The concept of the hoverboard was popularly introduced in Steven Spielberg’s 1989 time-travel classic Back to the Future: Part II, a film that takes place largely in what has now become present-day California, the year 2015. Because of this convergence of real and fictional dates, the Internet has seen much renewed interest in hoverboarding, including videos of Tony Hawk, the skateboard world’s most innovative Michael Jordan/Mickey Mouse-figure, riding both real and fictitious hoverboard technology.
This excitement pisses me off because hoverboards suck big time and will always suck big time.
In the coming paragraphs I plan to demonstrate why hoverboarding, or “hovering” for short, is a silly, flawed, and inherently embarrassing activity that misses the point of skateboarding entirely and would never even catch on with the kook teens that populate Spielberg’s futuristic Hill Valley, California if the town or activity existed in real-life. (Note: from here on out, I will refer to hoverboarding as an “activity” to avoid one of the most common and boring debates that plagues the activity of traditional, on-wheels-that-touch-the-ground skateboarding: “Is it a sport, or an art, or a way of life, bro?”)
I was an early hater of the hoverboard. Sure, I thought it was cool and exciting when I saw the film in 1989. I was only seven years old and skateboarding was really hard. I couldn’t really get up in the air without the hover technology so, like all my friends, I looked forward to a day when it might be available. But then my legs began to grow a little bit longer and skateboarding became a little bit easier for me (only a little) and eventually became an obsession. By that point, it had finally occurred to me that even if hoverboards existed, I would not use one except for boring tasks like moving furniture or boxes of books.
In other words, I began to realize that skateboarding was about feeling the shape of the world around me with my wheels, the underside of my board, the gritty scrape of my trucks on concrete, metal, brick, tile. Hoverboarding, if it ever ended up existing in the first place, would be the opposite of all that. It would be all about avoiding the shape of the world. And it would suck big time.
Later on I will get into how ridiculous this activity would look, and even does look in the movie, but first let’s address the climate of current hoverboard discussion on the Internet.
It did not take long before folks on the Internet realized that 2015 is the year Marty McFly rides his hoverboard before I began to hear the collective digital cry, much like people have been doing with the flying cars in The Jetson’s since the early 1960’s, of “Why don’t we have hoverboards yet?” I only shook my head and thought, “Skateboards have been around for decades, people. The earth is far more interesting a surface than the air just slightly above it.”
Then, as I was innocently clicking through the repetitive coverage that fills most skate sites, I came across this video of the Birdman himself, the great 1980’s and 1990’s skateboard champion and video game character, Tony Hawk, and he was dorking around on a hoverboard with “Doc” Brown, Terrell Owens and Moby in a parking lot for some obviously phony infomercial.
I chuckled at first, but then I read the comments. There were skate kids out there who believed this obvious hoax was the real deal! But worse than that, they desperately wanted one!
The Internet, like the non-Internet, is full of suckers. That naïve YouTube viewers fell for the prank was actually funny to me, but what disturbed me was that so many who believed the hoverboard to be real were also blind to the fact that it looked so goofy and lame. It broke my heart to watch Hawk fly over a quarterpipe in the middle of a parking lot without touching anything. The whole scene was so masturbatory. It was like he was floating right in front of my face, eye-level, with his dick out, just tugging away. Why not simply hover around in a big empty room like a gym or planetarium? I thought. If you are avoiding all terrain, what is the point? Why would this be any different than riding a jet pack or a magic carpet or shoes with little wings on them?
The Internet was mostly just angry they had been duped however and the Birdman felt guilty because he has always been an honest dude and a role model and he didn’t want kids thinking it was cool to grow up, get rich, and tell fibs about being able to fly. So he released a deeply sincere apology video, while Funny or Die released a, well, funnier one. And we thought we could all put the issue to rest for a while, but hoverboards are like boomerangs in that despite being an obviously inferior toy, they always manage to come back.
Enter the first real hoverboard. It was also introduced in an online video starring Tony Hawk, as well as veteran skateboard journalist and Jackass co-creator, Dave Carnie, who assumedly came along for the ride to provide comic relief/lend The Birdman some of the missing street cred he lost with hoverboard fanatics after the Funny or Die debacle.
The video is for the Hendo board, a prototype hoverboard that works via magnet-technology and can only hover over non-ferrous metals like copper or aluminum. Here is a link to that video and Carnie’s humorous write-up of their shared experience. The Hendo hoverboard is just a prototype meant to get the word out about the technology, which the company’s founders wisely see as more appropriate for cool, useful activities like shipping, warehouse management, and even floating, earthquake-proof buildings. How cool!? These are all great uses for hover technology, in my opinion. Anything is better than trying to soullessly mime the movements of skateboarding instead of actually skateboarding. (Note: This philosophy also applies to the act of standing on one of those skateboard-shaped controllers in front of your television and playing a skateboard-themed video game.)
Friction, grip, pop, impact, slide. These are words that will never be effective for describing the act of hoverboarding, no matter how perfected and versatile the technology may become. Hovering is all about, well, floating. Floating is great for dust particles and astronauts, but it is hardly the most dynamic form of physical movement offered to humans, even by currently available technological means. I am not saying I don’t ever want to float, but I do not think floating will be a comparable sensation to watch or participate in like that of metal trucks slapping against a painted curb or urethane wheels bonking off the hard edge of pool coping. Hovering seems more like something one might get involved in if he or she wanted to sleep in a hammock but couldn’t find two trees.
You cannot carve against a void and unless the thing has a sail, that is basically all that would ever be available to you on a hoverboard. Turning against the shapeless air. Just floating soundlessly over your city’s sickest skate spots, leaving them untouched, unridden.
Which brings us to style, something that has been an ever-critical element of skateboarding and a source of humiliation or respect for all skaters from the goofiest, mongo-pushing, padded kid at the park to the steeziest professional rippers. You cannot have good style on a hoverboard. It is impossible. Close your eyes and imagine watching someone gapping a twelve-stair on their skateboard: the pop, snap, danger of falling through the air, catching grip tape with their feet, bending their knees to absorb the impact of landing and rolling off into the distance. Now, imagine the same “trick” without gravity – just floating up to the steps, down the steps, away from the steps – and you should be able to grasp why one activity is a thrilling, aesthetically stylish, and dangerous activity, while the other is a meaningless, ugly, and dull way to get to the bottom of a set of steps. Imagine someone sliding a handrail down those same steps. Now hovering over that same handrail without touching it or the ground at all. Imagine an empty swimming pool full of burly hesh dudes throwing frontside carve grinds over the deathbox. Now imagine…We could do this all day. You get the picture.
Hoverboarding doesn’t even look particularly cool in Spielberg’s movie. Marty McFly had much better style in the first movie when he was riding that little kid’s broken fruit basket scooter. At least he sort of slappied a red curb, pulled a gnarly spark-flying manual while skitching, then hippie jumped Biff’s moving car. None of those maneuvers were available to McFly in Part II when he repeats the chase sequence on his 2015 model hoverboard (actually it is a young girl’s modified hoverskooter, but whatever). Instead of shredding through the streets, he ends up looking like a flying poser, pushing against thin air with his feet and pulling some kind of waterski maneuver behind a car while wobbling through the air, all at a speed that seems a little slower than a set of good 58 millimeter wheels and a strong push could move him. You can tell Spielberg and the stunt crew tried their best to imagine cool tricks for Marty to pull off on the hoverboard but the problem is, there just aren’t any and I bet there never will be, no matter how far into the future our Flux Capacitator-equipped Deloreans can take us. And whatever tricks are eventually invented for the hoverboard, won’t they look and feel cooler when you learn how to do them on four-wheels?