On the biggest hills, Bremerton and Central Kitsap longboarders seek thrills

Brian Ponciano, 21, longboards Tuesday down a hill near Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton.  - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Brian Ponciano, 21, longboards Tuesday down a hill near Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

Vincent Garrido saw that the car and his friend barreling down the hill on a longboard were on a collision course, so he did what any good spotter would do.

He jumped in the road, tackled his buddy and tugged him safely to the shoulder. The car whizzed by.

“When you’re spotting for somebody, their life is really in your hands,” said Garrido, 19, of Bremerton.

Although Garrido’s friend wasn’t injured, the incident illustrates the dangers longboarders face when they leave the skatepark for public roads. The sport is becoming more and more popular in Bremerton and Central Kitsap, with some relying on longboards as a means of transportation.

Longboards are skateboards, but longer and with bigger wheels to make them more stable at higher speeds.

But they don’t have brakes. Injuries are common, and the combination of inexperience and lack of protective gear can have nearly tragic results.

“I always advocate that people should wear helmets,” said Garrido, who has crashed more times than he can count and suffered multiple concussions.

But not all riders wear protective gear.

There are different styles and techniques in longboarding — cruising, sliding and freestyle, among others — and all riders have their own preference. Some enjoy the speed, others enjoy the technical aspects.

Garrido makes his own longboards and learned to skateboard when he was 3 years old. He recently obtained a license so he could sell his own products, and it’s a proud feeling when he sees friends or customers using boards he constructed.

But he also is a student of the sport.

Garrido, like many longboarders, appreciates that there is always room for improvement. He also is drawn to the rush that comes with traveling at high speeds — and the implied risk.

Since the margin for error is small on a longboard, beginners don’t always have the best luck when learning the sport.

Silverdale’s Lauren O’Friel, 20, suffered a severe head injury while longboarding without a helmet along Silverdale’s Greaves Way in March. O’Friel, who was riding with a friend, fell off her board and hit her head on the pavement, sustaining a head injury that put her in a coma for six days.

The 2008 Central Kitsap High School graduate continues to recover today and is getting back to full strength, but it’s been a difficult process and has been hard on the family. Her accident brought attention to longboarding community, and the O’Friels say all boarders should wear helmets.

“Nobody should have to go through what Lauren did,” said mother Dana O’Friel.

Dana O’Friel’s son, Michael, 17, refuses to wear a helmet despite what happened to his sister. Dana O’Friel said he doesn’t wear a helmet because he believes he’s invincible. He also has skated for six years and is considered a professional.

“It’s just ironic that it happened to Lauren, who was a beginner, and not to the one who has skated for so long,” Dana O’Friel said. “His comment when it happened was, ‘She doesn’t know what she’s doing, she doesn’t know how to skate. I’m a pro.’

“We were shocked.”

Injuries from longboarding are a common occurrence, but most serious injuries can be avoided with precautions, skaters say.

Garrido has seen more longboarding falls than most. One of his friends, 21-year-old Drew Mechler of Port Orchard, crashed Tuesday while riding down a steep hill near Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton.

The spill didn’t result in serious injury — he was wearing a helmet with a face guard, as well as elbow and wrist pads — but it was yet another example of a young person putting their body in danger for the thrill of speed.

Mechler has hauled down the steepest of hills at breakneck speeds.

“It’s just not worth it,” he said of riding without protective head gear.

Garrido is a staunch advocate of helmets and always has been. He believes riders, especially those who take to public roads, should wear helmets not only because it’s safer, but also to avoid giving skaters a negative reputation.

Long-boarders are not given special consideration under state law, meaning they adhere to the same regulations as people afoot, said Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Wilson.

Those on a longboard, or any other self-propelled mode of transportation, must yield to pedestrians. They also must use sidewalks rather than the roadway when there are sidewalks on which to ride.

Violations of those laws and others may result in a ticket or fine, though Wilson said the number of tickets issued specifically to longboarders in Bremerton and Central Kitsap isn’t tracked because they are considered pedestrians.

Neither state law nor county code address the issue of helmets, Wilson said,

“Most of the time, if they are really being idiots, we’ll stop and say, ‘Not in the road, guys. Or not in the parking lot,’” Wilson said.

The Bremerton Municipal Code prohibits longboarders and skateboarders from riding in specific areas of the city, including the Kitsap Conference Center Plaza and Harborside Fountain Park, and it requires riders to travel at reasonable speeds on city sidewalks where skateboards and longboards are prohibited.

Violations result in civil infractions, carrying fines.

Although Garrido has never been ticketed in Bremerton, he has been approached by law enforcement while on his longboard. He said there have been times when the police told him to take his board somewhere else, but in some instances, they turned into spectators and watched him ride.

“A lot of the riders keep their favorite places a secret,” Garrido said. “They don’t want those places to be blown.”

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