ST. PETERSBURG — Paul Bernardini stands on his skateboard, mimicking the swooping cutback moves of a surfer. He rocks back and forth in semicircles, using his own power to cruise along the pavement.
Bernardini and other skateboarders celebrated National Skateboarding Day on Sunday by riding the Pinellas Trail from Tropicana Field onto Treasure Island. The sidewalk surfboarders covered the 11-mile trek — with their feet rarely touching the ground.
They did it by riding longboards, which are essentially longer skateboards, from 42 to 60 inches compared with regular boards that are 30 to 38 inches.
These boards, which start at $159, are not for flipping on half-pipes or grinding on rails. Instead, they are designed for comfortable long-distance riding because the board is more flexible and the bigger wheels are made of softer plastic, allowing them to go over rough surfaces that could cause bone-crunching falls. Those characteristics are also why weaving back and forth propels the board faster and longer than it would on regular skateboards, and why there's little need for riders to use their feet to push.
Longboards are part of a new trend in skateboarding, especially among riders such as Bernardini, a 38-year-old attorney who is well outside the youth culture that defines the sport.
"Longboards have made it socially acceptable for grown-ups to continue skateboarding," he said.
Bernardini was an avid skateboarder as a child. Then he went to college and law school.
"Time becomes a factor, and skateboarding kind of tapered off," he said.
Last year, Bernardini was mountain biking when he saw an older rider on a longboard.
"That got the skateboarding bug back in me," he said. "I knew that's what I needed to be doing."
So Bernardini got a board and started riding. Soon after, his friend Ian Tilp joined him.
"I saw Paul riding a longboard and I knew I had to have one," said Tilp, 34. "It really has a Zen feeling being on a longboard. It's like an endless wave on pavement. And Florida is perfect for it because there are so many trails and so much flat surface."
Bernardini and Tilp were so hooked, they searched online forums for other area riders. They found Greg Feiss.
Feiss, 46, grew up in Clearwater and skateboarded in the 1970s. He gave it up to focus on distance running. But after a nearly 30-year layoff, he had the urge to try again and got a longboard for his 45th birthday.
"It's a great workout, and you travel at a pretty good pace," Feiss said. "I'm trying to get my kids involved now."
Bernardini, Feiss and Tilp were among eight who skated the Pinellas Trail last weekend. The ride was the brainchild of John Matthews and Chris Coghlan, co-owners of Kona Town, a St. Petersburg skate shop that specializes in longboards.
"We've had a lot of interest in longboards the past few years, and a lot of guys who were interested in doing a group ride," Matthews said. "This seemed like a fun thing to do."
Some of the longboarders are going to extremes — in a laid-back, longboard sort of way. Bernardini wants to ride 100 miles in one day on a longboard.
"On these boards you can go roughly 10 mph," he said. "It's faster than jogging but maybe a little slower than a bike. I think covering 100 miles in a day is definitely possible."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4169.