Prepare yourself for a long and wild ride: New York City's longboarders are charging around en masse.

Prepare yourself for a long and wild ride: New York City's longboarders are charging around en masse.

It’s 7:00pm in New York City and the thermometer still reads thirty-five degrees. It’s the hottest summer on record and Mike Dallas of Bustin Boards has organised a twenty-six mile longboarding race, based on the quest from the classic New York movie The Warriors, to get from Van Cortland Park to the famous Hurricane amusement ride in Coney Island. Seventeen teams of three are here tonight, each representing a different street gang from the movie. And almost all have dressed to impress.

The group is a mismatched horde of people from different urban tribes. Black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor, skate shoes, running shoes, baggy jeans, tight shorts, Buddy Holly glasses, goggles, aviator caps, hipster haircuts, shaved heads, cholo braids and piercings in places metal shouldn’t be; anyone and everyone is here, together in one place. “Can you dig it?” yells Dallas as he raises his arm. And on that signal, they take off from the starting line with one collective push.

The Warriors Race is just one example of many eccentric events that bring this mismatched crew together. There’s the Central Park Race, the Brooklyn Blitz and the infamous Broadway Bomb, an illegal street race that sends hundreds of skaters hurtling down America’s most famous street – Saturday traffic at its peak – to see who can get from Columbia University to the statue of the Wall Street Bull in the shortest amount of time. The current record is twenty-six minutes and forty seconds, faster than any form of transportation besides helicopter.

You’ve never seen skating quite like this. They are the mongrel mutations of a new evolutionary branch bursting forth from the filthy, stinking furnaces of New York City and coming to a street near you. There’s no pretence, no rules, no barriers to entry predicated on cool – just long decks, fat wheels and a collective need for speed.

When I catch up with the pack from Bustin Boards a few weeks later, they are doing what they do best: flying through the city one summer afternoon in the feral pursuit of the kinetic. “I’d tried short skateboards in the past, but the scene felt somewhat intimidating to fit into,” says Nathalie Herring, spinning one of her wheels absent-mindedly as we enjoy a brief respite with other longboarders at the bottom of the Williamsburg Bridge.

We have been causing a scene on the bridge for the last hour, swerving through pedestrians, eliciting curses from hipsters on pristine new bikes, narrowly avoiding disaster every time we lean into turns or bust the wheels loose for long, controlled slides. The riders barely notice. As twenty-four-year-old Herring explains, it’s all about the distinct feeling of the ride. “A lot of times I like to glide my fingertips across the concrete, like a surfer in the water touches a wave, and feel the energy beneath me,” she says. “Longboarding is how I choose to connect with the world around me.”

After the bridge, the crew picks up speed, rushing like a wolf pack through congested streets. When I catch up with Solomon Walter Lang of Bustin we are both dripping with sweat. I’m panting and my kicking leg hurts, but he’s just warming up. “I love Manhattan. I love dodging people and weaving through traffic,” he says. “I love the energy and the rush. The city is always changing and to skate it, we always have to be aware of the way it changes.

They’re insatiable in their compulsive desire for motion. Moving is their sole purpose; arriving, a disappointment. Repose only happens long enough to munch candy and gulp can after effervescent can of energy drink.

The police see us run a red light and all hell breaks loose. The pack explodes in different directions, then coalesces again a few minutes later at a downtown meeting place. We ride the spot for a while, soaking up its curves and undulations, then take flight again. Unknown riders show up and are absorbed into the group, no questions asked.

“This is ‘push culture’ and it’s just the beginning,” says Lang. ”Longboarders accept each other as instant family, people see this love and this sense of belonging and freedom and they want that. Each skater takes it upon himself to spread the stoke… he wants you to understand what he’s feeling.”

And people are. Skateboard sales dropped two percent in the first part of this year, but longboard sales have jumped forty-three percent. For the moment, no one is grumbling about this surge in popularity. “I love the freedom it has given me. The freedom to be myself. I love the community and the joy that it brings. I want to go fast!” Lang shouts over his shoulder, while he threads between two buses and flies through an empty intersection.

It won’t always be like this. The masses will come, the media will descend, the underground will become the institution. Jonny Depp has already bought a few Bustin boards. But until then, New York City’s longboarders are just a bunch of young people with too much energy, in love with the city, going everywhere and nowhere as fast as they can.