SITTING in an interview room at the North Shore News early Wednesday morning, Keenan Macartney and Osa Hawthorne are friendly and polite.
Like many teens, they are also talkative, but after a few jokes, they quickly get down to business.
They are here to talk about a hot-button topic of late: longboarding.
Both boys have been longboarding since they were 12, and say their sport is here to stay. They are keenly aware of recent criticisms of the sport, but say they train hard to be good at it and they believe it's unfair to paint all longboarders with the same brush.
"I think they're hearing about the injuries that are happening and they're saying, 'Well, this sport is crazy, these kids are getting super injured,' but those are the people that aren't being safe or maybe are in a freak accident," said Hawthorne.
Both longboarders know that collisions with cars are one of the main risks in longboarding.
"You always have to be thinking about them. Sometimes you're enjoying longboarding so much and having so much fun that you might forget about them for maybe five minutes and five minutes is too long," said Macartney.
Longboarding has been around for some time in other areas of the world, particularly in Hawaii, and has grown in popularity on the North Shore in the past few years.
It is similar to skateboarding, but uses a board that is longer and broader with larger wheels and that has been designed for better stability at faster speeds and around corners. While skateboarders mainly do tricks with their boards, longboarding also involves riding down hills at fast speeds.
Macartney said one thing that appealed to him when he started longboarding was the feeling of gliding across the road, rather than the bumpier ride of a skateboard.
Skateboarders feel all of the vibrations of the road, he said. "With longboarding it's much smoother and it's almost like you're floating above the ground. It's almost like surfing."
The hills of the North Shore make it a popular draw for longboarders. That's also appealing to Macartney and Hawthorne.
"We live on the North Shore where there are some of the best riders in the world. So it's cool to walk my dog and see these world-class athletes come down the mountain," said Macartney. "With many sports on the North Shore you don't really have that."
But with the growing popularity of the sport, there have also been conflicts. North Shore residents have expressed concern for the safety of riders and drivers who have to share the space.
Longboarding on the North Shore became news fodder in 2010 when an experienced boarder died after colliding with a van on Mount Seymour Road. Since then, more accidents resulting in serious injuries have kept it in the headlines.
Both Macartney and Hawthorne wear kneepads, gloves, and full-face helmets when riding, and said they understand the importance of safety gear. Recently, Macartney was approached by a resident who told him she was glad to see that he wearing his helmet.
"I said, 'I've been wearing my helmet for two and half years now,'" he recalled. "I think people are sort of judging longboarding before they know too much about it. I really challenge them to maybe look into it a tiny bit more before coming up with a final opinion."
More than 100 North Shore residents had a chance to do just that this week as a capacity crowd filled West Vancouver's Kay Meek Centre to talk about longboarding at a public meeting hosted by the West Vancouver School District, West Vancouver Police Department and District of West Vancouver.
West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith, whose municipality is dotted with the long, winding, paved roads particularly suited to the sport, began by admitting to the audience that although he was scheduled to talk about longboarding for 10 minutes, he could sum up what he knows about the topic in about 10 seconds. He said he is just becoming aware of the longboarding issue in West Vancouver.
"I'm here with ears wide open," he later told the crowd. "Somewhere in this maze we have to find a path and a solution."
For West Vancouver Police Const. Jeff Palmer, the main message for longboarders is the need for safety.
"There is a young man who should have been celebrating graduation," he told the crowd, which included a handful of longboarders, Macartney among them. "Think about that."
Palmer was referring to a 17-year-old Rockridge secondary student who remains in a neurological critical care unit after receiving serious head injuries from a collision with a car while longboarding with friends in West Vancouver in May.
It's a concern the teens said they're well aware of.
"If you learn control and you know the rules of the road, then it's a safe sport," said Macartney, adding if an inexperienced boarder goes down a hill without the proper skills, that's when there are going to be problems.
"I think to be good you just have to control your board and you have to know what you're doing on the hill," said Macartney, adding, "It's really unsafe if you go without a helmet."
Michael Perreten, of Landyachtz Longboards, told Wednesday's meeting that some riders are going too fast on certain roads. Citing an example of a rider who was injured longboarding at an estimated speed of 50-60 km/h in the British Properties, he said certain residential areas are not where riders should be going so fast. Longboarding competitions and other events are safer for that type of riding, he said.
Other information presented at the meeting showed that despite an increase in longboarding injuries, the relative number of injuries is still low compared to other sports.
