The roots of LDP: distance sports or slalom?

Slalomer pic link, LDPer pic link

I am in the process of putting together an article on the LDP scene (to follow this and my Ultraskate piece)1, which will be about how the scene operates, who the main actors are and which interests are involved. However, as far as I know, the sport in question has never been systematically outlined. Before setting out to understand the scene, we better have a definition of the sport around which the scene revolves.

While thinking about LDP and trying to make sense of it as a sport to write this piece, I realized that I myself hold two different, incompatible views. One is that LDP is a kind of skateboarding, to be filed under slalom, and the other is that it is a kind of distance skating, filed under distance/endurance sports. I present them here in more detail and I discuss ways to bring the two approaches together so that they are not mutually exclusive.

LDP as skateboarding

On the one hand, rather crudely put, LDP is nothing more than slaloming without cones for hours on end. I’m confident that, at least externally, the only difference between slalom and LDP is wheelbase. This external difference has its roots in a geometrical misconception: that the wheelbase alone (and not also truck angles) is what contributes to a long turning radius, needed for faster and longer treks. The idea that a long wheelbase is necessary for LDP started with the birth of the discipline itself, which was conceived as an offshoot of slalom with the twist that it’s on a longboard deck (a clue that this is true, can be found in Smith’s 2009 book Lives on board, in which J. Peters, considered the “godfather” of LDP, writes about starting out as a slalom skater and mounting his trucks – I suppose with the same angles – on a longboard to use for long treks). But I digress. Even if it were common knowledge to all LDPers that lower truck angles are equivalent to longer wheelbases, LDP and slalom would still be on the same continuum, separated just by numbers. Like variants of the same species.

With this in mind, I’m inclined to doubt LDP is a major skateboard discipline in the same sense that freestyle, slalom and downhill are. So, it is not just because I like simplifying things, but mainly because, externally, the difference between slalom and LDP is quantitative rather than qualitative. An LDPer covers longer distances by slaloming, a slalomer shorter ones but essentially with the same technique (in a similar way that a marathon runner and a sprinter are both essentially runners, significant differences in style notwithstanding). Moreover, their equipment has negligible differences (except for: 1. there’s presumably a longer turning radius in LDP than in slalom-proper, a hypothesis for which I would like to do a survey some day – the longer wheelbase of LDP certainly suggests that’s the case; 2. usually flexible decks for LDP, because precision is not crucial). Considering the above, I can’t see a clear qualitative divide between slalom and LDP that could help rescue the idea that they are distinct disciplines. (To take this a step further, as I’ve hinted in the article about wheelbase, I would even argue longboarding is not really a separate kind of skateboarding. Granted, I would have a harder time trying to argue that freestyle longboarding and freestyle skateboarding are the same thing; the tricks differ significantly. But then again, freestyle has its own sub-disciplines: street, ramp, dancing, etc etc etc, each one with significant equipment and technique differences from the others. It does get rather murky with freestyle…)

LDP as a distance sport

On the other hand, the sporting events that bring together the social world of LDP hint at a significant divide LDP and slalom. The major LDP competition is the Ultraskate, in which pushing, land-paddling, quad-skating and even inline skating are also accepted. This reveals unambiguously that it is all about the distance, the endurance; not the particular skills, or equipment. Through this lens, there’s no clear-cut way to separate LDP from other types of distance skating, at least not until strictly defined rules are created for LDP-exclusive events. And as long as the “Distance Skateboarding” community itself brings together such disparate skating disciplines, I think it’s more legitimate to approach this problem from a more social point of view: what is the significance of the community in this?

I found that this article studying nonprofessional marathon runners holds some key concepts to help us out. One of them, I’ve mentioned already: the “social world.” The term essentially implies that people tend to group together and create “spheres of interest and involvement”; spheres populated by a loosely structured “constellation of actors, organizations, events and practices” (Robinson et al., 2014). The social world of distance skating revolves around a “serious leisure” activity, that is, “a systematic pursuit for deep satisfaction, that participants find to be substantial and interesting; many devote a major part of their lives to acquiring and expressing the special skills, knowledge, and experiences of their serious leisure activity.” In the case of the article, the serious leisure is marathon running; in our case, it is distance skating. Testament that the common, core serious leisure activity/sport of this social world is broadly distance skating (and not LDP, or pushing, or any one of the other techniques/equipment), is that the events and the community, along with the latter’s ways of speaking and its ethos, are common to everyone involved, regardless of other particularities like style and equipment.

