'Perfect wave' of energy can keep skateboarders on a roll — even uphill

The price: looking like a freak.

The payoff: skateboarding for miles but never needing to set a foot on the pavement.

With arm motions dubbed "choppin' wood," "swimming" and "climbing," two Redmond natives have developed skateboarding techniques that manipulate hills and distance without ever needing to push off.

The duo on wheels can often be found along the Burke-Gilman/Sammamish River trail on sunny days, headphones in place and hitting about 18 mph on flat stretches.

And they ride for miles, keeping their feet on the board the whole way.

"You have to be totally willing to look like a complete idiot," said Derek Munson, a 33-year-old author of children's books.

Munson bought a 36-inch longboard skateboard on sale about two years ago. He often ponders abstract ideas such as the intricacies of pi and the musical concept of the perfect fifth, and while playing on his new board he was mulling over the idea of opposites. And then the thought came to him.

"I wondered if it'd ever be possible to generate energy rather than lose energy," he explained. "I bet there was a way that you could generate and maintain your own speed without ever putting your foot down."

While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, Munson found through trial and error that the most efficient route on a longboard seems to be what he calls an energy-filled wave. Rocking the skateboard from side to side while keeping a center of balance made it move, he discovered.

Excited, Munson told his 22-year-old neighbor about the finding.

"I said, 'I've got to see this,' " recalled Ashton Mey, a student at Bellevue Community College and an avid longboarder. "Then it all seemed doable in the search for the perfect wave."

From a dead stop, Mey and Munson hop on their boards and propel themselves, flinging their arms in every direction. They gain momentum by moving their skateboards in figure eights, switching their weight from their toes to their heels and then back again. And to get up steep hills with little momentum, they'll spin their longboards from back to front and front to back.

"You just end up dancing," Munson said.

"That's fantastic. I've never heard of that before," said Michael Brooke, publisher of the Canada-based skateboarding magazine Concrete Wave. "I've heard of people pumping ... but that's unusual if they're going for miles and miles."

Special swiveling trucks — similar to car axles — can improve momentum, said Brooke, but Munson and Mey use regular trucks.

They vary the longboards they ride, sometimes using 54-inch skateboards that Munson likens to "jumbo jets," versus the 36-inch "F-16s."

Munson took up the Japanese martial art Aikido to help with his center of balance and flexibility. And Mey does "living-room" yoga to assist with his.

Music is a key element because the beats help them find rhythms for their dancelike movements; they've experimented with Bach but have settled into lounge and acid jazz.

"The reality with skateboarding is that there's always going to be people who come up with new ideas and concepts," Brooke said. "There's a whole bunch of other types of skateboarding out there other than kids who just do rails and stairs."

Munson gave himself a hernia last summer trying to get up a sharp incline. But he and Mey say the experience is almost spiritual.

"You're in total sync with your surroundings," Mey said.

"It's like conducting all the energy around you, not just the energy within you," said Munson. "You just hit this place where everything you do is translated into movement."

And while they continue working on new uphill moves, they have yet to find a name for what it is they are doing.

"Foolishness," suggested Munson.

"It's just 'groovin,' " Mey said.

Gina Kim: 206-464-2761 or gkim@seattletimes.com