By Jean DePlacido
---- — At first glance, there might not appear to be a logical connection between gymnastics and longboarding.
But that’s simply not the case. Just ask 24-year-old professional longboarder Brian Bishop of Wenham about the importance of his gymnastic background and how it comes in handy for his dazzling stunts.
“I’ve played almost every sport there is: basketball, rugby, soccer, and I even did gymnastics for a long time,” said Bishop, a 2007 Hamilton-Wenham Regional graduate. In high school we only had a girls’ (gymnastics) team — I was the only boy. I competed in vault and worked out with the team every day.
“That time spent turned out to be very helpful, because my balance and coordination came from that background. I do a lot of handstands on the longboard that I probably wouldn’t be able to perform quite so well otherwise.”
Having signed a professional contract two-and-a-half years ago, Bishop has been longboarding (like a skateboard, only longer and wider) for eight years and often records speeds up to 50 miles an hour as he twists and turns down steep hills.
He went to high school in New Hampshire initially, where a friend introduced him to longboarding. He began doing skateboard tricks on it, then high speed stuff before building his own ramps to do tricks on. Bishop began to get serious about the sport when he came home to finish high school at Hamilton-Wenham.
Bishop took some time off from Wentworth University to travel around the country to various longboard events, but has recently returned to college to get a degree in architecture.
“I’d love to build skateboard parks when I graduate,” said Bishop, who wears a full leather suit and helmet while longboarding. “I’ve designed all the ramps I’ve built; that’s something I plan to continue. There are a lot of similarities between architecture and skateboarding. In both, you’re able to create something of your own.
“Ideally, I can incorporate both my passions in the future.”
Spreading the gospel of longboarding
Three years ago Bishop gained a lot of confidence after entering a big competition in Harvard for his first real downhill race and placing third. He also placed in the slide jam at the same event, realizing he could do this for a living.
Bishop’s sponsors (which he began to get while still a senior in high school) now include Original Skateboards, Bern Unlimited, Brushwood, Posh Culture Apparel and the latest, Surf-Rodz Truck Company, which makes wheels for the boards.
“Sponsors are crucial to help out with the expenses you incur going to events all over the country,” said Bishop. “Also getting all the gear I need is a big plus. Original Skateboards is my biggest sponsor.”
Recently Bishop made an appearance at Top Dog on Bearskin Neck in Rockport, signing posters and skateboards for young enthusiasts. “There must have been 75 kids there,” he said. “It’s important to build support for the sport in the local community. I brought along a bunch of posters that I gave away, and I’m always willing to show people the proper way to do things safely.”
Now living in Beverly, Bishop goes to competitions all over the country. He has spent a lot of time in California, Washington and Florida as well as the six New England states. He’s hoping to go to Europe to compete next summer.
“I’m always looking for steep hills and roads not high in traffic to ride on,” said Bishop, who recently got engaged to Heather Fontaine, a Hamilton-Wenham graduate who teaches first grade in Saugus. “I try to stay away from skateboard parks for the most part. Beverly has some OK hills, but there are even better ones in Ipswich, Topsfield, New Hampshire and Maine.”
Traveling places, meeting new people
With his own website (www.brianbishoplongboard.com) and popular videos of himself, Bishop has been getting a lot of recognition recently. He had a poster made from the big air competition at the Downhill Disco in San Diego earlier this year, depicting one of the biggest ‘airs’ he’s ever done, launching himself 20 feet in the air. The moment created a spectacular shot with fans looking on in amazement.
“My favorite trick is the old school tire flip,” said Bishop. “Basically what I do while I’m riding, I tuck my front foot around the edge of the board and jump up and kick out my legs in a scissor-like motion, which makes the board do a 360 as well as a kick flip. It was a hard trick to learn, but nailing it is one of my biggest accomplishments. It’s very intricate and technical, so it’s hard to make it seem effortless.
“More companies make longboards in California,” Bishop added, “and out on the West Coast there are a lot more riders and a lot more hills to ride on. But the sport is very popular on the East Coast as well; the whole industry is really thriving.”
Bishop said his favorite part of the sport is the experience of traveling to different places and meeting new people.
“It’s a different kind of lifestyle, fun to be part of something,” said Bishop. “There’s a real feeling of community; everybody has similar feelings about longboarding. We all enjoy it and have a drive that keeps you going.
“I always want to be better, always look to improve. It’s a continuous challenge that keeps everything fresh. Life is never boring.”