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Pandemic stories: Cure for boredom

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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Rita Allred applies grip tape to the top of a skateboard at Jack's Board House in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Rita Allred talks about the difference in skate trucks at Jack's Board House.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Rita Allred talks about the difference in skate trucks at Jack's Board House in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Skateboards at Jack's Board House in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Skateboards at Jack's Board House in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Rita Allred places a popular old-school-style skate board on the wall.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Rita Allred hangs a long board at Jack's Board House.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune A local skateboarder gets ready to drop into the Medford Skate Park.
Popularity of skateboarding booms during pandemic

When the pandemic shut down in-person schools, sports and gyms in Oregon, many people flocked to skateboarding.

“We started seeing all ages coming in, and more girls and women and families doing it together,” said Rita Allred, co-owner of Jack’s Board House in Medford. “Parents would say, ‘I used to skate. Now my kid wants to. I want to get back into it.’”

Skateboarding is a sport, a workout, a transportation method and a way to spend time outside, either alone or with friends and family. While it may look like a skateboarder is effortlessly gliding along, the exertion level lands between walking and riding a bike. There’s the process of kicking off, plus all the core and leg muscles that are engaged to stay balanced.

Like kayaking, a surprising amount of effort and skill goes into just traveling in a straight line instead of veering off to the side with each kick.

It might be tempting to start your journey into skateboarding by picking up a cheap $35 skateboard at a big-box chain store. But low quality wheels and bearings mean the skateboard won’t roll very far when you kick off. Wheels that seem like they’re spinning OK at the store can quickly develop a dragging feeling as you start using the skateboard on asphalt and concrete.

People who buy cheap chain store skateboards often wind up at their local skateboard shop asking for advice.

“We get lots of customers coming in and saying, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ Sometimes people get frustrated because it’s not performing like it should,” Allred said.

That frustration means some people abandon learning how to skateboard, thinking it’s too hard and they’ll never get it.

Local skateboard shops can help by replacing poor quality bearings and wheels.

Allred said she understands that some people can’t afford a quality skateboard. Some parents also want to start with a cheap skateboard to make sure their kids are actually interested in skateboarding and will stick with it.

But starting with a quality skateboard customized to your size, skill level and what you want to use the skateboard for can be cheaper in the long run than buying a cheap one, deciding you want something better and then investing in a quality skateboard.

Expect to spend at least $100 to get a quality skateboard. Like investing in a good bike, skateboarding is free — and more enjoyable — once you have the right equipment.

When shopping, it’s helpful to know the terms for the three major parts of a skateboard. The deck is the platform you stand on, and the wheels are exactly what they sound like. The trucks are the metal parts that connect the deck with the wheels.

The deck is often decorated with colorful graphics on the underside.

Jack’s Board House has a whole wall devoted to decks with a wide variety of graphics.

But picking out a deck based just on appearance is a mistake.

Look for graphics you like, of course, but check with a skate board staff member about the right size for you. Your overall size, including how big your feet are, help determine the right deck size, Allred said.

Wheels vary from hard to soft, and come in different sizes. People who want to do tricks and visit skate parks often prefer harder wheels, while people who want to cruise along on sidewalks, bike paths and the Bear Creek Greenway should get softer wheels that smooth out the ride, Allred said.

Bigger wheels will give you a better chance of navigating over pieces of gravel or twigs without coming to a screeching halt that will spill you off your skateboard. Still, it’s best to keep an eye out and go around little obstacles that could trigger a crash.

Skateboard trucks can be adjusted to make a skateboard easier to turn, or to make it easier to travel in a straight line.

Longboard-style skateboards have been gaining in popularity. They’re best for transportation and going down hills. Since they’re longer, they have a bigger turning radius and don’t turn with as much agility as regular boards, Allred said.

Allred recommended watching skateboarding videos to learn how to roll out of a crash, rather than landing stiffly on your wrists, which can result in broken bones. Practice your crash rolls on soft surfaces such as grass.

Jack’s Board House carries helmets and other safety gear to protect skateboarders.

Allred noted it’s important for both kids and adults to protect themselves. Adults usually have jobs, and an injury could make it hard for them to work while they’re recovering.

When first learning to skateboard, stick with flat surfaces. Smooth parking lots that aren’t pitted and bike paths are easy places to learn. Sidewalks aren’t the best places for beginners, because they rise and fall to meet roads and have sidewalk cracks.

You may never gain enough confidence and skill to try out a skate park, and that’s fine. Enjoy your time cruising and spending time outside.

If you head to a skate park, practice on the easiest areas and always wear safety equipment. Videos can give you inspiration for tricks to try either on flat ground or on a skate park’s features.

Stay in touch with the folks at your local skate shop. They can give you advice, make adjustments to your board as your skill level advances or you settle on a skateboarding style, and provide maintenance like replacing your bearings if they start to wear out.

Local skate shops also help foster connections.

In business for 21 years, Jack’s Board House has sponsored events like girl skate days and skateboarding clinics. Behind the scenes, they take in used gear to help outfit kids who otherwise can’t afford quality skateboards. The shop has supported local artists by putting their designs on skateboards and T-shirts.

With a wider variety of people embracing skateboarding than ever before, Allred encouraged people to learn the sport and join the skateboarding community.

“I would say, ‘Just go for it,’” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.