Honestly, I didn’t want to like e-skateboards. For the longest time, I considered electric skateboards to be the sole domain of tech bloggers and the nouveau riche.
Plus, having lived in Venice Beach for a solid three years, I had a chance to see the latest ‘innovations’ in e-mobility every day right on my doorstep. All manners of electrified skateboard-like vehicles would pop up on the streets of Venice on any given day. From one-wheelers to ultra-long boards, in various states of market readiness.
This was the cutting edge of electric transportation, but I wanted no piece of it. I have been skateboarding for over 30 years at this point. So I was convinced that non-electric, human-propelled skateboards can go fast enough and far enough without the addition of electric drives.
Looking at the wave of videos showing tech bros jockeying across the pavement wielding Bluetooth remotes on their e-boards reinforced this opinion. It just refused to look natural, standing on this magic, electric carpet with a remote in hand, traversing the ground soundlessly.
But as part of my job as a skateboard journalist, I need to maintain an open mind to what the future holds. So when Boardsport SOURCE magazine asked me in summer 2019 to write a story on e-mobility in boardsports, including a focus on e-skates as the next frontier, I jumped right in.
The e-skates market is widely dominated by brands that are tech/motor drive companies first, and purveyors of skate products second.
The Wild, Wild West
Starting with a quick market analysis, I soon realized that it’s the Wild West in e-skate right now. The electric skateboard market is widely dominated by brands that are tech/motor drive companies first, and purveyors of skate products second.
It’s like shopping for skateboards at a major retail store. Plastic decks with questionable wheels, trucks and bushings abound, even at the top price level.
At the low price-point end of the spectrum, e-skates are a total nightmare. A simple search on Amazon revealed numerous generic e-skateboards by no-name brands, all pretty much trying to mimic market leader Boosted Boards in terms of look and design.
Seriously, who are all these brands? And starting at $199 a pop, there’s no way these brands can possibly deliver quality in terms of electric drives and hardware. More likely, quality e-skateboards currently cost at least $750.
Also completely missing from the market at this point are electric skateboards from authentic skate hardware brands. No e-boards from the likes of Sector 9, Arbor, Landyachtz, or Miller Division. While some time-honored brands in the segment have experimented with adding e-drives to their boards, none have a commercial product out. And when I asked around for my article, most would like to keep it that way.
Authentic brands to the rescue
That’s when Loaded Boards out of Culver City, L.A., came through by sending me one of their new e-skateboard completes. It’s part of a new line launched in summer 2019 and created in partnership with electric drive company Unlimited. (They also make upgrade kits to turn any skateboard into an e-skate.) Unboxing the Loaded Boards x Unlimited Tesseract e-cruiser, I instantly knew this was going to be different than the random rides I’d seen online.
Why? First of all, Loaded Boards have been making quality longboards and cruisers for decades. So the Tesseract features a quality bamboo composite deck next to 180mm Paris V3 trucks and 85mm Orangatang wheels. Huge wheels! And it turns out, that’s what you really need to keep it fun with all that power under the hood and top speeds up to 23 mph.
Second, Loaded found a viable partner in Unlimited as a company with strong IP in batteries and electric drive trains. Suddenly I found myself looking forward to experiencing the actual ride.
For full disclosure, we also contacted several other e-skate brands for the article, but they generally don’t talk to core skate media. Boosted Boards, Atom, Evolve, Inboard, and scooter makers Segway were all unavailable for comments for an upcoming industry report in issue #99 of Boardsport SOURCE magazine. Mellow and Elwing boards participated in the article and answered questionnaires. But they could not facilitate any test boards.
The bleeding edge
But I still got a taste. After a few test rides with the Loaded Boards x Unlimited Tesseract e-cruiser on the beach boulevards of Lake Michigan, I changed my tune on e-skateboards.
This was fun. And actually easy to learn, once you get used to the fact that the two battery packs add significant weight to your ride.
That said, you can’t put down your foot at high speeds to bring your board to a rapid stop. Not without risk of tearing your ankle off. But that’s what the remote is for and soon enough, decelerating by pushing down on the joystick became second nature.
The different riding modes (I mostly kept it in Eco Mode) add variety to how the board handles, plus you can customize further via the Loaded smartphone app. A secret cruise control mode and extra speed boost enhance the ride if you know the code on the remote (revealed in the official manual).
Quality comes at a price
Whether it’s $1,349 worth of fun, because that’s what the complete currently retails for, is up for debate. Without argument, the Loaded Boards x Unlimited Tesseract e-cruiser offers the best of both worlds: Quality skate hardware that’s worth a pretty penny in its natural, analog version is paired with state-of-the-art electric drive and remote control tech. And realistically, this is how much it costs at this point in time – if quality is what you’re after.
Without a doubt, e-skates by authentic companies – the ones serious about skateboarding – are currently on the bleeding edge of innovation. Early adopters will pay premium price points. As the technology advances, price points are bound to come down (just look at how the iPod started at $399 and went to $49 in a super compact package called iPod Shuffle in seven years). Complete e-skateboard set-ups will become lighter. Batteries will shrink in size. And overall ranges of operation on a single charge will expand in the future.
Here’s another thought: As major European cities consider bans on automobiles in city centers, e-skates and e-scooters offer an alternative for commuters and city dwellers. No matter if you still think e-skates are for kooks, car-free cities and new modes of mobility are worth keeping an open mind about.
The caveat: Skater’s only!
After weeks of testing, I still would never advocate e-skates to novice skateboarders. Not ever. You have to have some level of board control before going electric. Otherwise you have no appreciation of how fast you’re actually able to go without moving a muscle. Not to mention the skills to control your board at high speeds.
Plus, wear a helmet. There have been fatal crashes on e-skates already, unfortunately. And despite top speeds around 25 mph, you’re still riding what is basically a juiced-up cruiser or longboard on skateboard wheels. Pebbles, pinecones or cracks in the pavement can and will take down inattentive riders.
With that said, if mainstream consumers are desperate to add another battery-powered device to their lives, electric scooters offer a much easier and safer ride.
After weeks of testing, I still would never advocate e-skates to novice skateboarders. Not ever. You have to have some level of board control before going electric.
Electric skateboards: Wave of the future?
In the bigger picture, the e-mobility trend has the potential to disrupt large segments of the boardsports market. Just look at what wave parks are doing to surfing.
A short-lived, two-season fad around e-skateboards – mostly driven by non-core consumers – could happen. But I predict that skateboarding will prove an exception to digital transformation.
Don’t expect the addition of electric skateboards to prove a major disruption like, say, electric mountain bikes. (Did you know? They are now selling more electric bikes in the Netherlands than regular ones.) Skateboards are much harder to master and control than bicycles. So the e-skates movement will have to start by catering to a niche audience, initially.
Authentic skateboard brands are aware of this – as opposed to the wannabe brands selling cheap-o products online. And the core brands with actual roots in boardsports – and serious e-mobility ambitions – are doing their best to educate consumers and deliver quality options through core retail.
I have to admit that I’ve had a lot of fun zipping around town on an e-skate. I feel privileged to experience this moment in time when the skateboard industry takes the future of this segment away from me-too tech companies and into its own hands.