A new way to ride
    Photo by Lucy Wang / North by Northwestern

    When I got my bike in the fall, I was excited to be able to sleep an extra 10 minutes every morning and no longer sprint to catch up with the shuttle. I was convinced this one purchase was going to change my college experience and allow me to be more social and do more activities. What I did not realize is that a bike ride around campus includes a lot of starting and stopping, parking is a hassle and bikes require maintenance and repairs. The purchase felt like a waste of money.

    As I started looking around campus for alternate modes of transportation, I saw scooters, roller skates, long boards and even unicycles.

    What caught my eye, however, were the small skateboards that seemed to be everywhere. Many different brands like Santa Cruz and Stereo make these cruisers, but the one that made a name for itself by selling them is a company called Penny Board. At first glance it seemed like the perfect solution to my problem.

    At 22 inches long and 6 inches wide, the Penny and boards like it are easily one of the smallest skateboards on the market. Its size allows riders to duck, dive and weave their way around people, avoiding obstacles. And it somehow allows its riders to look presentable once they get to their destination.

    The resurgence in these boards began a year and a half ago when a skateboard design popular in the 1980s reappeared in Australia and quickly caught the attention of the skateboarding community, making it the ultimate #tbt.

    Today, these boards aren’t extremely popular, but can still be seen around campus, under students' arms, in backpacks and under classroom desks. They seem to go with their owners everywhere, giving anyone who rides them a skater vibe that I had no desire to display if I was going to ditch my bike. Medill junior Ian Robinson, however, assured me that this did not have to be an issue.

    “Because it is tiny, it is easy to not make a big deal out of them unless you want to make a big deal out of them,” Robinson said.

    He bought his board freshman year, and at first just thought of it as a toy rather than a means of transportation until he got better at riding it. Still, he only uses it to get around when he is in a rush.

    In addition to being convenient, the size makes it easier to get around campus. Dylan Waickman, a sophomore in SESP, told me he owns a bike and a small cruiser, but mainly uses his board when going to class.

    He remembers the looks of terror he got when biking around campus, and laughs when he looks back at all of the times he wanted to tell walkers that, “It’s okay, I know what I am doing, I am not going to hit you.” But, he says getting around campus on a board does not take that much more time because “people are not intimidated by a super skinny kid riding around on a tiny skateboard.”

    The boards can even be given a personal touch.

    “For an extra $20 you can customize it, and that has been where the real fun is,” said Medill freshman Will Noglows jokingly. He bought a customized cruiser with red wheels and a blue board and named it “Wiggins,” after Andrew Wiggins, the former Kansas basketball player.

    Over time, a group of Noglows’ friends got boards as well, so they started going out around midnight and skating around campus. They quickly got used to their boards and the few hills on campus, so they are constantly looking for new challenges whether it be bigger hills, long rides or maybe even some tricks.

    “It has definitely made us closer as a group,” Noglows said, “I don't know if there is a whole friend group that has something that they all like to do [together].”

    And even though Noglows recently bought a regular sized skateboard and a longboard, he still prefers his Penny.

    Ken Keistler, a salesman at Uprise Skateboard, a skating shop in Chicago, mentioned that these boards give him a feeling of nostalgia.

    “I was riding these when I was seven years old,” he said, “before I considered myself a skateboarder I rode [Penny Boards].”

    While Keistler and other experienced skaters found it to be a fun distraction for a few weeks, the boards usually appeal to less traditional skaters.

    Keistler cautioned me away from purchasing a Penny because he says the bright colors and size of the board make it less intimidating to new skaters, but because of the smaller size there is less surface area to plant your feet and it’s easier to mess up. He often warns new skaters against starting off on one of these small boards, and usually suggests a regular sized one with street-friendly wheels.

    According Noglows, however, not having any skating experience helped him learn how to ride these tiny cruiser boards.

    “I didn’t have any prior experience skating, so I didn’t know what was hard and what was easy, I just kinda got on,” Noglows said.

    Hopping onto one of these boards myself with no skateboarding experience and a history of falling down even without wheels under my feet, I was apprehensive. I put my foot on the board and quickly realized how unstable it is. But after gliding the board back and forth with one foot on the ground, I felt comfortable kicking off a little. It definitely wasn’t easy, and I quickly understood what Keistler was saying about the difficulty in riding a board this small.

    Yet, purchasing a larger board would eliminate a lot of the convenience of owning a board so small I can fit it in my backpack. This dilemma led me to decide to keep to my half-broken bike for now, until I can get more practice time on a friend’s cruiser and know I won’t crash in the middle of Sheridan.

    So for now, I’ll just grit my teeth and deal with the tire pumps, heavy locks and greasy chains.


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