I've been riding my Homemade Baltic Birch longboard exclusively for the last couple weeks. It has turned out to be a great ditch board. The wedged trucks don't lend themselves to grinding (unless you just WANT to hit the kingpin), but the seven degree wedging mixed with Bones soft bushings gives 215 inch trucks a very quick turn.
A little less than a year ago, I made a flat Baltic Birch deck. It was meant to be a top mount push board, but I got gung ho about pumping and wedged it so high that it wasn't a good pusher anymore. Although it is a heavy piece of 13 ply Baltic Birch, I did a marathon ride (both pushing and pumping) on it. I liked the lack of concave. It made it easy to skog and I could walk along it, changing foot positions, that kept my feet from getting sore. It ended up being a pretty good pumper. I learned to pump above the front truck with a heavy front foot or to step back and pump from the rear.
It was, of course, really tall for pushing. In fact, I ended up having knee pain in my right knee. I believe that was because I was doing so many deep squats while pushing for miles that I was getting tendonitis (hey, I'm in my mid-forties). I ended up retiring the deck for a double drop push board.
But, man, I was missing the responsiveness of a top mount. Especially after I started trying the double drop in ditches. While it was fun, I knew a more responsive ride would be more fun. I mean, carving and pumping wall to wall is one of the best things about skating a ditch!
I started thinking about that Baltic Birch deck and refitting it to be a fun push board. So, I grabbed my drill and a hole saw bit, and added some cut outs.
Instead of the tiny Bennett 4.3 front truck and Bullet 110 I was riding, I set it up with some Indy 215s I had sitting in my extra gear box, and I had a new fun cruiser.
The best thing about this deck is how it carves. So much fun just to take out and ride. It is low enough to push, can pump a bit on flats, and is fun to carve both downhill and in a ditch. It is amazing how some random pieces of gear can become the most fun ride you have.
Since this blog has become so distance oriented, here are some bank/ditch pics from this summer.
I have to admit that I never really believed your wheels made that much of a difference.
Well, let me explain that because that's not really true. Sure, I know a crappy wheel makes for crappy performance. I know that a wheel with bad rebound will be slow no matter how big the wheel might be. I bought a used set of Satori Big Bud 80mm wheels a few years ago and was very dissapointed. I mean, they'll bounce up very nicely if you drop one (that's a sign of a good wheel, right?), but man they were slow. It seemed like I was pushing constantly and the wheels wouldn't hold decent speed.
I switched over to some 75mm 78a Star Tracs on my pump board and some 76mm 78a Sector 9 "Goddess of Speed" wheels on my "do everything" double kick longboard. Eventually, I switched down to one long distance board, a double drop deck. On that board I decided to run the Sector 9 wheels.
After a couple months of riding on this set up, I convinced myself that the board was slower than my old pumper set up (which I actually pushed and pumped even though I called it my pump board due to all the wedging/dewedging and Bennett trucks).
But was it the board or just the wheels?
Last Friday I switched out the Sector 9 wheels for the Star Tracs. I immediately noticed a speed difference. I also noticed that I was retaining my roll speed much longer and pushing less. In fact, I've gone from skating 6 1/2 minute miles to skating 5 1/2 minute miles while exerting a lot less energy (because I'm not pushing as much). In fact, I was all set to beat my PR in both 15km skated and 1 hour skated today when my Endomondo app crapped out mid-ride. I ended up having to restart the app which, of course, set my one session into two rides. A little bit of a bummer as I was hoping to do 12km or more in an hour today.
This isn't to say the Sector 9 wheels are "bad." They just aren't as good of a distance wheel. They slide pretty nicely and might make for a perfectly fine freeride wheel, but for logging miles on a paved trail, the Star Tracs have immediately proved to be a much better wheel.
Next week? I'm trying out Orangatang Kegels (in 83a) to see if they not only live up to the hype, but to also see if the 83a hardness will be better for my (nearly) 200 pounds of bodyweight. I'm wondering if 78a might be a little too soft for my weight over a prolonged distance.
