Wings are no longer the highways to the sky. Ground-zero flight is now possible.
Armed with the shoes of Mercury, he skims swiftly over concrete like a jet hurtling over clouds. He sweeps past dreary masses of pedestrian students who are doomed to a life of sore feet and raw blisters.
Buildings blend together and the students of UCSD blur into a diverse rainbow of yellow, white and brown. People and obstacles become cones in his slalom course as he weaves in and out like a skilled tapestry artist embroidering a quilt that says ""Walking Sucks.""
He is riding a longboard and he is free from the burly grasp of this earth.
To many, the preferred means of transport around school is a longboard. The elongated wooden deck, extended wheelbase, wider stance and larger wheels meant for smoother riding differentiate a longboard from a skateboard.
Often, longboards will have oddly shaped decks. Many are pointed for aerodynamics. Some pay homage to longboarding's surfing roots and have flat decks. Others have curves and are molded to induce an eerie, floating feeling when riding. The length can range from a tiny two feet to a massive six feet.
One constant for all longboards is their larger, softer wheels designed to soak up bumps, dips and cracks. Simply put, skateboards are designed for tricks while longboards are meant for cruising. Their capacity for higher speed and ability to handle cracks and pavement irregularities make longboards a hit among UCSD students who prefer a fast route around campus.
Longboarders are everywhere at UCSD. Though not as prevalent as skateboarders, they are an undeniable presence between classes. The only quick mode of transport that does not require hands, longboarding frees the rider to eat, drink or chat on a cell phone while getting from point A to point B.
However, longboarding has its dangers. There have been 11 reported longboarding injuries on campus in the last five years, and many more unreported. Forty-five percent of the accidents took place on Voigt Drive -- that enormous hill coming down from RIMAC toward Warren College. This year, a novice rider received multiple stitches after his accident on that hill.
The love of boarding is also seen in the organizations on campus. The Board Club gathers boarders of every genre through parties, trips and other social events. Skating, surfing, snowboarding, mountain boarding and longboarding are all united under the [email protected] banner.
Board Club President Sean McPherson explained, ""Longboarding is soul. Carving the streets is like no other. When you get the power slide going, it's so much like surfing, so much like snowboarding, but like neither one.""
Since longboarding holds its roots in surfing, the two sports tend to have many common participants.
Freshman and skilled surfer Gavin McClintock owns many boards and has been hitting the swells for the past decade. But when the surf is weak, he longboards.
""Long skateboards are cool because you don't get speed wobbles bombing big hills, and if you do the blood stains are cool,"" McClintock said.
Another ardent surfer, freshman Justin Kleffman, is also an avid board rider. He has been skateboarding for the past eight years, so longboards are nothing new to him.
A surfer since junior high, Kleffman said, ""There's nothing like the feeling of hauling ass down the line -- sitting right in the pocket. It's like you are one with the wave and the ocean. With skating, it's the same, whether you are carving down a huge hill, weaving through traffic, gliding down the sidewalk to class or busting huge tail-slides on a cement bank. It's all that same feeling.""
The longboarding craze here at UCSD is a reflection of its popularity far and wide. The San Diego region was instrumental in the growth of longboarding, and Mission Beach and other local spots are magnets for longboarders.
Even though the sport tends to be male- dominated, women, such as old-school boarder Stacey Peralta, have shown up generations of men with their incredible longboarding skills. Women everywhere are riding and keeping up with their male counterparts.
Senior Kathleen Hentz started longboarding when she came to UCSD. She uses it as transportation around campus because it is ""way easier"" than other modes of locomotion.
Sector 9, a local skate company, was founded in 1993 with a few regular guys looking for a good time. While messing around, they began making cheap boards for cruising and carving. Someone offered to buy a board, and eight years later Sector 9 exploded into a multimillion-dollar worldwide enterprise.
Sector 9 President and co-founder Steve Lake said, ""It's all about fun -- just doing something different. It's about the carving, like we were surfing or snowboarding.""
Longboarding is a joy for those who do it. Every mile, foot and inch traveled is a pleasure -- at least downhill. Next time you see someone swoosh by on a longboard, know that they are enjoying their commute more than they would be if they were walking.
Breaking into the world of longboarding is not beyond your reach.
""I just started, and if there's any one thing I've realized in my short time riding, it's that you all need to get out of our way,"" said freshman Austin Reid. ""Damn it, I have places to be.""
Visit your local surf or skate store and take a look at their selection. The Internet has many good resources. Web sites such as http://www.gearheadalley.com and http://www.eBay.com offer deals worth your time. A good board will cost between $100 and $150 depending on where you buy it. Though expensive and not easy to learn initially, longboarders feel it is well worth the investment of time and money. Expect to eat it (slang for ""hurt yourself"") many times, but bear the scars with pride. If you ever dreamed of flight, now is your chance.
Like they say, ""ride or die.""