Introducing Skate Poling: A Breakthrough Board Sport

Introducing Skate Poling: A Breakthrough Board Sport

Skate Poling Origins Riding Styles and Lingo

Don Sandusky – SUPSKATE®
December 2, 2023 (Edited)

SKATE POLING describes a way to propel a skateboard rider with a skate pole, using the upper body to spring the rider forward by pushing the pole backwards against the ground. Check it out here.  

The origins of poling may be traced back to ancient human history.  There are aquatic and snow related uses of poles for human locomotion.  

CANOE POLING ORIGINS: Archeologists have discovered that early humans built rafts, strapping together logs, buoyed by inflated pig carcasses, then load their freight and propel themselves through water by pushing a long pole against the river bed.  No doubt, the aquatic raft movement of ancient people and their goods was aided by a long pole.  The pole proceeded the dugout canoe and paddles.  Canoe poling remains popular in many parts of the world, particularly for shallow swift water canoeing.   Canoe Poling

SNOW STICK ORIGINS:  The Tuwas are Mongolian tribespeople that live a nomadic lifestyle on the banks of the Kanas Lake in the Altai Mountains, tucked away in a remote corner of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.  The earliest written record of skiing in Chinese history refers to Indigenous people hunting on skis in these towering alpine mountains. Indigenous peoples of the Altai Mountains, like those in Tubek and Kanas Lake, hand-craft skis from Siberian spruce. A pair of skis is carved from a single tree using only an ax and hand planer. Braces are applied to curve the front tips up as the skis cure. The foot bindings are made of rawhide; the climbing skins come from the legs of a horse. The skins were traditionally laced to the ski using rawhide, but now nails are used to affix the skin to the base. Instead of two ski poles, the tiak—the Tuwa word literally meaning “stick”— serves to stabilize and steer on descents while providing a third point of contact when climbing through technical terrain.  

Traditional skier statue in Khanderghatu village - Chinese Altai

SKATE POLING ORIGINS: It's a safe bet that skate poling was attempted in the mid 20th century at about the same time roller skates were first strapped to a flat board.  It's also reasonable to speculate that skate poling was pioneered by Southern California "kooks" along the coastal boardwalks.  Most all of the other early innovations in skateboarding, roller skating, inline skating were made popular by the fun loving and expressive Southern California and South Florida beach cultures.

Early performance skate poles were called SUP Sticks or Street SUP Sticks and were typically nine feet long and very flexible, tubular rattan, bamboo or fiberglass.  A grippy foot was improvised by repurposing a popular dog toy, called a "kong ball" which had good grip, wear resistance and was easy to replace.  The LEGEND Steve Holt (below) is a legitimate So. Cal surfer-turned-kook and solid contender as the "inventor" of the pastime which he called "Sk8 SUP" and "street sweeping".  Read his historical blog here.  Steve collaborated with the pioneers from West SSUP (Dee Jay and Jeremiah Pascua) who made this long rattan pole that he called a "Stripper Pole" and he also coined the product name "Street Sweeper" used by Hamboards (with his blessing).  At the very least, Steve is Grand Ambassador Emeritus for the sport of Skate Poling.  

Steve Holt, Supskate Pioneer bending his rattan pole

Steve may be the best known pioneer, but his friends were very influential.  Jeff Meskey, Zach Simms (Kong Ball Innovator from Australia), Bobby (MendoBoards), Darryl Wagoner (Croozerboards) and especially Pat Guillermo (Hawaii) were OG tribe.  In the early 21st century, These gentlemen played a pivotal role and were building innovative/beautiful gear, participating in the sport and spreading the stoke, one stroke at a time.  

Here's three YouTube videos from ~ 2012 prepared by West SUP (SSUP) which illustrates their pioneering efforts at building community and documents the first recorded 200 miler (paddle only) during the 2nd Annual 24 hour Miami Ultraskate by Dee Pascua.  

SKATE POLE CRUISING is particularly popular along paved boardwalks in Florida, East Texas and Southern California.  This is fun and a great way to make friends.  

 

SKATE POLE SURFING is the SUP Surfing version of this activity in which the rider uses a deep lean carving skateboard and a skate pole.  This is fun and a great way to get some road flow.  

 

SKATE POLING AS A COMPETITIVE ENDURANCE SPORT: Athletes of all ages, sizes and shaped have become interested in distance skate poling for endurance training and competition.  The second decade of the 21st century has shown growth and acceptance of skate poling, in cooperation with distance skateboarding. This is an incredible fitness activity combining balance, core fitness, coordination and low-impact strength conditioning.  

