Collision Coverage Not Included

Soulful or stupid? Whatever. The retro sport of asphalt longboarding is poised for a revival.

Nov 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

When Dave Frissyn tells people he's going "longboarding," most folks assume he's heading off in search of some clean peelers on the California coast. But in fact, he never leaves the big-mountain backcountry around Lake Tahoe. Frissyn, who is currently punching the clock as a security guard in Squaw Valley, spends his free time ripping down steep highway chutes on a 52-inch skateboard, sculpting graceful, sweeping arcs at get-out-of-my-way speeds. Unlike street luge or rollerblading, longboarding offers no brakes—a handicap that makes for some serious road rash in the event Frissyn, 27, encounters a patch of loose gravel, an oil slick, or a road-hogging lumber truck. (Two years ago, he developed a scab running the length of his entire body after trying to dodge a dog.) "If you let it get beyond 25 miles per hour on a mountain pass," he says, "you're history."

Frissyn is part of a scene that flourished briefly in the seventies, died out in the eighties, and now seems poised to follow lava lamps and polyester into a colorful resurgence—albeit with a few new twists. Exposure is one: NBC's Gravity Games featured longboarding in its debut broadcast in September. But the sport's most ardent devotees seem to prefer that it remain comfortably hidden in the shadows. Reason: They practice their craft on moonlit nights or at dawn in places like Wyoming's Teton Pass, the volcanoes of Hawaii, and the Northern Sierra—thus adding subversive hipness to a disdain for formal rules and skin-flaying hazards. Not everyone is impressed, however. "That doesn't even have to be illegal," a state trooper recently barked before ordering Frissyn off a highway south of Lake Tahoe. "It's just plain stupid."


In our September feature on the competitive miseries of the U.S. Rowing Team's Selection Camp in Princeton, New Jersey, all eyes were focused on the battle for the coveted number-five "engine room" seat in the first heavyweight eight between two top oarsmen: Michael Wherley, veteran of two previous championship boats, and big Jake Wetzel, a Canadian newcomer. After four weeks of deliberate equivocation that kept tension—and effort—high, coach Mike Teti made his selections as August's World Championships in St. Catharines, Ontario, approached: The last open spot in the nation's premier boat went to Wherley, while Wetzel was assigned to stroke the American four. The results were impressive. Both boats won gold medals—the four rather handily and the eight in a thrilling come-from-behind finish over a strong British crew. But none of the rowers can afford to rest his oars. Competition has already begun for seats on next summer's Olympic eight, and the relentless Teti plans on building his boats from scratch. "We'll start again," he declares. "This year, everyone is gunning for us."


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