roads at speeds estimated at 50 km/hr.
The city’s public safety advisory committee advised council last week to roll out a mass education campaign. The committee wants everyone involved — longboarders, residents, and motorists — to promote safe practices, such as wearing a helmet, yielding to cars, and having spotters at dangerous turns.
The committee also urged the city to consider banning the sport on certain roads, such as those that are particularly steep and curved.
Another option, to ban longboarding within city limits outright, was rejected by the committee, in recognition that longboarding is a sport like any other.
“It’s kids getting out — healthy, fresh air — and (being) active. We want to encourage that. It is a sport, much like kids doing crazy things on bicycles and on skateboards and inline skates,” said Chuck Stam, city councilor and chair of the public safety advisory committee.
There are currently no city bylaws regarding longboarding, nor does the Motor Vehicle Act mention the sport, according to Cpl. Len Vannieuwenhuizen at the RCMP.
Unlike in West and North Vancouver, where serious accidents from longboarding are frequently in the news, the sport has not posed significant problems in Chilliwack. The RCMP has received only nine related complaints in 2012 and 2013, all of them from residents concerned about risky practices. All were related to longboarders in Promontory, on Sylvan, Prest, Weedon, Elkview, and Chartwell streets.
“Nine complaints over 18 months reflects that it is a sporadic issue that has not required our ongoing attention,” said Vannieuwenhuizen. “Our municipal traffic unit is aware of and monitors the issue.”
The RCMP only has one record of a collision involving a longboarder in Chilliwack. On May 25 this year, a 25-year-old man on a longboard cut in front of a car at the Evans roundabout, disrespecting traffic regulations, according to Vannieuwenhuizen. He was hit, and suffered minor injuries from which he has since recovered. There has never been a longboarding fatality in the community, to the knowledge of ICBC safety coordinator Mike Wateman.
While the city and police deliberate on the sport, longboarders give new use to the hills of Promontory. On Weeden Drive last week, 19-year-old Nick Hurley practiced some of his “slides,” a move that has a longboarder crouch low with his hand on the concrete in order to turn or stop. Unlike skateboarders, longboarders do not do tricks like flips or grinding on rails.
Longboards are significantly longer and wider than skateboards, and have larger wheels, which makes them more stable on concrete and allows them to go much faster.
Because of this, more people use longboards for commuting than racing down hills. Hurley estimates that there are about 40–50 serious downhill longboarders in Chilliwack, and several hundred casuals who use the boards for commuting on city streets.
According to Flynn, co-owner of Chilliwack’s The Truth Skate & Snow Shop, there will be increasingly more longboarders on the streets.
“It’s been growing exponentially over the last couple of summers Canada-wide, not just in Chilliwack. It’s the fastest-growing segment of the skateboard market,” he said.
For the serious riders, the big draw to the sport is speed.
“I’ve always liked going really, really fast,” said Hurley, who is one of the first people to take up the sport in Chilliwack four years ago. He now competes in races around North America — sometimes riding as fast as 100 km/hr — under sponsorship of Chilliwack’s skateshop and a board manufacturer.
Hurley values safe riding, and recognizes that the sport might alarm onlookers.
“We know we’re in control, we know we’re not going to fall, but they (drivers and residents) don’t know that, and it’s terrifying to people.”
He promotes safe practices to young people getting into the sport during regular workshops.
“Once other people started getting into it, we gotta try and let people know that it’s not just a free-for-all,” he said. “You can’t just go down the hill, go and pass cars, disrespect people. Because it’s just as much their road as it is everybody else’s.”
Not all riders come to the sessions, though. And while Hurley can cut speed and move to the sidewalk easily, the newer riders may not have that skill.
Hurley believes an outright ban on the sport within city limits would just encourage riders, but sees the benefit of bans on certain roads. It does depend on which roads, though.
“We do need certain roads to practice on,” he said.
North Vancouver has banned longboards on certain roads, and issues fines for riders who disregard others on the road.
Chilliwack’s public safety advisory committee is expecting a reply from city council on its recommendations.