Annie Thomas’ Rainbow flip-flops are planted sideways on the grip tape of her blue Sector 9 longboard. With knees slightly bent and her long brown hair blowing behind her, she sways across the brick sidewalk, zooming past Downtown Lodi storefronts.
A surfer and former waterpolo player, Thomas has fallen in love with laid-back longboarding culture that is reminiscent of surfer beach cities, but has made its way inland to cities like Lodi. She’s in it for the sport, but she also loves how it makes her feel.
“Longboarding gives you a sense of character ... but it’s also time you can have by yourself,” said Thomas, the St. Mary’s high school student who rides anywhere the pavement is smooth: her long Acampo driveway, Downtown Lodi, the streets of Santa Cruz.
Boards are for girls
Skateboarding has long been a boy’s sport, but girls are finding their comfort and freedom on bigger, sturdier longboard skateboards.
Longboards are wider and typically longer than standard boards. Some are two feet long, while other reach five feet in length or more. The wheels, wider and softer than average boards, take rocks and sidewalk cracks easier, helping riders stay on longer and keep balanced.
While girls use longboards for transportation, longboards are typically used for leisure. Even in Lodi, longboarding girls surf the streets of Lodi in their shorts or flowy skirts and sunglasses. Thomas and Lodi longboarder Caroline Garrett even take the risk and pedal their boards in flip-flips.
Garrett, 27, who has been skating since she was a student, is now a driver’s education and health teacher at Lodi High School. She rides her 4-foot longboard with friends around Lodi and around her neighborhood in Midtown Sacramento, where seeing girls on longboards is normal.
She started riding with her brother, Luke Garrett, on a regular skateboard. Always athletic, she says people weren’t surprised that she could ride; her guy friends thought it was cool.
“It’s not unusual for me ... They’re used to me riding,” said Garrett, who got her boyfriend to buy a longboard and start riding.
When she was a student at California State University, Chico, her brother and sister bought her the longboard she uses today: a Sector 9 with green Hawaiian bamboo print. In college, it was a way to get around campus and a town where parking always posed a challenge.
Boost of confidence
When she’s not working at Oh My Yogurt or taking classes at San Joaquin Delta College, Merrin Dean rides her Sector 9 board across Lodi, sometimes for fun and sometimes because it’s cheaper than using gas guzzled by her ’99 Jeep Wrangler.
Zigzagging through the flat parking lot at Lodi Lake, near her home, Dean is comfortable on her board, leaning back to make a sharp turn kneeling down to touch her board with her hand as she makes a gentle curve. Her long blonde hair blows behind her, and her movements seem effortless.
Dean has always been known to test herself. She rides a unicycle and she walked across a rope she strung up between two trees in her front yard.
When she rides, she rides solo or with her guy friends because her girl friends are often too afraid.
“With girls, it’s kind of a balance thing ... they’re just kind of scared,” she said.
However, she thinks girls should face their fears.
“It’s a stereotype — girls are supposed to be pretty and flirty, but you can do that and do things guys do,” she said. “Younger girls just need to have their confidence built and to face things head on.”
Annie Thomas has been surfing since she was 11, and longboarding helps her practice even when she stays home in Acampo and can’t make it to Santa Cruz.
“It keeps my body used to the movement and keeps my balance up,” she said.
She’s on her second skateboard, but still uses her first and favorite board, a blue sector 9 with gold wing trucks that are broken and will fly off her board if she tries bombing (skater lingo for flying down a hill on a skateboard and completing the descent with a trick).
While she classifies longboarding girls as “Roxy, soul-surfer types who tend to be less skater-ish,” she finds that it’s something anyone can do.
“You never get too old for (longboarding),” she said.
After years of practice on the longboard, the girls haven’t escaped without battle wounds. Most scrapes and bruises were caused by rocks that stopped their wheels and made them fly off, or by trying to keep up with the boys.
“I have tried the whole bombing down the hills thing. The first time I tried, I took a chunk out of my knee. I never tried to keep up with the boys again,” Garrett said.
Thomas has her scars too. Taking a break from riding, she pulls up her jean pant leg to reveal a scar on her knee that happened after she tried to ride fast down a hill. Her Sector 9, her favorite even though it falls apart, started shaking as she got deeper and faster in the hill, and eventually fell apart when a bolt burst off.
When it comes to skateboarding, the general rule is that you will fall eventually. But for these girls, a small scrape is worth the view from the longboard.
Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.