Cape Town - Skateboarders have been known to reach breakneck speeds going down the city’s winding roads. But when a skateboarder is cruising uphill at around 30km/h, it’s obvious something is up.
Local musician Jeremy Loops started riding an electrically powered skateboard to streamline his commute to meetings and recording sessions around town.
“Probably one of the most fun parts is all the looks you get as you go past everybody,” he said.
“With the electric skateboard, I can go anywhere.”
“Driving the car is a mission; now I don’t have to worry about parking. There don’t seem to be any traffic laws… It feels like skateboarding, but it’s much more fun riding uphill.”
Motorised skateboards are gaining momentum as recreational tools and alternatives to petrol-fuelled commutes and the sight of skaters speeding uphill seems set to become more common.
Urban Machine skateboard shop owner Kane Mitchell brought the motorised skateboard phenomenon to South Africa, where his store now has exclusive distribution rights for the country.
“They’re the way of the future.”
An avid skateboarder for much of his life - he still keeps a 1.5-metre half-pipe in his garden for himself and his children - Mitchell first came across the motorised models in 2010.
Boards fitted with wheels with the circumference of a sweet melon and a series of blue LED lights along the sides now round out the BMX and skate shop in Noordhoek.
Speedy, practical and ecological, with a range of about 15km, the boards offer a green alternative to noisy, cumbersome, polluting means of transport.
Going downhill, the motorised skateboard has been said to reach speeds of 80km/h.
Mitchell enjoys riding the boards, but said he would not recommend reaching those speeds.
“That’s just frightening,” he said, though he is not afraid to break 30km/h.
Even going uphill, these electrically powered, rechargeable boards can outpace a bicycle. Models include the relatively small-wheeled 600-watt board, which reaches speeds of as much as 25km/h, and the 32km/h 800W model with all-terrain tyres.
Urban Machine plans to begin selling a 1500W model soon.
That’s enough power to reach 48km/h.
Pulling the trigger on a pistol-shaped remote controls the speed, and an anti-lock braking system helps give the rider more control.
Mitchell recommends wearing a helmet and wrist guards and cautions that the boards are meant for skaters at least 14 years old, though he admits his nine-year-old daughter is an avid rider.
He has sold boards to extreme sport enthusiasts, intrepid commuters and even a 72-year-old man.
“It’s not just for extremists at all. It’s for everybody to have a good time.”
We tried the 800W model and we weren't disappointed. The slightest pressure on the remote control trigger zips the board to life, and it's easy to get jolted on the first few tries.
Keeping steady is the trickiest part. As Kane Mitchell pointed out, "you do use a lot of core strength" maintaining your balance on the board.
I was mostly happy not to fall off.
Steering was a challenge, a compromise between giving the board enough tilt and keeping your face far enough off the ground.
I must also admit I never squeezed the trigger full throttle. Even at less than half-speed, probably about 10km/h, I felt just near the edge of careering sideways. Making it to 32km/h, not to mention 48km/h, seemed insane.
A few more tries and I might see how motor-skaters could write their own definition of the term "trigger happy". Not sure if I'd drop R4000 on a board just yet, but there are days when Cape Town traffic sure makes this commuting option appealing.