Onlookers stare as a student zooms down the hill, gracefully weaving his way through the morning crowd on his board. Once the student reaches his destination, he stops with ease, picks up the wooden board and heads into the building for class. He is a regular student with faster transportation means. He is a longboarder.
Though longboarding may have only gained popularity in recent years, the hobby has been around for a long time—almost 70 years. Originally beginning in Hawaii in the 1950s as an attempt to mimic ocean waves on solid ground, this "sidewalk surfing" has grown in American culture. Among these riders include at least 30 to 50 Mississippi State University students who have been longboarding on campus.
The unofficial group began casually in 2016 communicating via Snapchat. However, this group has grown their organization and named it the "Cement Eaters."
Brennan Bell, senior mechanical engineering major, is an active member of the group. He has longboarded for four years now, and spends most of his free time with the longboarding group.
"We all have our different majors and professions, but we all like skating," Bell said. "It is what brings us together."
Bell attests that, to his knowledge, longboarders have never received pushback or discouragement from the university. Police only ask longboarders carry rather than ride their boards across crosswalks for safety’s sake.
Though longboarding is a different culture than other types of boarding, the general population is unaware of the distinctions. Bell explained how different boarding types are very different subcultures, though they are often grouped together.
"There’s skateboarding, longboarding and pennyboarding. We don’t associate with people with pennyboards," Bell said, laughing. "We are a separate entity."
Yasin Simpson, a sophomore computer engineering major, and Heather Mehaffy, a freshman biology major, are also part of the Cement Eaters. They both expressed excitement for the community the hobby has provided them.
"This group is pretty much where all of my friends are," Mehaffy said. "I have met so many people through it, and they are the people I am with on the weekends."
Simpson said there is a sense of community with fellow boarders on campus, even people he does not know personally.
"There’s a mutual understanding," Simpson said. "I always give another boarder a nod when both of us are riding, even if I don’t know them."
Beyond community, longboarding has also provided a major outlet of expression for Simpson and Mehaffy.
"There are so many ways to express yourself through longboarding. Every board has a story," Simpson said. "The way someone decks their board can tell you a lot about their personality."
The longboards mean a lot to their owners, and Simpson said he believes a broken board is not too far from a broken heart.
"Having a board break hurts. It’s like losing a family member," Simpson said. "You never throw away your board after it breaks. I cannot think of a single person who has thrown a board away for any reason."
Specific boards are also used for different riding styles. Styles range from a strictly transportation style, to freeriding, to longboard dancing. In addition to specific boards, but each boarder has their own personal style of riding. The Cement Eaters said they can identify their friends by the unique styles.
Though the students enjoy their time boarding, they ride primarily for transportation purposes rather than recreation. Brennan Bell estimated 90 percent of his time boarding is for transportation, estimating about 3 miles of longboarding per day.
Mehaffy estimated longboarding to a destination reduces the travel time by three-fourths, explaining that a 20-minute walk is usually equivalent to a five-minute ride.
Simpson said on days when boarding is not an option because of the weather, he is sad for a day without his hobby.
"You live through your board if you have it long enough. Not having it hurts," Simpson said. "When I have to walk everywhere, it’s slower, and I’m just more bored."
As for those who choose to walk to classes, Bell encourages pedestrians to not be afraid when longboarders are beside them on the sidewalk.
"We route plan, and as long as people keep walking, it’s fine," Bell said. "Don’t freak out and jump when we ride by, because that is how the accidents happen."
The Cement Eaters hope to make their group an official student organization in the future, but until then, interested boarders can contact Brennan Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org.