Distance skating has been a competitive sport for decades.  The Adrenalina Skateboard Marathon has been curated by a rad skate shop in Southern California. The Adrenalina and the Ultraskate have been two prominent distance skating events, pushing the boundaries of human performance and skateboard gear.   Here's an article about the Adrenalina Skateboard Marathon in South Florida in November 2010.  You can see that skate poling was viewed as a little bit "kooky", as the author refers to a "septuagenarian using a long pole to help him push".  Ten years later, it wasn't just kooks, but rather some of the most competitive athletes were adding a pole to their program and taking is seriously at the 24 Hour Miami Ultraskate.  

Adrenalina Skateboard Marathon Logo

This is still early days for skate poling as a competitive sport, but already there are serious athletes.  Each month virtual races are sponsored by the International Distance Skating Association.  Athletes from all around the world perform the challenges and record on various GPS tracking platforms, like Strava, then upload their results to the IDSA.  Each season, the IDSA ranks riders in various categories.  There have been many 24 hour endurance events and presently, the premier annual event occurs around mid-February, the 24 hour Miami Ultraskate (hosted by the IDSA at the Homestead Miami Motor Speedway) which brings together the worlds best endurance skaters to see how far they can skate within a 24 hour period.  Each successive year there seems to be a new world record.  

24 Hour Miami Ultraskate '24 Logo

While the west coast and Hawaiian's were innovating, one other noteworthy grand master of the sport was competing in a category of his own.  Anyone who knows this man will agree that Timothy Payne (below) has been the most durable and reliable athlete the endurance sport has ever known.  Further he has introduced this sport to hundreds of people in the South Eastern USA and he represents the sport.  Tims enthusiasm and personal leadership are remarkable.  

Photo of Timothy Payne

In 2013 Tim participated in his 1st IDSA event in Charlotte NC hoping to meet local people who shared the same passion.  Unfortunately all the competitors were from everywhere-but-local but it ended up allowing him to meet lots of great people in the LDP community.   Soon he was poling/paddling with the greatest from around the world DeeJay Pascua, Jeremiah Pascua, Chip Walter and Daniel Cambay.  

Another notable East-Coast endurance pioneer is Chip Walter of FL.  (Below) Chip built custom boards under the "Raising Cain" brand and has been instrumental toward growing the sport in the South Eastern USA.  Chip is a fun loving competitor with remarkable fitness and stamina, right there with Tim Payne yet a little younger.  

Image of Chip Walter skating at Ultraskate

Phillip Scearce (below) is the current world record endurance distance holder for the push/paddle category.  He's an incredible athlete and a wonderful ambassador for the sport.

Phillip Scearce

Julia Seifer-Smith from West Florida is the current woman's endurance record holder. She is a a fierce competitor with an endurance athletes focus and strength of mind.  

Julie Seifert-Smith World Record Holding Skate Poling Champion

Leonard Leffler from S. Florida is an absolute beast and he keeps competing in different categories pursuing his personal bests.  Leonards influence on this sport cannot be understated.  He has competed and recruited newcomers and engaged manufacturers to take this sport seriously.  

Leonard Leffler Champion Skate Poling Athlete

Andy Andras (below) has become the powerhouse athlete of IDSA rankings, notably becoming the first human to officially skateboard 300+ miles within a continuous 24 hour timeframe.  Achieving his goals in skateboard push, he took on the challenge to master the skate poling discipline.  Andy has been chewing through all categories, one-by-one setting new world records with each attempt.  In the summer of 2023, a four man team comprising Andy Andras, Paul Kent, Miles Kipper and Rick Stubblefield officially pushed, pumped and poled their longboards across the entire North American continent, (from the east coast of Virginia to the west coast of Oregon) in a staggering seventeen day relay. 

Andy Andras Skate Poling Pioneer Athlete

Nomenclature:

The early adopters and innovators assigned lots of names to this gear, sport and activity; iterations of skate, paddle, pole and stick.   

  • SK8Pole brand trademark application withdrawn due to descriptiveness.  
  • Skate Pole brand trademark application withdrawn due to descriptiveness.  
  • SK8 SUP - Sport name adopted by Steve Holt
  • Street SUP (SSUP) - Common early sport name promoted by West SUP
  • Skate Stick - Common early product name
  • SUPSkate® is a registered trademark for gear by Hamboards®.
  • Skate Paddling - Common early name for the sport
  • Land Paddling® - Common early name for the sport promoted by Kahuna®.
  • BRAAP® Stick - Branded "paddle" featuring a curved running blade.