I've been thinking about adding land paddling to my skate routine for a little while now. Two things were holding me back. 1. I'd never gotten to "try before I buy" and 2. I was concerned about holding a stick when I didn't want to paddle. I don't even like to hold a water bottle when I'm skating (hence the hydration pack on my back).
While searching land paddle options online, I came across the Sk8pole, It is a retractable land paddle that can go from about 3' to just over 6'.
I figured I could easily strap the retracted paddle to my hydration pack with a couple cords when I didn't want to paddle to free up my hands, and I pulled the trigger. A few days later, my new land paddle showed up, and I have been loving it ever since.
Being able to push regular, mongo, and skog style mixed with pumping and, now, land paddling, has made my skating that much more fun. I love the shoulder and chest usage in land paddling. I feel like it is rounding out this "skate as workout" thing I've gotten into.
On my first paddle ride, I started out with it strapped to my back and I pushed/pumped the first four miles. At the four mile mark, I stopped, released the pole from the mini bungee cords attaching it to my pack, and paddled my way back to my car. So much fun, and such a great upper body/core exercise!
After three push/pump/paddle sessions this week (in addition to my normal workout routines), and I can tell you my shoulders are even a little sore.
However, a word of warning. You do not ever want the paddle to hit one of your wheels! It will throw you down as fast as foot-bite or wheelbite. I found that out the hard way. And, if you do fall, make sure you let go of the paddle so you don't land on it.
Below is a video of me extending the sk8pole from 3 to over 6 feet.
In January I wrote a post called, "Winter Weather/Skate Cross-Training?!" In that post I described my winter skate cross training. As a forty-something year old man, I can't rely on just skating to keep me physically fit enough to protect me from certain injuries in skating.
When I wrote that post, we were going through a particularly wet, cold winter. Now, that it is summer, I thought it would be a good time to update my current "cross training" regimen to see how it has changed over the course of the last six (or so) months. Having a job in which I primarily work from home, having a decent home gym set up keeps me working out even when I can't get the chance to skate for a few days. I truly believe that staying fit, as an older skater, is paramount to keeping me skating my best, keeping my bone density high, and staving off would-be strains.
The first major change is that I dropped the exercise bike/elliptical training completely. Why? Well, because I hate riding a stationary bike, and I hate exercising on the elliptical. To get a good cardio workout, I have switched over to a treadmill. I was lucky enough to acquire one a couple months ago, and I love interval running on the treadmill. I'll jump from a brisk walk to a full fledged sprint, back to walking, sprint, walk, sprint. . .you get the idea.
One thing that has stayed very much the same is stretching. I feel so much better when I stretch on a daily basis. Now, as I said in the previous post, I don't like yoga. I just can't get into it. However, I have a list of stretches that I like in particular. Some of which were from this article on the Jenkem website. Yes, the article is about yoga, but I don't do it like a yoga practice. I don't worry about clearing my mind. I just stretch in front of the TV (usually with some UFC fights on). The Toe Squat and The Ankle Stretch were particularly difficult for me at first. My ankles and toes have taken a lot of abuse in the last thirty plus years of skating. I've been through broken ankles and one broken toe. I can say that these two stretches in particular have really loosened up my feet. The first time I tried to do the ankle stretch, I couldn't sit down at all. In fact, it was painful just to try the stretch. Now, after weeks and weeks of practicing, I'm easily into both stretches.
Resistance Training. Not a lot has changed since the last fitness post. I lift weights three days each week and do bodyweight one day a week. Every workout is full body with two days being heavier and one day of high rep lower weights. I have started making myself do more leg exercises. I used to HATE leg day. I hated having sore legs trying to skate the day after leg day to be more precise. So, I would end up skipping legs if I knew I was going to get to skate the next day. Now, since I'm doing full body all week, I have some legs each day without blowing out my legs all at once. And my legs are loving it. I can tell my legs are stronger for it, and (also since switching my distance ride to a drop down with a slight platform drop) all knee pain in my right knee is gone. I attribute that to continuing to stretch, the new deck, and the increase in leg exercises each week.
