Fred Mahe, a 36-year-old software salesman, twists his tie into a neat knot while riding his skateboard up Madison Avenue from his home in the Financial District to his office at 42nd Street and 3rd Avenue. “It’s like a magic carpet,” he said of his trusty transport. “You just kind of stand on it and it goes.”
Mr. Mahe doesn’t ride to work every day (“Some days it’s all you can do to find your way to the train,” he said), but he has joined a contingent of late–20-something and 30-year-old skateboarders who are riding the concrete waves of New York and Brooklyn on planks of wood atop polyurethane wheels.
These aren’t the young skate punks of Union Square, grinding on railings and clattering down concrete steps at bone-breaking speed. These are guys with mortgages, iPhone bills and maybe wives and children, who find time to skateboard to and from work or cruise through Central Park on the weekends. They’re indulging in nostalgia for a childhood pastime (Hello, Peter Pan? It’s Wendy calling!) while convincing themselves it counts as cardio.
“Instead of going for a run or a bike ride after work, I’ll go for a long cruise on my longboard,” said Matt Fuller, a 34-year-old financial reporter. “I’ve worn my heart-rate monitor before, and it works! You can burn a lot of calories if you alternate which leg you push with.”
Mr. Fuller said he’s seen co-workers and clients his age coming out to Central Park to watch skateboarders make the rounds and occasionally join in themselves. He is a member of the New York City Longboard Association, which was co-founded by Mr. Mahe in 1998 and hosts two (unsanctioned) rides a year: one in Central Park and another called the Broadway Bomb, during which about 100 mostly adult participants race down Broadway in extra safety gear, including helmets and knee and elbow pads. (They’re not as spritely as they used to be.)
“We’re not going to be kick-flipping down 10 flights of stairs anymore,” said Brian Petrie, 32, who custom-builds longboards through his company EarthWing Skateboards and hosts the Friday Night Rip, during which Park Slope dads often ride aside their children in Prospect Park. Mr. Petrie’s longboards, a slightly lengthier, more stable version of the short, spunky numbers seen in skating competitions for tricks and street riding, are popular with today’s graying commuter set. “We still want to be part of it and see how we fit in, we just don’t want to break bones,” he said. “We still like to confront speed and danger, but our joints kind of hurt us.”
‘Just as Fast as a Bike’
“If you bring your skateboard in [to work], some guy is going to be like, ‘Oh, you skateboard? Cool, I used to skateboard. See this scar?” said Steve Rodriguez, 36, who was sitting on a bench the other day near a skate park by Monroe and Pike streets in Brooklyn.
Mr. Rodriguez, who ’boards to his job as a freelance brand consultant a few days a week, also runs his own skateboard business 5Boro. He has been skating in New York since he was 11 years old, and consults on skate parks for the city.
“If you really are into skating, you never really stop skating, and everyone skateboarded in the 80’s,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Two years ago, it seems like a lot of people were getting back into skating and wanting what they remembered.”
This is the generation who watched Tony Hawk, who is pushing 40 years old, become a skateboarding superstar. They wore out their V.C.R.’s watching skate movies like Thrashin’ (1986), The Search for Animal Chin (1987) and maybe even the cheesy Christian Slater classic Gleaming the Cube (1989). Then they started skating themselves, building obstacles out of plywood in their backyards and on neighborhood streets. By the end of high school or college, some traded their boards for cars or bikes. But many New Yorkers have been inexorably drawn back.
“You don’t have to be a punk kid to do it,” said Ben Dietz, 32, who works for a media company in Brooklyn. “I don’t skate with anybody who’s under 25. You were going to stop skating at a certain age because life had more to do with jobs and families and mortgages and all that shit. But I love to skate because it’s something that’s still manageable.”
Mr. Dietz moved here from Syracuse in 1998 after college and skated recreationally, quitting for a few years after separating his shoulder at an Upper West Side skate park. After a short stint in Australia, he returned to a New York with more skate parks, tolerant cops and paved roads with bike lanes.
The technology had also changed, with hard, stiff wheels replaced by softer, road-friendly ones. Mr. Dietz got himself something called a Zip Zinger. “It was easier, just as fast as if I was going on a bike,” he said. “And you don’t have to worry about it, you can just pick it up and carry it into the office. You don’t have to lock it up or worry about it getting stolen.”
Mr. Rodriguez draws a crucial distinction between shortboarders like himself and Mr. Dietz, who still work on tricks and dart around city streets on their more agile boards, and the more laid-back, definitely older longboard riders. “It’s like looking at Dave Mirra [a professional BMX athlete and MTV heartthrob] to a Lance Armstrong [seven-time Tour de France winner and Don Juan to soccer moms],” Mr. Rodriguez explained. “It’s two totally different worlds.”
“It’s about getting around and seeing the city, going from bar to bar with my homeboys after work,” Mr. Dietz said. “I don’t think it’s about, ‘Hey I want to go out and be a rebel.’ I’m too old to be a rebel.”
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