You might say that my argument – that LDP is just a style of distance skating and distance skating is what the people involved make of it – is tautological, but I can’t see of a more valid way to approach LDP and understand the loose structure of nonprofessional, but often extremely dedicated, athletes, brands, events and organizers that LDP is situated in (we can’t always be objectivist about everything!). Therefore, seeing it from the lens of the “social worlds” theory, I find that distance skating and skateboarding have vast qualitative differences. Consequently, in this sense, LDP and slalom are not creatures of the same species at all.

Synthesis and conclusion

In retrospect, the two points I discussed above are not entirely incompatible. Depriving LDP of the status of being its own skateboarding discipline, in view of its technical subordination to slalom, is congruent with LDP actually being a member of the distance skating family. What is more, the fact that distance skating now includes inline and quad-skating, is further proof that distance skating is a concept located culturally on a different plane than skateboarding. Distance skating is a serious leisure activity around which exists a social world that includes (unproblematically for the competitions, until now at least) LDPers, pushers, land paddlers and inline skaters trying to go further, with an ethos that doesn’t take its cues from skateboarding. But where does it stem from, if not from skateboarding? Perhaps parts come from marathon running, or from cycling (to which the IDSA founders themselves drew comparisons in an interview, as did also Peters here); parts of it certainly stem from skateboarding (as the use of words like “stoke” reveal, but I sense these are loans that distance skaters do not feel indebted to). But perhaps also distance skating wants to be(come) its own thing entirely. To do that, it would be best if it was democratized, but that’s something I want to cover in a forthcoming article on the scene.

References

· Robinson, R., Patterson, I., & Axelsen, M. (2014). The “Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” No More. Journal of Leisure Research, 46(4), 375–394. https://doi.org/10.1080/00222216.2014.11950333
· Smith, J., Harms, J., & Morro Skateboard Group. (2009). Lives on board. Morro Skateboard Group.


Thanks to “coffee geek,” a modest slalom veteran. It is my contention that slalomers who don’t skate for competition, as well as other hard-to-define and unrepresented intersections like mine, find in LDP communities a natural habitat.


1. This strand of texts started with my Ultraskate article, which looks at the circumstances around the 2021 Miami Ultraskate event that was held during the 2nd wave of the covid-19 pandemic.

5 thoughts on “The roots of LDP: distance sports or slalom?

    1. What are you referring to? The acronym “LDP”?
      If so: from the introduction: “LDP is a kind of skateboarding, to be filed under slalom.” With that I assumed the reader was with me that it’s the pumping one.
      If not: are you referring to “distance skating” as an umbrella term? This includes LDP, “pushing, land-paddling, quad-skating and even inline skating.”
      PS. I just realized you are the “gatherer of stories” (Lives on board), Mr Smith! Thanks for dropping by and thanks for your book!

      1. I was referring to the LDP acronym. Thank you for the clarification. I really admire the pumpers, amazing to watch. I’ve never learned the modern pumping method, though I do employ a slalom/surf type pumping from time to time while out for a push at age 64.
        During my four pushes across America (1976, 1984, 2003 and 2013) myself and the team would use the pumping technique.

  1. Hi,
    IMHO you are completely missing the travel aspect of LDP, which is definitely not slalom. But also distinctly different to the sports aspect of LDP.
    If you are focusing on the sports aspect of LDP than that should be made clear.

    1. Hey Adi,
      Thanks for reading! I see what you’re saying, but when you try to analyze something (anything), you have to choose your categories wisely, otherwise your scope may become too broad and/or too narrow for what you are trying to describe. In this case, the category “traveling” would be very misguiding.
      Consider the following thought experiment. “Traveling”, tentatively, includes modes of transportation that don’t even require physical activity, such as planes and trains. Would the move from that to skating be short and elegant? I don’t think so. You’d have a lot of explaining (scoping out) to do.
      Conversely, consider bike-packing. Does bike-packing make all of cycling a way of traveling? How would you then include all the cyclists, the vast majority of which you scoped out by considering only bike-packers?
      You see what I’m trying to say? I’d be very interested to see a more elaborate account of your experiences as a skate-traveler though, please feel free to write down your feelings on this, I’d love to publish that here.

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