In a blind survey of a statistically significant population of random people, who had never seen nor heard of this activity, the results were organized into this word cloud.  Word clouds are graphical representations of word frequency that give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in a source text. The larger the word in the visual the more common the word was in the survey results.  Several potential names for the activity are possible, but "Skate Poling" or "Pole Skating" jump out as easy to recognize names for the activity.  

Word Cloud Illustrating the most common words assigned to skate poling

Some refer to this sport as "Land Paddling" which was trademarked and made popular by the Kahuna® Big Stick marketed as a "land paddle", which actually resembles a snow stick tiak (above) more than any kind of paddle.  The Kahuna® brand claimed to have invented the Land Paddle® which is a registered trademark.  The Big Stick was quite heavy, stiff, inefficient and the curved foot had to be lined-up perfectly each stroke, otherwise it slipped.  The author only takes exception to the term Land Paddling* because the stroke motion is mostly pushing backwards against the ground with a stick, not pulling a wide flat blade through the ground, so strictly speaking, the term land paddling is misleading.  This may seem like a pedantic point, but is verified by most athletes who come to skate poling from water SUP racing who remark how the skate poling stroke is complementary but different than a paddling stroke. Here's a raw video of Connor Baxter, the worlds fastest SUP Racer, teaching the subtle difference. "Instead of reaching and pulling, you plant and push."  


For SUP paddling, the rider reaches out forward, as far as possible, and pulls backward, lifting the paddle out of the water near their feet.  For skate poling the rider places the pole on the ground very near their front foot and pushes forcefully backward against the ground, extending the stroke as long as possible for maximum push.  

DIY SKATE POLES and STICKS: Do it yourself skate poles predate any commercial products.  A broom handle with a tennis ball stuck to the end, is a very common first skate pole.  The rider must be very careful not to lean on these too hard, because when they snap, the rider is in a very vulnerable position and it's a sure fire way to hurt your elbow and hip.  If you're going to make one to try, please use an axially fiber reinforced material (bamboo or fiberglass) pole, which is far safer for DIY use. 

Early commercially available skate poles and sticks were designed in a variety of forms.  Poles were symmetrical hollow rattan (or bamboo) poles with more flex at the tips where a replaceable grippy rubber tip was installed.  Sticks were cylindrical solids (heavy and stiff) with a T handle and rubber "foot", or were cylindrical hollow structures with a T handle with a rubber "kong ball" tip.  

PATENTS:

In 2014 Palmer was awarded US Patent No. US 8,746,266 on its "Apparatus for Establishing Dynamic Ground Contact" which protected a telescoping aluminum pole with a highly innovative flexible pusher tip.  

In 2014 McBride was awarded US Patent No. US 8,636,306 on its "Skate Board Paddle" which protected its solid wood stick (or aluminum tube) featuring a unique curved gripping foot.  

In 2017 Sandusky was awarded US Patent No. US 9,724,593 issued on it's Pusher Tip and Associated Systems which protected it's highly innovative flexible pusher tip and a flexible tapered pole forming a skateboard paddle.  

ADVANCED SKATE POLE FEATURES: The most efficient skate poles comprise a lightweight symmetrical tapered pole, axial stiffness, transverse bending flex, replaceable and grippy pusher tips and ergonomic top handles.  Additionally most beginning riders strongly prefer the adjustable length feature to cope with different height boards, uphills/headwinds (slightly shorter for shorter strokes) and flats/tailwinds (slightly longer for longer follow-through strokes).  Distance athletes, riding a mostly flat course, prefer the fixed length pole’s light weight and extra flex.  

LEARN TO SKATE POLE:  It's easy to learn how to skateboard with a skatepole.  Here's a 5 minute video teaching a beginner how to skateboard for the first time, using a pole as a safety and learning aid.  Skate pole can be used to aid lessons much the same way ski instructors use ski-poles to teach beginners.  Skate poling does not have a target age or age limit.  Go at your own pace, as a way to learn, or a leisure activity or as an endurance athlete.  It's all good.  

MASTERING SKATE POLING:  You’ll recognize a strong skate poler by their rhythm and technique.  They’ll have discipline of the return stroke (in a straight plane) and they’ll push backwards with both top and bottom hands and they’ll have their hips pointed forwards to allow alternating arms, and they’ll bend their knees at the end of each the stroke to maximize the push.  The most accomplished distance skate polers add "pumping" which is a technique to accelerate the rider by shifting weight back and forth to accelerate without poling.  Watching someone with good technique catch a rhythm, is impressive.  It almost looks effortless when the rider has the techniques dialed in. 

