Felix, the longboard builder

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“Mum, I have to buy myself a longboard, first thing tomorrow morning“, Felix blurts out upon returning one Friday evening from his buddy Daniel.  “A longboard?“ asks Mecki. “Absolutely,“  is his answer, “the Dervish Sama from Loaded.  It’s only 300 Euros at the Titus skateboard shop in Bonn, we’ve checked it all out.  Just tell me, Mum, will the bank be open early tomorrow morning? “

Mecki and Mike roll their eyes.  They are used to funny ideas from Felix, but this one seems to be dangerously expensive.  But what can you do?  Mecki and Mike try “adult logic“:  That you better don’t spend that much money on a spontaneous idea, that you better compare prices and check alternatives, and so on.  But adult logic fails when the bare necessities of teenagers are at stake.  It’s just so embarrassing for Felix still not to have his own longboard.  He’s been following this videoblog of the across-Germany longboard tour by his favourite YouTubers Cheng, Julien, Dner and Unge for such a long time now that he has become a real expert in all sorts of longboarding stuff.  He urgently needs to have his own longboard, if possible today, at the very latest tomorrow.

After a long, for Mecki‘s and Mike’s taste also quite loud discussion – although Felix would certainly deny the latter, for he’s less touchy about these things – Mecki comes up with an idea:  “Why don’t you build a longboard together with dad, and have us give it to you as a Christmas gift?” is her suggestion.  Felix seems to like Mecki’s idea, but Mike is still skeptical.  Patient work with, let’s say lively teenagers is not among his strong points, so he needs to be given a nudge.  “Why don’t you just do this?” says Mecki.  “It’ll work.  After all, Felix is highly motivated, and he’ll surely grow with the job.”  “Hmm ... well … sure, sure, I’d love to do this,” says Mike, but he still feels rather uneasy and is pretty curious of what he has gotten himself into.

Before things start, Felix and Mike have to familiarize themselves with the various aspects of building a longboard.  Felix has very precise ideas of the longboard he wants to build – it should have flex, concave (i.e. be higher at the sides than in the centre), kick tails (with ends pointing upwards), and drop through axles (with axle blocks penetrating the deck and being fastened to the deck at the top side of the deck) – but he’s unsure of how to make all this.  And Mike, who always likes crafting things, feels that this longboarder talk is all Greek to him.

Of course, the best place to find instructions on building a longboard is the internet, particularly YouTube.  Felix, who wants to become a professional YouTuber one day, and Mike, who rather doesn’t, check out all sorts of videos where cool folks, in most cases wearing baseball caps backwards, built themselves cool longboards.  And while doing so, Felix and Mike explain to each other the sense, non-sense, and coolness factor of the various longboard geometries or manufacturing techniques.  Finally Felix is convinced.  Yes, he says, he could build himself a longboard that way, too.  The only thing he’d do differently is that on his deck, he would of course draw a more beautiful picture.

With that finding, the project is ready to take off.  At the Titus skateboard shop in Bonn, Felix and Mike buy axles, wheels, and bearings, and Felix test rides a Dervish Sama board.  While Felix standing on the longboard of his dreams zigzags around the stands full of skateboards, clothing, and gear, Mike gets himself another Dervish Sama deck, takes out his measuring tape, and measures the dimensions of the deck.

On the internet, they buy plywood and grip tape, a kind of self-adhesive sandpaper ensuring a safe stand on the deck.  Glass fibre fabric and epoxy are still left from some of Mike’s former weekend projects.

Then, Felix starts working on a decent drawing for the deck.  A cool longboard needs a cool drawing.  Felix has a feline predator in mind, but is not really sure if a cougar or a bobtail would look best, so he tries various drafts on paper and eventually makes up his mind in favour of a cougar’s head that he then draws on one of the three plywood layers.

Then the action shifts to where it is always exciting, the woodworking shop in the basement.  There, Felix discovers his love for all sorts of power tools: jig saw, bench drill, cordless drill/driver, orbital sander, belt sander – all these tools are very cool and it’s fun to use them.  Mike discovers something even more surprising: how entertaining and enjoyable it can be to work with Felix when crafting is concerned rather than math, cleaning up the room, or setting the dinner table.  No cattiness or annoyed arguing, from neither side, just determined working.  “I should meet Felix nowhere else but in the workshop,” thinks Mike when Felix once again sends him upstairs after a day’s work to finish the remaining job of deburring and sanding the cut edges, as well as sweeping up the wood chips and saw dust on his own.

And here’s how Felix builds his longboard:  To start with, Felix and Mike built a press for the deck from leftover lumber.  From a technical point of view, building the press is the most important step in building the longboard, for it is solely the geometry of the press that defines the curvature of the board in both longitudinal and transverse direction.  One can think of the press as a punch and a die with the desired curvatures of the deck that are pressed against each other with the help of several C-clamps.  When you solidly glue several thin sheets of wood to each other in the press, the sheets will retain the curvature that is imposed on them even after the C-clamps are removed.

Felix takes the jigsaw and cuts three layers of plywood with some allowance into the shape of the deck, spreads plenty of white glue on the plywood, places the three layers in the press, and fastens the press with all available C-clamps.  It takes about a night for the glue to harden.  When Felix takes the plywood out of the press early next morning, the previously thin and wobbly sheets have indeed turned into a solid deck that due to its concave and kick tails looks already very much like a longboard.

After that Felix cuts the deck to its exact dimensions.  Now the deck looks really great.  However, to achieve both optimum strength of the deck and best protection of the cougar drawing, one important step still needs to be done: The board has to be reinforced by a layer of glass fibre fabric on either side.  Felix puts a layer of the fabric onto the board, mixes epoxy resin with hardener, and spreads the thus obtained two-component adhesive onto the fabric.  As soon as the glass fibre fabric is impregnated with the epoxy, it becomes completely transparent, and the beauty of the wooden deck structure and the cougar drawing is revealed again.

After the application of the glass fibre coating, the holes for the drop through axle blocks are to be cut out with the jigsaw.  Then Felix thoroughly sands all edges to a beautiful round shape, applies a final coat of impact and water resistant boat varnish, glues the grip tape onto the deck, and finally has his finished longboard in his hands.

And now?  Of course, Felix rides his longboard now.  But self-built longboards offer more than riding pleasure.  Self-built longboards are meant to be loved, and that’s why you don’t just ride them, but you regularly clean them, grease the bearings and tinker with the screws and axles.

Change of scene, late March:  The sunny weather of early spring enables Felix to extend his longboard trips all around the city of Rheinbach and into the surrounding villages.  Mecki, Mike, Franziska, and Katharina sit at the dinner table waiting for Felix to show up.

“Where’s Felix?” asks Mecki “hasn’t he come home already half an hour ago?”

“He went right down to the basement to clean his longboard”, answers Mike.

Mecki takes a deep breath.  “I told you right away that he’d grow with this longboarding project, but I would never have guessed that he’d go that far beyond his own self.”

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