The low rumble and skips of longboards are a loud part of the soundtrack to life at Western. Whether you’re cruising from one end of the campus to the other or bombing down Indian Street cutting wide turns and throwing the board sideways for speed control, the activity has established itself as a mainstay of college existence. But with the growth of the sport, especially on this campus, local authorities are rushing to try and establish some new rules of the road.
Bellingham police have started pulling over skaters for riding on the street in heavy traffic areas. Some have handed out tickets for as much as $124, while others just warn boarders to stay on the sidewalk.
Nate Braks, president of Western’s Longboard Club, said that the city doesn’t seem particularly clear on what the rules are for longboards.
“The thing that’s interesting about skateboarding is that laws change on a city to city basis,” he said.
In Braks’ hometown of Spokane, skaters are barred from riding in the downtown area and county roads, but otherwise it’s completely legal.
It would seem that similar rules apply in Bellingham. The only mention of skateboarding or longboarding in the Bellingham Municipal Charter reads:
“It is unlawful for any person to use, operate, play with or propel a skateboard upon, over or along the public streets, alleys, sidewalks, parking lots or other public places in the Central Business District, in the Fairhaven Business District and in the city block surrounding the Bellingham Public Library.”
It also states that the fine for skating in these areas may not exceed $250.
Indian Street, where many students are being pulled over, lies outside the borders of the Central Business District as defined by the city.
The only clear regulation set by campus police is that skating is prohibited in red square from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Braks said he’s been hearing about people getting ticketed for skating College Way, which wraps behind Arntzen Hall.
“[That’s] interesting to me because bikes go back there all the time,” he said.
The laws on longboarding that exist today were written in the 1990s to respond to the influx of freestyle skaters grinding their boards on public railings and benches. Longboards are used in a different way and seem to demand slightly different regulation.
Until that regulation comes into being, Braks said skaters should wear a helmet and be smart about where they’re skating.
“I would say get out of the downtown area, don’t skate places that are highly residential and have a lot of blind corners and stop signs you’re going to be blowing through. Obey traffic laws, that sort of thing,” Braks said.
He also said there are a handful of good spots to skate in Bellingham, but they’re closely guarded secrets for the boarders who know about them.
Bellingham police are making the effort to keep longboarders off the street mostly out of an attempt to keep them safe, but Braks contends that a skilled longboarder is as safe as a cyclist.
“I think the really big problem is that there’s a big misconception that people think that we don’t have any way to stop. I can see how it looks that way from observation and not knowing much about the sport, but you can slide to a stop. If you put a foot down, you can stop generally as fast as a bike would be able to,” he said.
For now, longboarders who cruise the streets of Bellingham float in limbo, with very little to go off of in terms of written regulation. The sport is at a cross road, and for Braks, it’s all about maintaining the right image.
“It seems like perception is everything right now with skating and not so much with our perception of everyone else but with their perception of us,” Braks said. “Just trying to look more careful and responsible on your skateboard I think can go a long way.”