Skaters Bomb Broadway Despite Fear of NYPD Crackdown
About 500 longboard skaters raced down Broadway from West 116th Street to the Charging Bull statue in the Financial District on Saturday, in the annual Broadway Bomb. Founded by two longboarding aficionados in the fall of 2002, the event sparked a media frenzy last year after the city imposed a ban, declaring it unlawful and dangerous. The boarders, however, defied the court order and showed up. The NYPD responded with arrests and summonses.
Despite last year's drama, longboarders turned up in droves this year to bomb Broadway. That's not to say they weren't anticipating police presence. When the throng raised their boards in the air and chanted, "Broadway Bomb! Broadway Bomb!" at the start of the race, one longboarder yelled, "Y'all gonna get us arrested!"
Broadway Bomb co-founder Ian Nichols (second from left), flanked by fellow longboarders
But the NYPD steered clear. No paddy wagons, no orange nets, no cops in riot gear. Perhaps the department wanted to avoid a rerun of the Benny Hill-soundtracked YouTube video that showed longboarders slithering away from barricades along Broadway.
Race co-founder Ian Nichols speculates that a race on October 11, notoriously known as the "Fraudway Bomb" -- a facsimile of the real deal organized by a copycat -- took the heat off the actual race a week hence. Nichols has promised in the past to get a parade permit, but he confesses that it's the outlaw element that attracts a lot of skaters. The 44-year-old skater started the event to bring together longboarders from all over to celebrate what they call the "push culture" -- an alias for the longboarding community. Most longboarders are wannabe surfers; the sport (and the Broadway Bomb) gives them a chance to re-create the feel of riding a wave by pushing wood on New York City's streets.
Nichols concedes that relishing the thought of weaving through traffic requires a daredevil attitude. "The type of person who enjoys this sort of thing is the same type of person that likes bungee jumping or running with the bulls," he says. "It's definitely a different type of person that feels alive when they are about to die."
Longboarders are often lumped with skateboarders and viewed as anti-establishment punks, but Nichols insists his ilk aren't criminals. Daredevil tendencies aside, longboarders are responsible members of society. "You'll find that most of these characters [at the Bomb] have 9-to-5 jobs," he says, adding that he views the sport as "a form of meditation."
"It's like when you hear surfers say it's like a spiritual thing, and they quiet their minds," he says.
Boarders from far and wide, ranging in age from 13 to 55, participate in the race. Attorney Frank Perrott, who inhabits the elder swath of that spectrum, came in from Sacramento. A former surfer, he took to longboarding as a way of delaying retirement. "My wife got me my first longboard," he says. "It really does simulate the feeling of surfing. I can get my surfing fix and some exercise."
"He's not competing -- he's just doing it for his own fulfillment," his wife, Susan, adds before dashing off to catch a train bound for the Charging Bull.
While it's easy to confuse a longboard with the skateboard, members from both communities claim separate identities. "When you're riding a longboard, there's a sense of camaraderie," says longboarder Miles Evans. But "there's a sense of elitism to skateboarding."
Nichols hopes events like the Broadway Bomb will mend the rift between the two groups. "Longboarding is a subcategory of skateboarding," he explains. "By definition, they have the same parts. They're the same." Unlike a longboard, a skateboard is usually used for tricks. Longboarding, on the other hand, is about traveling.
— Longboard Stuff (@longboardstuff) October 18, 2014
Nichols distanced himself from the race last year after being served with an injunction, but he says the event pretty much runs itself by now. He hopes the Broadway Bomb will eventually grow into more of a parade than an outlaw event. "We've all agreed it will happen on the same day every year," Nichols said.
The third Saturday in October, it is.
Video by Sarah Mortimer
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.