Looking back at my old workout, one thing that has changed, but not for the good is a new lack of balance training. I haven't been on my balance board or "log rolled" in a long time. I'm changing that tomorrow as I'm dedicating myself to getting back on the balance board starting tomorrow.
I got out for a Razorback Greenway ride this morning, and wanted to make it further than I normally make it. I've had this dream of skating the entire 37 mile trail, and I keep reaching out just a bit further each time I get out there to see exactly what that might entail.
Today I learned it means hills. In the mountains kind of hills. And, for the first time on a distance ride, I had to stop and rest. Twice.
What started as a fun five mile trek turned into an uphill battle in the Ozark Mountains. After passing a bunch of walkers and runners, I began my uphill battle until, due to the over 90 degree sweltering heat and sheer magnitude of the hill, I decided to stop, pause my sports tracker, take off my helmet, and rest.
After resting for a few minutes, I decided to turn around and head back down the hills I'd been battling. This, of course, is another can of worms. I'm now having to slide and foot brake constantly to keep me from going too fast. The trail is narrow, and there are a lot of walkers, runners, and cyclists. Any of these could be around a bend in the trail (and there are many bends to this windy trail).
Shortly after starting my slide ride down the hill, I realized I had started back too quickly. I ended up stopping again. I had brought a granola bar in my pack, so I ate the bar which was exactly what I needed. A few more drinks of water, and I felt much better. I hopped on the board and, after getting past the bigger hills, I was able to have a great ride back to my car. In fact, the ride back to my car was one of the most enjoyable rides I've ever had. While still slightly downhill, it was sloping and not intense. I was able to push a couple times and coast. It was wonderful.
Feeling so much better, I decided to drive down to Loch Lamond and set up some cones for a slalom session. Due to the heat, I wasn't out there long, but I got some good runs through the cones. Man, am I rusty at avoiding cones!
A few days ago I went out onto the Razorback Greenway via Bella Vista Lake. It was perfect. A few hills to climb and descend, but nothing crazy that would leave me struggling. So, I headed out to the lake for another Greenway ride.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to skate the Greenway today. As I approached the first tunnel I cam upon a section that was roped off. Also greeting me at the tunnel was a reporter. He informed me that the trail was closed at that point as they were painting the inside of the tunnel with a white "anti-graffiti" paint. I paused my Endomondo app and got a little camera time as he interviewed me. As I geared back up to ride, I wondered where I could ride...
...around the lake, of course. The lake made for a very shaded easy ride. The full loop is 1.8 miles but one parking lot connecting the trail looked to have gravel, so I would turn around and loop back around to the other end. 15 kilometers later, I called it a day and headed home before the afternoon storms rolled in.
While it won't become my most common ride, looping around the lake makes for a fun addition to the Razorback Greenway.
Oh, and here is my interview for the news: 40/29 News
The blog post could easily be called, "My Longest Mile," or "The Trail That Killed Me."
A few days ago, as I drove through Bentonville toward Bella Vista, I saw a pump track. It was bigger than the pump track I'd skated in Springdale, and it just happened to be stationed on a trailhead for the Razorback Greenway.
When I got my opportunity to check both out on Wednesday afternoon, I hit the pump track first. I spent my first twenty to thirty minutes getting used to the track, adding a little more speed with each run. I found myself having a hard time with one particular wave. It is awkwardly placed directly after another wave. It wasn't necessarily taking the wave, but the narrowness coming out of the wave. While it gave me some fits, the pump track was a lot of leg burning fun.
Now, I could blame my poor performance riding the trail on my legs being worn out from the pump track. I can put blame on the summer heat (the temp was around 93 with the heat index upward of 100). But I'm not choosing to blame my poor performance on those. No, I'm choosing to blame it on the hills because these hills are crazy.
In fact, the first mile felt as if it were almost entirely uphill with only a couple drops in elevation. By the time I made it to the the busy street crossover into the next portion of (what looked like) more incline, my legs were shot. I knew not to push it further because I din't want to get too far out this tired. I turned around and started the descent.
