Fingerboarding: Skateboarding Without 'Fear Factor'

Originally published on September 7, 2011 9:41 am

Tech Deck, a manufacturer of 2 1/2-inch long skateboards — "fingerboards" — has spent the past five months hosting competitions in more than 10 cities to find the best fingerboarder in America.

Fingerboarding is a miniature version of skateboarding — people "skate" with their fingers on tiny skateboards. The boards are often made of wood or plastic and have a sandpapery grip tape on top and skateboard graphics underneath. They cost anywhere from a few bucks to more than $100.

The competition was held in New York City last weekend, where 14-year-old Matty Taylor from California was named national fingerboarding champion and awarded $5,000.

The 15 finalists ranged in age from 14 to 24 and earned a free trip to the Tech Deck U.S. Fingerboarding Championships on Sept. 2.

Nineteen-year-old Taylor Rosenbauer of Harding Township, N.J., made it through the event gates early to practice before the big competition. Like most fingerboarders, Rosenbauer is also a skateboarder. He compared it to skateboarding without the balance or fear factor.

"Fingerboarding is a way of, you know, taking my love for skateboarding and, I guess, doing it when I can't skate," Rosenbauer said.

Tech Deck makes fingerboards and built four mini-skate parks for the championships, which it plans to make an annual event. Each mini-skate park is the size of a dining room table; competitors moved from table to table, whizzing their boards up tiny ramps and steps, guiding them with just two fingers. They flipped up onto tiny metal handrails for slides and spun their boards in the air, hoping for good landings. Their fingers looked just like little legs on a skateboard. Competitors were scored on style, creativity and the difficulty of their tricks.

When Rosenbauer broke his arm skateboarding, his parents told him to stop, which is when he first discovered the tiny boards. He now owns hundreds of fingerboards and even has a company sponsor, Black River Ramps.

"Probably the first trick that most people learn when they first start fingerboarding is called just a shove-it. That's where you spin the board 180 degrees, by doing a scissor kick motion with your two fingers," Rosenbaur said.

Twenty-year-old Kyle Ballard, a finalist from Houston, said the wood tables at the event were an upgrade for him. He usually does his tricks off textbooks at home.

Matty Taylor, the national champion, said he would use his prize money to buy more fingerboards and a new camera.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

After several competitions around the country, the 15 best fingerboarders were invited to the event on Friday, and reporter Sarah Reynolds was there.

SARAH REYNOLDS: Nineteen-year-old Taylor Rosenbauer of Harding Township, New Jersey, made it through the event gates early to practice before the big competition. Like most fingerboarders, Rosenbauer is a skateboarder too. He says it's like skateboarding without the balance or the fear factor.

TAYLOR ROSENBAUER: Fingerboarding is a way of taking my love for skateboarding, and, I guess, doing it when I can't skate.

REYNOLDS: Like when he broke his arm skateboarding and his parents told him to stop. This, he says, is when he first came across the tiny boards. Each board is about two-and-a-half inches long. And despite their size, they look just like skateboards. Some are wooden, some plastic, but they all have the sandpapery grip tape on the top and skateboard graphics underneath. They cost anywhere from a few bucks to more than $100. Rosenbauer says he owns hundreds, and even has a company sponsor, Blackriver Ramps. He pulled a board out of his pocket and showed me how it works.

ROSENBAUER: Probably the first trick that most people learn when they first start fingerboarding is called just a shove it. That's where you spin the board 180 degrees by doing, I guess, a scissor kick motion with your two fingers. So your back finger slides back and your front finger goes forward.

REYNOLDS: It's pretty tough, but Rosenbauer says practice is the key. Other fingerboarders seem to agree. As soon as the event gates opened, they came running to find the skateboard tables hoping for room to practice their tricks. The finalists range in age between 14 and 24, and they all earned a free trip to the championship courtesy of Tech Deck, the sponsoring company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got the national championship of the Tech Deck U.S. Fingerboarding Championship.

REYNOLDS: Tech Deck makes fingerboards, and they built four mini skate parks for the event, each one about the size of a dining room table. Each competitor moved from table to table, whizzing their board up tiny ramps and steps, guiding it with just two fingers. They'd flip up onto tiny metal handrails for slides and spin their board in the air, hoping for good landings. Their fingers look just like little legs on a skateboard. Competitors were scored on style, creativity and the difficulty of their tricks. Twenty-two-year-old Kyle Ballard was a finalist from Houston, Texas, and he said the tables were kind of fancy. He usually does his tricks off textbooks at home.

KYLE BALLARD: Well, this is like real wood, so it's like made for a real skateboard.

REYNOLDS: During the competition, each fingerboarder sat nearby, practicing their tricks on flag stands and bumps in the pavement.

MALE: One-minute jam. All right. Three, two, one, go.

REYNOLDS: In the end, 14-year-old Matty Taylor swept the championship after travelling all the way from California to compete. He won $5,000. So what does a kid do with this kind of money?

MATTY TAYLOR: Yeah. Probably buy some fingerboard stuff. Yeah. Maybe a new camera.

REYNOLDS: Tech Deck plans to make this an annual event, so Matty Taylor might have a chance to defend his title next year. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Reynolds in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.