Shining a Light on Longboarders and Downhill Racing in SK8 the Infinity

SK8 the Infinity

These days, it feels like skateboarding is more popular than ever, whether in video games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 or movies like Mid90s. But its sibling sport, longboarding, is rarely seen or acknowledged in the mainstream despite having a large following around the world.

Thankfully, that’s where SK8 the Infinity comes in. A breakout anime of the Winter 2021 season, the latest Bones series fixes that wrong and sets itself in the fast-paced world of downhill racing—with skateboarding and longboarding in tow.

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The series manages to introduce newcomers to these sports without feeling overwhelming, successfully capturing the spirit of the sport and its culture. And on a personal note, it showcases a hobby I’ve loved for more than five years—longboarding. And its debut couldn’t come at a more perfect time, with folks stuck at home longing for a way to cruise, relax and get some much-needed sun.

Skate history

The sport of skateboarding has a rich history, having reinvented itself several times over the years to stay relevant. What began as a way for surfers to practice their moves on solid ground, quickly evolved into a counterculture propelled by the rebellious youth of the ’80s and ’90s.

In the decades since, skateboarding has become a global phenomenon, even set to debut on the Olympic stage. It’s featured in film, television, video games and music. But what about longboarding?

Well, there might be a few reasons for that. Longboarding is a lot different than skateboarding, and though its multidiscipline approach might feel similar, it’s quite different. Its ability to splinter into smaller niches makes it a bit harder to portray realistically.

And when you look even closer, you’ll see just how different it is. Its style includes freeriding, dancing, surfskating, crusing and downhill. Each one of these has its own culture and type of board, creating an easy-to-pick-up yet difficult-to-master pastime.

Mind the gap

Thankfully, SK8 the Infinity is here to bring everyone together, setting up a blueprint for future depictions of longboarding and skateboarding to follow.

In this series, riders meet atop a mountain to race downhill in a sport known as “S.” Though never defined explicitly, this is basically downhill racing (or downhill jams)—the edgy, dangerous side of longboarding that attracted me to the sport.

While SK8 the Infinity doesn’t hit viewers over the head with technical terminology, it does a great job at lowering the barrier for the sport. Even the over-the-top riders in the series like ADAM and Cherry blossom fit with the culture of downhill racing, where riders are often eccentric or quirky.

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But the show’s protagonists—Reki, a longtime skateboarder, and Langa, a Japan transplant with a history in snowboarding—bridge this gap wonderfully. They represent the difference between the two sports, and when Reki builds a board for Langa, he brings together the essence of both types of boarding and snowboarding.

And while you might think that adding footstraps to a skateboard is weird, I’ll remind you that footstops are a very real thing in longboarding to prevent riders’ feet from coming off of the board during tight turns.

Even a recent interview with Studio No Border (who consulted and designed the boards in SK8 the Infinity) revealed that the team built these boards to work in real life! And hey, maybe they could bride the two sports in real life, too.

For the culture!

When not downhill racing in “S,” the series accurately portrays other parts of skateboard culture. One fan on Twitter, for example, observed that the show’s young prodigy, Miya Chinen, had skate moves that were similar to those invented by the legendary Rodney Mullen.

In another case, a montage shows Langa’s journey as a newcomer, learning the ropes to doing his very first ollie. Along the way, the falls, scrapes and bruises feel like a nice touch and a tip of the hat to anybody who’s gone through that. Learning to get on a board for the first time is hard, and SK8 the Infinity pays homage to that in a way that feels endearing. 

While the anime stays true to its inspiration in many ways, it also deviates from reality, as sports anime often does. Outlandish set pieces, gravity-defying aerial maneuvers and special moves remind viewers that it’s still anime, but also somehow emulate the feeling of pulling off a turn or trick in real life.

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I’ve enjoyed seeing longboarding as a backdrop, especially through Langa, in which to tell a surprisingly delightful narrative of how disparate people can find a connection through their love of a singular hobby. And the show treats skate and longboard culture with respect, gradually unraveling the minutiae for viewers who may be uninformed. 

For longboarders, this is a big moment—a validation of sorts that finally shines a light on a sport with many facets. Whether you’re a skateboarder or longboarder, newcomer or veteran, it’s always a good time to get onboard.

Remember: “Skating is infinite!”