The first meeting between the City of Kimberley, RCMP and longboarders occurred on Friday, August 16, 2013, and the consensus was that there are some bridges to build and a lot of education required.
Attendance at the meeting was small, with one RCMP member, Scott Milliken from Cranbrook, one longboarder, Noah Wesche of Kimberley and one City Councillor, Darryl Oakley.
Dealing with longboarders on the road has been identified as a policing priority in Kimberley, and City Council has been wrestling with the issue of what to do as well — including pondering a bylaw.
Oakley said that the City is hearing plenty of complaints concerned with drivers sharing the roads with longboarders and Council has been considering a bylaw.
“I personally don’t want a bylaw,” Oakley said, adding that the meetings have been set up to begin a dialogue between the boarders, police and the City.
Wesche, who has been longboarding for about 10 years, says that the sport is growing exponentially and there are now about 100 active longboarders in Kimberley.
“There are more longboarders than skateboarders now,” he said.
Wesche is also opposed to a bylaw.
“The City of Abbotsford has a bylaw now and Coast Skateboards are classed as a gang. They have to deal with the police gang unit. I’d hate to see Kimberley go that route.”
Oakley says one of the thoughts being tossed around would be to have a designated area where longboarding was allowed.
“It’s growing, so how do we find a niche, a place longboarders can call home?”
However, Wesche said it wasn’t a question of finding a place, many longboarders use the board as a means of getting around town — a cheap, sustainable means of transportation. And even if you had a place, how would they get there? They would longboard.
Wesche believes the larger problem is both a perception and education issue.
“You’ll see someone doing something stupid on a bike, not wearing a helmet — do you call the cops? No. But you do with longboarders. You make an assumption that the board has no brakes so it can’t stop. That’s not true.
“We get treated quite negatively by police. Not by all, there have been some that were really great. They utilized us, knew we were out at night, seeing things.
“But there is also a perception that skateboarding is a gateway to crime.
“It’s not. It’s an environmentally friendly means of transportation We are staying out of trouble, doing a sport.”
He says that kids are taught bicycle safety at bike rodeos through the schools and he would love to see longboard rodeos as well.
“We could teach kids to wear a helmet, how to stop.”
Wesche is firm on the need for helmets and says he tries to get the message out as often as he can.
“I’ve told kids, if you don’t wear a helmet, I’ll cut your board in half.”
The helmets only cost about $20, Wesche says, and wouldn’t it be more proactive for RCMP officers to hand out helmets than fines?
“Hey pal, here’s a helmet. Now we’re communicating and building some mutual respect.”
Wesche says he is considering approaching local service clubs like Rotary to see if there might some interest in sponsoring the purchase of some helmets to hand out to kids who might not be able to afford them.
“You want to encourage people to think of safety. I have a buddy who does a summer camp in Calgary and he’d be willing to come and do a clinic here.”
Wesche believes that much more of an effort must be made to teach kids to ride safely. He notes that when he was in elementary school there were many bike rodeos, with the RCMP involved, that taught the importance of helmets and road safety for cyclists
He suggested that a similar program for longboards would be a positive step.
On the safety note, Wesche also says he is opposed to boarders using Overwaitea Hill and he tries to get the message out on that.
“Skating on Overwaitea Hill has got to stop,” he said. “There is no need to skate that. It’s a highway — stay off of the highway. Rotary is actually a better ride anyway.”
But, riding on the steep hills around Kimberley is not going to stop, especially at night, no matter how many trails there are, Wesche says, because it’s a different kind of ride. In tomorrow’s Bulletin, we’ll look at longboarding as a sport.