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Longboarding has a dark side when injuries occur

by: Vern Uyetake, Tyce Phillippi, an eighth grader at Waluga Junior High School, shows where he injured himself while longboarding on Bergis Road. Phillippi’s mother, Rayleen Bowen, hopes his story encourages parents to talk to their children about helmets and safety.

Among the longboarding crowd in Lake Oswego, Bergis Road is known as one of the toughest downhill challenges, with a steep slope that smooths out before hitting a sharp 90-degree turn.

Making it to the bottom without falling has become a rite of passage for young longboarders, including Tyce Phillippi, who tried to conquer Bergis during a trip home from a friend's house recently.

Upon descent, however, Phillippi began to feel 'death wobble,' a term longboarders use for losing balance just before a crash.

He can't recall what happened next, though he certainly has the road rash and black eye to prove he took a nasty roadside tumble.

'I did part of the hill, got some speed and decided to do the rest of it and didn't make it,' Phillippi said with a sheepish grin.

Now, his frustrated mother, Rayleen Bowen, has asked Phillippi to go public with his story as a way to urge parents and kids to begin thinking seriously about safety while skateboarding or longboarding.

'My biggest concern is that these kids aren't wearing helmets,' she said. 'I don't want to shut down streets to kids, even that one. I think parents need to be aware of what's happening and that their kids might be attempted to go down Bergis and talk to them about it.'

Phillippi, who was not wearing a helmet because it feels 'awkward,' crashed on Bergis in front of two motorists. One called Bowen, who had no idea her son would attempt the hill on his way home.

'I told him not to go down the hill but I never told him that he had to wear a helmet,' she said. 'It's hard for a parent because you're in a totally different world.'

Bergis sits south of the Lake Oswego city line and does not fall under a city ordinance that requires skateboarders and longboarders to wear helmets.

Outside of Lake Oswego, they are not required to wear protective headgear under Clackamas County law.

Phillippi was not breaking the law, although skateboarders and longboaders could be ticketed if they are found impeding traffic or endangering others, said Officer Rose Parkhill of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Department.

It's not uncommon for a new longboarder to ride without a helmet, said Robin McGuirk, owner of Eastside Longboards, a Portland longboarder manufacturer.

While they are made for downhill riding, longboards are also fashioned to 'carve' and use 'footbreak' techniques to slow down or stop if needed.

'After a year or so of riding, you begin to learn how to turn and gain more control,' McGuirk said.

A change in attitude toward safety typically happens when longboarders realize that crashing at 35 mph could prove fatal, he added.

At the hospital, X-rays determined that Phillippi had fractured his orbital rim, located beside his right eye. There was also the question of internal bleeding and brain damage, though Phillippi turned out to have neither.

'He could have been dead or have permanent brain injuries,' Bowen said.

Phillippi returned to Waluga Junior High School after a week of absence to wrap up end-of-the-year activities. But because of his injuries, he will not be able to participate in baseball league this summer.

The accident also puts an end to his longboarding hobby. At least, for the time being.

Bowen suggested the creation of a longboarding park where kids could skate downhill supervised, wearing helmets and without the danger of oncoming traffic. The Lake Oswego Skate Park, located at the intersection of Pilkington Road and Willow Lane, is designed for skateboarders' use only.

'The kids need something to do but they need to be careful and responsible,' Bowen said. 'I learned my lesson the hard way with Tyce.'