Now, here's the thing. I now had a crazy downhill ride. And, while this may sound fun, it was actually more stressful than the uphill battle I'd just taken on. I had to slide. A lot. And I'm not proficient at sliding a drop down drop through longboard yet. The difference between sliding a drop down drop through and sliding a topmount skateboard is in foot placement and leverage. When sliding a typical skateboard, I rely heavily on my back foot being on the tail. The tail is a lever. Your back foot pushes down on the lever as you turn into the slide. Now, having that lever gone, the slide feels very different. So, I started carving toe side with my hands down, basically doing "backside bert" slides down the hills. The interesting thing is that the next downhill mile was actually slower than my uphill pushing mile because I kept sliding to a stop.
After completing a three mile ride, I decided I needed to work on my slides and get comfortable doing powerslides on my longboard (or standies as the kids call them). I went back into Bella Vista and visited Loch Lamond. The parking lot was empty, so I spent a good half hour getting comfortable sliding. It wasn't necessarily how I wanted to finish my day of skating, but it was a necessary thing to do.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been dealing with a little knee pain when pushing. From everything I've read, I believe it to be a simple case of runner's knee caused by overuse. I've been riding very high boards for some time. Top mounts with multiple risers make for very tall skateboards. Add to the mix that I tend to revert to pushing rather than pumping when I get tired, and I was spending far too much time essentially doing lunges when skating.
To combat the knee pain, I ordered a drop down drop through 8 ply maple deck. I set it up with Caliber trucks and 76mm 78a Sector 9 wheels. Looking at the platform height of this board compared to the platform height of the boards I've been riding was amazing. And, almost miraculously, I noticed within the first mile of pushing, that I was not having any knee pain.
I also noticed that, because my foot was so close to the ground, I wasn't bending forward nearly as much when pushing. This was very important to me as well as it was my first time riding with a hydration pack on my back.
I've been thinking about getting a hydration pack for a long time, but didn't have a good enough excuse to buy one. Most of my rides, when living in central Arkansas, were 3 to 5 miles. To the vast majority of distance skaters, this is a warm up ride and nothing to really talk about. However, now that I live in Northwest Arkansas with all the amazing paved trails around us, I had my excuse. My distance rides can now be much longer (especially now that my knee pain when pushing has gone away), and I know that I hate carrying water bottles in my hands while I skate.
The pack straps on like a tiny backpack (because that is exactly what it is). It contains a "hydration bladder" that holds 2 liters of water, and has a long straw that you bite down on to release the water. I loved this addition to my ride gear! Having the water readily accessible was awesome. I'll never hit the trails without it again.
Speaking of trails, I hit the Razorback Greenway (Rogers AR section) for the first time.
I'm in love with this trail!
The Razorback Greenway is a nearly 40 mile trail that goes from South Fayetteville all the way up to the northern border of Bentonville. So, it runs through the towns of Springdale and Rogers! A four town trail!
I got on at Cambridge Trail Head in northern Rogers and took a slow pace. Since I'd never ridden this trail before, I didn't know what to expect around any of the very plentiful turns. It is a very hilly area here in the Ozark Mountains, and I didn't want to suddenly be bombing a major hill when I wasn't prepared to slide. And, as I learned, sliding a drop through/drop down longboard is very different from sliding a top mount with a kicktail.
Those of us that are used to skating more traditionally modeled boards put one foot on the tail, behind the back truck, when sliding. With a low rider board you don't have that back truck leverage when sliding, and trying to break the wheels free feels very different. I fell off several times when attempting what would have been very easy slides on one of my other boards.
I'm going to have to do a little "freeride" slide practice out at Loch Lamond to get my longboard slides up to par!
I ended up doing a ten mile ride on the trail at what I considered a low, cruiser speed. There were two other realizations on this ride:
1. The low platform means that I push more efficiently and I don't get tired nearly as quickly.
2. It is easier for me to push with more power when the platform is lower.
I'm so happy with my new gear. I can't wait to get back out on the Razorback Greenway this week!
David Thornton is a lifer skater and national award winning writer. He has been skating for over thirty years and is the author of Nobody: Essays from a Lifer Skater.