In the video below, pioneering endurance athlete Leonard Leffler demonstrates a skate poling power stroke.  Note how much the pole flexes in a curve toward the pusher tip.  You can't really see this at real speed, but in the slow-motion section you get the idea.  This curved bending, enabled by the tapered lower pole is called "whip" and is critical for efficient energy transfer and comfort.  

 

Skate pole weight is critical.  On a typical two-hour ride, at ~ 10 miles per hour the rider could make 7,500 to 8,500 strokes.  Each stroke, the rider lifts the pole a foot off the ground (in about one second) and returns it to the forward position on the ground.  So, if their pole weighs 1.50 lbs. that’s ~ 12,000 lbs. (6 tons) lifted ~ one foot off the ground during that two hour ride.  If one pole is 5% heavier 1.575 lbs., the difference is an astonishing 600 extra one-pound reps.  By the time the rider is dehydrated and delirious from exertion, that pole seems heavier anyway.   Why waste work that could be invested into forward velocity?  Pole weight matters. 

Skate poling is an incredible workout already.  Most of the athletes effort is directed toward moving the rider forward against resistance like rolling friction, wind drag and elevation changes.  But this made us think about the isolating act of the lifting the pole repeatedly and how much energy it consumes, because that scales linearly with pole weight.  So we asked Artificial Intelligence a series of questions, then arrived at this: "How many calories would a 200 lb (~90kg) man need to consume in order to allow him to lift a 1.5 pound object, one foot off the ground, 8,000 times over the course of two hours?"

This is way too complex a question for the author to figure out, but according to (www.bard.google.com) here's an answer: 3,000 calories. 

(For reference, here's what a 2,000 calorie meal looks like.)  

    Work Done and Energy Expenditure:

    • Work per repetition: 1.5 lbs * 1 ft = 1.5 ft-lbs (converted from metric values)
    • Total work: 1.5 ft-lbs/repetition * 8,000 repetitions = 12,000 ft-lbs
    • Body's efficiency: Assuming 20% efficiency, estimated calorie burn from lifting: (12,000 ft-lbs * 0.00015 kcal/ft-lb) * (1 / 0.2) ≈ 9 kcal

    Estimating Total Energy Expenditure:

    • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): A 90kg man has an average BMR of around 4200 kcal/day (converted from metric values)
    • Activity duration: The activity lasts for 2 hours, or 120 minutes.
    • Metabolic Equivalent of Task (METs): As before, let's consider a moderate intensity of 3.5 METs for sustained lifting.
    • Calorie burn from activity: 3.5 METs * 120 minutes * 200 lbs (converted from kg) * 5 kcal/MET-minute ≈ 3000 kcal (converted from metric values)

    Extra Calories Needed:

    • Total calorie expenditure: Combine BMR and activity burn: 4200 kcal + 3000 kcal ≈ 7200 kcal
    • Extra calories needed: Subtract the BMR from the total expenditure: 7200 kcal - 4200 kcal ≈ 3000 kcal

    Therefore, the 200 lb man would need approximately 3,000 extra "calories" to lift the 1.5 lb skate pole over the two hours.  So, if you use a 5-10% heavier pole, you can enjoy a couple beers or a sugary treat afterward, guilt free!  

    Skateboard weight is not necessarily critical for skate poling.  The rider is not repeatedly lifting the board off the ground and putting it back down.  One must consider the entire system weight, of the board plus rider together (e.g., 10 lb + 180 lbs.) If the rider ends at the same location, they started (same elevation) they have been returned 100% of the potential energy they invested moving all that system weight.  In the example above 25% extra board weight is only 1.3% extra system weight, which can be virtually irrelevant unless it’s an uphill, one-way climb. 

    *There is one design concept that employs an adjustable upper tube with a lower “running blade” composite spring.  This BRAAP® Stick is the closest approximation to a paddle because at the beginning of the stroke the rider can pull (about one foot).  Unlike a pole, it’s not symmetrical which is inefficient.  The rider needs mad skills to line it up perfectly straight every time (which I cannot do).  It’s not axially stiff so it “softens” the hard push at the end of the stroke, which can be frustrating.  Finally, it’s a little bit heavier than it could be.   Notwithstanding my differences of design opinion, at least one pioneering world class endurance skating athlete has achieved outstanding competitive results using it. 

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