Dr. Brian O'Connor, the North Shore's chief medical health officer, presented statistics from Vancouver Coastal Health indicating that between 2008 and 2013, there has been increase in longboarding injuries bringing people to emergency room departments. But mountain biking, cycling, skiing and snowboarding all have higher numbers, he added.
Without knowing how many people are longboarding, the data still doesn't say anything about the rate of injury, said O'Connor.
Based on anecdotal reports, O'Connor suspects most of the injuries were not from crashing into vehicles.
The largest number of boarders presenting to ERs were residents of North Vancouver, and the second largest group was from the Vancouver area. Peak injury months were May to the end of September. Not surprisingly, Lions Gate Hospital saw the most ER presentations related to longboarding.
"It's no surprise; it's where the hills are," said O'Connor.
Currently, longboarding is prohibited on all public roads in West Vancouver. In the District of North Vancouver, it is allowed in most areas, with fines up to $100 for bylaw infractions such as not wearing a helmet, but is banned on Skyline Drive, a popular longboarding spot. In the City of North Vancouver, longboarding is legal in many areas, with similar fines for infractions, but is prohibited on some streets, such as Lonsdale Avenue from 25th Street to Carrie Cates Court.
Macartney and Hawthorne said they have their favourite spots to longboard, some they wouldn't reveal. They noted that a full ban on longboarding does not stop kids from doing it.
They would rather see weekly road closures, a different road each week, to provide longboarders with a safe space to ride. This would be especially helpful for new riders who would have a regular place to learn the sport and rules of the road from more experienced riders, they said.
Rotating road closures is an idea that triggered a round of applause from the audience at Wednesday's meeting. It's an idea that is popular among riders and their parents, and according to the mayor it's an idea the district will consider.
Speaking to the North Shore News the morning after the meeting, Smith recalled his parents and neighbours shutting down their residential street for tobogganing when he was a kid.
"That kind of thing could work," he said of temporary road closures to accommodate longboarding events. "As far as I'm concerned we're open to discussing anything."
Smith was pleased with the positive tone of the meeting and said longboarding is now on his radar.
"It hasn't come before us in the eight years I've been on council, but obviously it's something that we need to have a look at."
Smith said he will ask for a longboarding report to council from staff with information about what is working in other municipalities.
A long-term plan could include lifting the district's ban on longboarding.
"At this point, if we're really going to be smart, everything is up for reconsideration, the ban and how we deal with the issue. So this is why we need to look at it," said Smith.
Parents at the meeting agreed that a ban on longboarding does not discourage youth from the sport, and a harm reduction approach would make more sense.
North Vancouver residents Carol and Garry Reimer, whose son Kevin is a two-time longboarding world champion, were at the meeting and said regular rotating road closures are ideal, but are an "unrealistic expectation" for West Vancouver. However, Garry suggested if the district did it even once, it would show "they're moving in the right direction, that they're open to this." Carol said education is needed on both sides so boarders learn safety and etiquette and residents can understand more about the sport.
"I think it's the first step. If this is all that happens, well, we haven't really accomplished enough, but if they start with this and then actually move a little bit, perhaps more public input, another meeting, I think it will make some progress," said Garry.
Providing education around common safety messages about longboarding is something the West Vancouver School District is interested in pursuing.
Schools Superintendent Chris Kennedy told the North Shore News before the meeting there has been a noticeable increase in local high school students interested in longboarding. Although leading community meetings for an activity that takes place outside of school hours is not part of the school district's core business, Kennedy said they do provide education around other safety topics, such as drunk driving.
"This might be another one of those places where we can provide some educational support around making sure kids are safe," he explained. "I don't know it (longboarding) well enough to know if it's a fad or if it's here to stay. Is it the next snowboarding where it becomes a permanent part of culture, or is it more of an anomaly right now? Over time that will probably get sorted out and that will probably determine how much we do around education."
With school wrapped up for the term, Macartney and Hawthorne, both finishing Grade 9, will likely be active on the hills throughout the summer and said they plan to longboard for a long time after that.
"For me, I love the adrenaline, but also the culture," said Hawthorne.
Longboarders all know and respect each other, they said.
"Longboarding definitely has risk to it. And I think with anything with risk you get nervous. When I'm at the top (of a hill), I get nervous, especially if you're with better riders, but you also get excited especially when you finish the run. You're high-fiving all your friends. And that's the cool thing about it. You gain friends when you're learning," said Macartney, adding, "I think if there's a spot for cyclists on the road, there can be a spot for longboarders on the road."
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